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CoronavirusThe Yorks

Could the coronavirus pandemic see Princess Beatrice become ‘acting monarch’?


Vee de Rodgers via Flickr CC

On Tuesday, Royal Central reported on what would happen should The Queen temporarily be unable to perform her constitutional duties due to the government’s plans for all over-70s to self-quarantine.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem as there are five Counsellors of State on hand to fill-in for Her Majesty, undertaking duties on behalf of the Crown.

However, the issues presented by coronavirus COVID-19 are unprecedented, and the Regency Act 1937 may come under immense pressure to create a sixth Counsellor.

The current Counsellors of State are the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of York.

Two or more Counsellors of State must be presiding at any one time, which may pose a problem should the sovereign require assistance in the immediate future.

The Prince of Wales is 71-years-old, which means he may also have to be quarantined, as is also the case with the 98-year-old Duke of Edinburgh.

The Duke of Sussex and the Duke of York are no longer working royals. This does not mean they cannot act as Counsellors of State, although it will no doubt prove controversial.

This leaves the Duke of Cambridge as the only Counsellor who is a working royal and is likely to remain out of quarantine should the government advise all over-70s to isolate.

The Counsellors of State are made up of the consort of The Queen and the first four people in the line of succession meeting the qualifications.

Those who are chosen must have reached the age of twenty-one, although the heir to the throne becomes qualified when they reach eighteen.

If two Counsellors are required, and theoretically only one royal is available, then Parliament may have to amend the Regency Act to allow the next eligible royal to take up the duties of the monarch.

This royal would be Princess Beatrice of York, ninth-in-line to the throne.

Although the idea of making Princess Beatrice a Counsellor of State may be controversial, it is arguably a necessity.

Should The Queen and her current Counsellors be unable to carry out the duties of the monarch, the branches of government could fall apart as somebody must always be available to carry out the duties of the sovereign.

Tasks which must be undertaken includes granting royal assent, issuing royal proclamations, appointing judges and Queen’s Counsel.

The Regency Act’s sole aim is to provide permanent availability of the monarch, either through regency or Counsellors of State. Should two of the Counsellors be in quarantine and a further two unavailable by other means, then the act loses its purpose unless a regency is invoked.

That being said, if push comes to shove and the Regency Act does need to be invoked, the Duke of York will most likely assume his constitutional position, controversial or not.

Royal historian Marlene Koenig explains that there is precedent of sorts for an extra Counsellors of State to be appointed, but that it is unlikely to happen with Princess Beatrice.

Mrs Koenig explained: “In 1944, when Lord Lascelles was a prisoner of war, he was briefly removed as a Counsellor of State and replaced with Princess Arthur of Connaught. However, this was not actually legal because the Regency Act does not allow for a replacement.

Lord Lascelles was the elder son of the Princess Mary, the Princess Royal – the only daughter of King George V. He was the first Counsellor of State to be appointed who was not a consort, prince or princess since the passage of the Regency Act 1937.

Mrs Koenig continued: “Lord Lascelles was taken prisoner in 1944.  He had replaced the Countess of Southesk as a Counsellor on his 21st birthday a few months earlier. 

“Princess Elizabeth turned 18-years-old in April 1944 – and she replaced Princess Arthur, the Countess Southesk’s older sister. But with Lord Lascelles taken prisoner in June 1944,  the King issued a Letters Patent that August putting Alexandra back on the list, even though it was technically not allowed.

“So there is precedence, sort of, but in case of the Queen being ill, I think they would have to make do with the group they have.”

The Queen last appointed Counsellors of State to carry out her duties in 2015 when she visited Malta for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. On this occasion, all five Counsellors acted jointly on behalf of the monarch rather than just the statutory two.