The Queen's Life

The role of the Sovereign

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What is the role of The Queen and what part does she play in the life of the nation? Find out about Her Majesty’s official duties and working life

The Imperial State Crown, which is traditionally worn by the Sovereign at the conclusion of the Coronation service, when leaving Westminster Abbey, and also for the State Opening of Parliament. © Press Association

The British Sovereign can be seen as having two roles: Head of State and ‘Head of the Nation’.

As Head of State, The Queen undertakes constitutional and representational duties which have developed over one thousand years of history.

There are inward duties, with The Queen playing a part in State functions in Britain. Parliament must be opened, Orders in Council have to be approved, Acts of Parliament must be signed, and meetings with the Prime Minister must be held.

There are also outward duties of State, when The Queen represents Britain to the rest of the world. For example, The Queen receives foreign ambassadors and high commissioners, entertains visiting Heads of State, and makes State visits overseas to other countries, in support of diplomatic and economic relations.

As ‘Head of Nation’, The Queen’s role is less formal, but no less important for the social and cultural functions it fulfils.

These include: providing a focus for national identity, unity and pride; giving a sense of stability and continuity; recognising success, achievement and excellence; and supporting service to others, particularly through public service and the voluntary sector.

These roles are performed through different types of engagement.

By means of regular visits through every part of the United Kingdom, The Queen is able to act as a focus for national unity and identity.

Through her engagements and walkabouts, The Queen is able to meet people from every walk of life. The Queen’s unifying role as Sovereign is also shown in her special relationships with the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales.

In addition, at times of national celebration or tragedy, The Queen publicly represents the nation’s mood – for example, at celebrations for a national sporting victory or at the annual commemoration of the war dead on Remembrance Sunday.

The Queen also has an essential role in providing a sense of stability and continuity in times of political and social change. The system of constitutional monarchy bridges the discontinuity of party politics.

While political parties change constantly, the Sovereign continues as Head of State, providing a stable framework within which a government can introduce wide-ranging reforms.

With almost six decades’ experience of reading State papers, meeting Heads of State and ambassadors and holding a weekly audience with the Prime Minister, The Queen has an unequalled store of experience upon which successive Prime Ministers have been able to draw.

The Queen is able to recognise success and achievement in a personal way. These include honours, awards, visits, patronage and sponsorship. At Investitures, for example, The Queen honours individuals for public service or outstanding achievement.

The Queen’s role is to:

Perform the ceremonial and official duties of Head of State, including representing Britain to the rest of the world;

Provide a focus for national identity and unity;

Provide stability and continuity in times of change;

Recognise achievement and excellence;

Encourage public and voluntary service.

The Queen also hosts garden parties to which guests from all backgrounds are invited, most of whom are nominated by charities or public sector organisations for their service to their communities.

Watch a video about garden parties given by The Queen:

In the thousands of messages sent by The Queen each year to people celebrating their 100th birthdays or diamond weddings, Her Majesty is able to give special and personal recognition of remarkable individuals.

The Queen also supports service to others, through close relationships with the voluntary and charitable sector. About 3,000 organisations list a member of the Royal Family as patron or president. The Queen has over 600 patronages and The Duke of Edinburgh over 700.

In all these roles, The Queen is supported by members of the Royal Family, who carry out many of the engagements which Her Majesty cannot undertake in person.

Watch a video of Prince William (later The Duke of Cambridge) opening the Supreme Court of New Zealand on behalf of The Queen:

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