A short while ago we wrote about the fact Queen
Elizabeth II needs neither a passport nor driving license thanks to a quirk of British
But what other powers does the Queen of many titles have and what could she theoretically
do if she decided to flex the full might of the authority she wields?
As it turns out, thanks to the Royal Prerogative, a terrifying amount if she really felt like
it, or, at least, assuming parliament went by the letter of the law and they and the
people didn’t decide to stage a little revolt.
In reality, the Queen rarely exerts even a fraction of the power she theoretically wields
as it’s kept in check by the only person in the UK who can tell her what to do- herself.
This is very much a calculated move on her part in order to stay in the good graces of
her subjects (as is voluntarily paying taxes even though she’s technically not obligated
Not only does she avoid openly flexing her political might, she also tends to keep her
opinions outside of the public sphere.
As historian Frank Prochaska notes,
The real secret of royal influence is saying nothing.
And anything the Queen does say publicly, is pretty anodyne.
The minute a monarch, or any of the royals say anything remotely political or opinionated,
they alienate people and they lose some power.
This silence played a large part in how the British monarchy survived post World War One,
when other European royal families didn’t.
In fact, for almost two decades now the monarchy has regularly had polls run and focus groups
put together to keep track of how the general public feels about them and their various
They also have on payroll individuals whose job it is to ensure the Queen stays in the
public eye and in a way that is most likely to endear her to her subjects- as with politicians
who rely on the voting public, with each public change she presents, right down to carrying
a cell phone or not, carefully calculated in terms of the impact it might have.
While this may seem only self-serving, the Queen has a very lengthy track record as an
admirable public servant and is also acutely aware that she is a prominent public face
representing her subjects, so is keen on avoiding being viewed in a bad light lest she in turn
paint them in a bad light by her actions.
As she noted at the tender age of 21 in a speech to the Commonwealth she gave on her
I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted
to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.
Surprisingly, for many years the full extent of exactly what powers the Queen handed off
to the government, but technically retained, weren’t publicly known.
That is, until 2003, when the government released a partial list of the things it can do on
the Queen’s behalf.
For the most part, the list confirmed that the government could do things to save the
Queen time, such as issue or revoke passports which simply wouldn’t be a feasible thing
to be the sole prerogative of the Crown in a modern society.
However, many things were quite worrying to some, such as her ability to declare war,
which under the rules of Royal Prerogative can be done without consulting parliament.
On top of that, the Queen is totally immune from prosecution and is considered above the
law in the UK.
And as a head of state, she enjoys diplomatic immunity in any foreign country she happens
As such, she could commit any crime conceivable anywhere on Earth and, at least as the law
currently stands, suffer no consequence for doing so.
However, as with everything, she’s generally exceptionally careful to ensure she doesn’t
break any laws.
Of course, what she does in private is completely her own affair, despite her prominent political
position, as she is exempt from Freedom of Information requests.
Moving on- because technically speaking “the people of Britain are not citizens, but subjects
of the monarch” she could have anyone she wanted arrested and presumably seize their
property or land for the crown.
Speaking of which, the Queen owns all of the sea beds around the UK and can commandeer
any ship found in British waters “for service to the realm”.
Oddly enough, she also has first dibs on any whales that wash up on shore.
The Queen could also administer any manner of punishment to an individual who offended
or otherwise displeased her as the crown has “prerogative power to keep the peace within
And since she’s immune from prosecution, nobody could really do anything if this punishment
wasn’t entirely within the scope of the law.
If the government tried to stop her, the Queen could decimate the British political landscape
by dissolving parliament and appointing anyone she felt like as prime minister.
This is because it’s the Queen’s duty to appoint the prime minister and she could,
in theory appoint anyone she wanted to the position, regardless of the way the British
public voted in an election.
On top of that, in the event the Queen didn’t like the outcome of an election, for instance
if she didn’t like the replacement parliament members voted in, she could just call for
another one using Royal Prerogative until she got the parliament she wanted.
Not that she’d need to, because she could just bring in the army to keep everyone in
line if she so chose.
Well, the Queen is also the Commander-in-Chief of the entire British military with every
officer, soldier, sailor and pilot swearing allegiance to the Crown and nobody else.
They’re not called Her Majesty’s Armed Forces for nothing.
Noted as being the “ultimate authority” on all British military matters, the Queen
could authorise a nuclear strike on France or make North Korea an ally as she has the
power to declare both war and peace with foreign nations.
As for laws, while technically the Queen can’t create new laws, as she can only sign them
into law after they’re decided upon by parliament (in fact, her Royal Assent is required to
make the law official after being passed by parliament in the first place), she could
appoint ministers who’d make any laws she wanted a reality and then just sign them into
law that way.
Beyond Royal Assent, there’s also the Queen’s consent, which requires she give her consent
before any law that affects the interests of the monarchy can even be discussed at all
(She actually has used this power before, such as in 1999 when she refused to allow
the discussion of a bill that would have given parliament power to authorize military strikes
in Iraq, instead of needing her authorization.)
So that’s on the political side- it doesn’t stop here.
The Queen technically has a sort of power not only over her subjects’ physical beings,
but also their souls.
She’s the head of the Church of England, including having the power to appoint Archbishops
and power over many other such matters concerning the church.
As for most of these powers that technically allow her to rule with an iron fist, as previously
mentioned, the Queen is hesitant to ever use them in such a way that would displease her
subjects and certainly isn’t about to disregard their representatives in parliament.
However, these powers still exist for a variety of reasons including potentially being needed
in a time of extreme crisis where an individual ruling unilaterally for the good of her people
can potentially be of benefit- one of the few scenarios her subjects might not mind
her flexing her political muscles a bit without necessarily consulting parliament, depending
on the circumstances.
That said, just because she isn’t in the practice of exercising her powers against
the will of the people, it doesn’t mean she isn’t occasionally an active political
powerhouse in private.
Extremely well respected and known worldwide, with the ability to bend the ear of most heads
of state, the influence the Queen wields is difficult to quantify, but, as noted in an
article discussing why the BBC named the Queen the most powerful woman in the world in their
list of 100 most powerful women,
Her Majesty’s power is more about influence – a discreet nod of the head, a polite word
in the ear of a Prime Minister at their weekly meeting, or a strategic patronage of a cause
being overlooked by the Government – is how she can indirectly effect our world without
us even knowing.
To conclude, the Queen has many powers she could theoretically legally use to her own
ends unless her subjects and parliament simply decided to stage a revolt.
However, she generally avoids doing anything overt that might upset her subjects, and otherwise
simply works in the background more or less in an advisory role when she feels there