The History of England

from Celts through 20th century


Category: Politics

The United Kingdom is one of the few developed countries of capitalism where a constitutional monarchy has survived with its ages-old customs, traditions and ceremonies. The British constitution, unlike that of most other countries, is not contained in any single document: there is no written constitution. It was formed partly by statute, partly by common law and partly by conventions. It can be altered by Act of Parliament, or by general agreement to create, vary or abolish a convention.

A thousand years ago, before the Norman Conquest, the Anglo-Saxon kings consulted the Great Council or Witan (an assembly of the leading wisest rich men from various districts) before taking major decisions. When the Norman Conquest took place the Witan disappeared and William I and his successors held Great Councils of the great feudal nobles instead. In 1215 the nobles forced king John to accept Magna Charta (the Great Charter) which was aimed to limit some of the powers of the king. In 1265 Simon De Montfort summoned the first parliament. Since then the so-called British constitution has evolved as a result of countless Acts of parliament. A constitutional monarch is one who can rule only with the support of parliament. The Bill of Rights (1689) was a major legal step towards constitutional monarchy. It limited the powers of monarchy to a great extent, especially on governmental, fiscal and other matters. Since 1689 the power of parliament has grown steadily, while the power of the monarch has weakened. Today the monarch reigns, though she does not rule. Being a constitutional monarch the Queen acts on the advice of her prime minister and does not make any major political decisions.

In Britain they look to the Queen not only as their head of state, but also as the ‘symbol of their nation’s unity’. The Queen personifies the State, she is head of the executive, an integral part of legislature, head of the judiciary, the commander-in-chief of all armed forces, the ‘supreme governor’ of the established Church of England — the Anglican church and the personal Head of the Commonwealth. The United Kingdom is governed by Her Majesty’s Government in the name of the Queen.

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