The constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom is the form of government for the United Kingdom including the bailiwicks of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man, as well as the British Overseas Territories.
The monarchy was consolidated in Medieval England. In 1603, it unified with Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain (which was followed by a union of states in 1707), and with Ireland in 1801 to form the United Kingdom. Britain came to rule the British Empire, and the monarch is still the Head of State for the Commonwealth realms, including Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Canada. In these countries, the monarch is represented by a governor general, who performs the monarch's duties in her absence. While the governors-general used to be sent from Britain during the height of the British Empire, in modern times the governor-general is almost always a native of the country (s)he is representing the monarch in. The British monarch also holds the title of "Head of the Commonwealth".
The Commonwealth of Nations, formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an international organisation which mostly consists of former British colonies. Today most of them have no formal association with the monarchy (apart from symbolically recognising him/her as "Head of the Commonwealth"), with most members being republics (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, etc), and some having their own indigenous monarchs (e.g. Malaysia, Brunei, Tonga). Mozambique and Rwanda are the only Commonwealth members to never have been British colonies, either in whole or part.
These days, the British monarch is largely regarded as a ceremonial figurehead, with the prime minister wielding the most authority in government. However, the monarch still technically has the right to veto bills (prospective laws) that have been passed by Parliament, though this right has not been exercised since Queen Anne did so in 1708. The monarch also regularly meets with the prime minister, which may give her some influence over British politics, and all ambassadorial appointments have to be approved by the monarch.
Every year, or after a general election, the monarch opens the session of Parliament in an event known as the State Opening of Parliament, during which she delivers a speech to both houses of Parliament on behalf of the government known as the Speech from the Throne. This event is steeped in tradition and a visual spectacle, and one of the few times when all branches of the British government gather in a single place. During the session, you can see the Lords and the Speaker of the House of Commons, as well as various other crown office holders, don their ceremonial robes. Several traditions date back to a time when the relationship between the monarch and Parliament was much more fraught. For instance, the monarch has been barred from entering the House of Commons chamber since the English Civil War, and must instead send to representative to summon the Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Lords chamber where she delivers her speech. One MP is also always held as a "hostage MP" at Buckingham Palace prior to the monarch's departure, ostensibly to guarantee her safe return. While attendance at the Palace of Westminster is limited to special guests, the monarch's procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster may be viewed from the roadside by the general public, and the entire proceeding is broadcast live by the BBC.
The residences of the Royal Family give limited or no access to the public.
- 1 Buckingham Palace, Westminster, London. The main residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (reigned since 1952, crowned 1953). In the summer, 19 State Rooms are open to the public, while the Queen is staying at her Scottish palace at Balmoral. Places are strictly limited, and visitors should book in advance to ensure admission. Normally the Changing of the Guard ceremony happens several days per week at 11AM, but this is suspended in 2021 due to Covid-19.
- 2 St James's Palace, Westminster, London. Not open to the public, but can be seen from the street. The most senior of the Royal palaces in London (built between 1531 and 1536) and the official seat of the monarch.
- 3 Sandringham House (6 miles north-east of King's Lynn). The Queen's house in Norfolk, owned by the royal family (not the nation) since 1862. The ground floor of the house, a museum, the church and the grounds are open - allow four hours to see it all.
- 4 Windsor Castle, Windsor and Eton, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The largest and oldest occupied castle in the world and still an official royal residence. Much of the castle, including the magnificent State Apartments and St Georges Chapel are visitable. The apartments are furnished with some of the finest works of art from the royal collection, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Canaletto and Gainsborough.
- 5 Abbey and Palace of Holyroodhouse (Edinburgh Old Town). The Palace is a royal residence, and hosts the Queen's Gallery containing a collection of art from the Royal Collection. The Palace is best known as the home of Mary Queen of Scots and as the site of the murder of Mary's secretary Rizzio, allegedly by her husband, Lord Darnley. The Palace is used occasionally for Royal functions and the Queen is usually in residence for about a week in late June. The Palace is open to visitors for much of the year,
- 6 Balmoral Castle, near Ballater. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, bought this land and built a grandiloquent pile of a castle, the prototype of the "Scottish Baronial" style, all mock-turrets and stags heads looming over the stairways. Completed in 1856, it remains the Royal Family's summer holiday home. You can only visit one room within the castle, the ballroom, plus an exhibition in the stables, and the gardens. The queen is usually resident in Aug and Sept, so there is no access then. See website for dates of guided tours in winter.
- 7 Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh Leith. Decommissioned from royal use and voted one of Edinburgh’s best attractions, Britannia offers visitors the chance to tour the royal apartments and view a selection of the many gifts offered to the royals by dignitaries worldwide. Britannia was built during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and some of it feels like her personal home, although it has not been used as a Royal Yacht since 1997. Its last engagement was notably to ferry Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, back to Britain following the handover back to China.
- 8 Hillsborough Castle, Hillsborough, Northern Ireland, ☏ . Grand Georgian mansion, Northern Ireland's only royal residence. The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 was signed here, and it was the setting for talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The guided tour of the house takes in some of the state rooms and the art collection. There are extensive gardens and parkland.
The main set of Crown Jewels can be seen in the Tower of London, and a smaller collection of the Crown Jewels of Scotland can be seen in Edinburgh Castle.
- 9 Tower of London, City of London. Founded by William the Conqueror in 1066, enlarged and modified by successive sovereigns, the Tower is today one of the world's most famous and spectacular fortresses and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Crown Jewels can be seen in the Jewel House and this is included in the Tower of London admission charge.
- 10 Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh Old Town. Edinburgh Castle is a magnificently situated royal fortress located on one of the highest points in the city. The castle has been continuously in use for 1000 years and is in excellent condition. Highlights include the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish Crown Jewels) and the ancient St Margaret's Chapel.
The British monarch is also the head of state of 14 other Commonwealth countries, known as the Commonwealth realms. In each of these countries, she has an official residence where she stays at when visiting those countries. When she is not around, that residence serves as the official residence of the governor general.
- 11 Government House, Canberra, Canberra. The principal official residence of the monarch in Australia.
- 12 Admiralty House, Sydney, Sydney. Second official residence of the monarch in Australia, built in what is called the "Federation" architectural style.
- 13 Rideau Hall, Ottawa. The principal official residence of the monarch in Canada
- 14 La Citadelle de Québec, Quebec City. The monarch's second official residence in Canada, located within the walled city of Quebec. It is also the headquarters of the French-speaking Royal 22e Régiment of the Canadian Army, who hold a changing of the guard ceremony at 10AM every day in the summer.
- 15 Government House, Wellington, Wellington. Official residence of the monarch in New Zealand, built in a Tudor architectural style.