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British Royals

The Regency Act: who can stand in for The King?

The Regency Act of 1937 lays out who stands in for a Monarch in a range of situations where they can’t exercise their functions. It came into force in the first year of the reign of King George VI, when his heir was a ten year old princess called Elizabeth. Now, George VI’s grandson sits on that throne and has already seen the law change once in his short reign. Within months of his accession, King Charles III asked the House of Lords to add two royals to the list of those who can stand in temporarily for him – a role known as Counsellors of State. So what does the Regency Act 1937 mean?

When can a regent be appointed?

There are several circumstances in which the Act permits the implementation of a Regency. Listed first in this Act is the accession of an underage Monarch. If the throne passes to someone aged under eighteen, then a regent is appointed to rule for them until they reach the age of eighteen.

The second circumstance is the incapacity of the Monarch. If it is decided that they cannot carry out their functions, a regent is appointed until they are deemed capable of taking on their responsibilities again.

Who can be regent?

In its most simple interpretation, the Regency Act says that the next adult in the line of succession is regent providing they a British subject and resident in the United Kingdom. So in the case of King Charles III needing a regent, The Prince of Wales would step in. However, should Prince William or his children need a regent, the role would pass to The Duke of Sussex.

Adult has two interpretations in this Act. Ordinarily, a regent must be aged 21 or over. However, the heir to the throne can act as regent from the age of 18 onwards.

Who can’t be regent?

The spouse or parent of a Monarch doesn’t necessarily have a role in their regency. The role must pass to someone in the line of succession. If a regent is deemed incapable or dies in office, the next adult in the succession who meets the criteria set out, takes their place. However, the guardianship of a Monarch under the age of 18 rests with their surviving parent while the guardianship of a ruler declared incapable rests with their spouse, if they have one.

What changes have been made to the Act?

In 1953, following the succession of The Queen, a change was made that allowed The Duke of Edinburgh to rule as regent should one of their children ascend the throne as a minor. Those changes ceased to have an effect once their children had reached adult age.

What else does the Act provide for?

The role of Counsellors of State was part of the 1937 Act. This is the mechanism which allows two of five people to exercise power if the Monarch is temporarily out of action. Currently, the Monarch’s spouse and the first four adults in the line of succession can carry out the role meaning Queen Camilla, The Prince of Wales, the Duke of Sussex, the Duke of York and Princess Beatrice can all be called on to exercise the function. That’s proved controversial as three of the five aren’t working royals. Furthermore, the Duke of Sussex lives in the United States and the Duke of York has withdrawn completely from public life following a court case.

In November 2022, King Charles asked Parliament to amend the Act and allow his sister, the Princess Royal, and his youngest brother, the Earl of Wessex, to also be available as Counsellors of State. Both have exercised the role before. The request was debated by both the Lords and the House of Commons before being passed before the end of 2022.

However, it wasn’t the first time an amendment has taken place. There was an alteration to this part of the Act following the death of King George VI with provision being made for Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother to continue to be able to exercise the function of Counsellor of State.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.