What is counsellor of state and what does it mean for Prince Harry and Princess Beatrice?

The role allows members of the family in line to the throne to step in for the monarch

Princess Beatrice has inherited the role of counsellor of state after the death of her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. AFP
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The roles of many members of the British royal family have shifted in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II's death. As King Charles III has been formally named as the new monarch, Prince William has been given the title of Prince of Wales and his wife, Catherine, Princess of Wales.

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Then there is the role of the counsellors of state, a title given to members of the British royal family to whom the monarch can delegate duties.

Both Princes William and Harry served as counsellors of state under Queen Elizabeth, but for Princess Beatrice it is an entirely new role.

Princess Beatrice has now become a counsellor of state. PA News

Those eligible to be counsellors of state include the monarch's spouse, and those next in line to the British throne who are over the age of 21.

As King Charles becomes monarch, his wife, Queen Consort Camilla, automatically becomes a counsellor of state.

The line of succession then goes to Prince William, 40. Next in line over the age of 21 is Prince Harry, 37.

Princes William and Harry are both counsellors of state under their father, King Charles III, and held the title under their grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. AP

Eighth in line for the British throne is Prince Andrew, Duke of York, who was already a counsellor of state and retains the title. However, while he is still eligible to step in for the monarch he is not called upon for duties since withdrawing from royal responsibilities in the wake of sexual abuse allegations. Following the death of the queen, Prince Andrew's daughter Princess Beatrice has stepped into the role for the first time.

Although Prince Harry is no longer a senior member of the royal family and primarily lives in the US, he is still in line to the throne. While he remains a British subject, he is still eligible to be a counsellor of state.

Who were Queen Elizabeth's counsellors of state?

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with her sister Princess Margaret, who was a counsellor of state in the UK until Prince Edward turned 21 in March 1985. AP

When Queen Elizabeth became monarch on February 6, 1952, her husband and four heirs over the age of 21 became counsellors of state; Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; Princess Margaret; Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester; Mary, Princess Royal; and George Lascelles, Earl of Harewood.

As an heir to King George VI, his daughter Princess Margaret was already a counsellor of state under his reign, as were his brother Prince Henry, sister Mary, Princess Royal, and nephew George Lascelles.

His wife, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, was also a counsellor of state during King George's time on the throne. When his their daughter, Queen Elizabeth, took over, the Queen Mother did not automatically qualify to be a counsellor of state in 1952. However, under the Passage of the Regency Act 1953, she was given the title, which she held until her death in 2002.

Prince Philip also held on to the role until his death on April 9, 2021. However, as each of her heirs turned 21, there were 11 new counsellors of state during Queen Elizabeth's reign.

At the time of her death, the roles were held by King Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry and Prince Andrew. As her spouse, not an heir, Prince Philip was not replaced following his death.

What can a counsellor of state do?

Prince William serving as a counsellor of state under Queen Elizabeth II, knighting Guyanese former cricketer Clive Lloyd during his investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle in January 2022. AP

The role was created in 1937 under King George VI. It, effectively, lets senior members of the royal family step into the monarch's shoes.

"In the event that the queen cannot undertake her official duties as sovereign on a temporary basis due to illness or absence abroad, two or more counsellors of state are appointed by Letters Patent to act in Her Majesty's place," the British royal family's website states.

They can carry out royal functions, including meetings, signing routine documents and receiving the credentials of new ambassadors to the UK. They cannot grant ranks, titles or peerages, nor deal with Commonwealth matters or the appointment of new prime ministers, which is why Queen Elizabeth II was photographed greeting Prime Minister Liz Truss two days before her death. The dissolving of British parliament is also not delegated to a counsellor of state, "except on Her Majesty's express instruction".

Updated: September 12, 2022, 2:47 PM
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