Archive for July, 2010

Magna Carta

Ah, Magna Carta. There are few documents which are so symbolic to the English-speaking peoples, and few which are so symbolic to the rise of constitutional government. Yet much of the document no longer exists in law. While the significance of Magna Carta for later generations, and for ourselves, is well appreciated, the significance of the document for contemporaries is often overlooked.

From an international perspective, Magna Carta isn’t really that special. The Concordat of Worms predates Magna Carta by almost a century and served to inspire the modern concept of national sovereignty; the Golden Bull of 1222 issued by King Andrew II of Hungary achieved much of the same as Magna Carta; and in 1356, the ‘Joyous Charter’ in the Low Countries was the result of a century’s accumulation of privileges granted by the Duke of Brabrant to his subjects.

But back to England.  The Magna Carta of 1215 was repudiated by King John in the very same year, with the encouragement of the Pope. In 1216 John died, and his nine-year-old son Henry III became King, defusing the brewing civil war – but more on that in a bit.

Henry’s elderly regent, William Marshall, reissued Magna Carta in Henry’s name within days of John’s death, but omitting the more contentious chapters. In 1225, Henry came of age, and reissued a third, shorter Magna Carta.

Henry died in 1272, a very long reign for the time; long enough to allow Magna Carta become integral to English liberties. Edward I, Henry’s son, reconfirmed Magna Carta again in the Parliament of 1297. It became tradition for every English king to reconfirm Magna Carta, until the final time in 1416 by Henry V. It is the 1225 version which remains in legal force today…

…sort of. It took Parliament 600 years, but starting with the 1828 Offences Against the Person Act, sections of Magna Carta have since been overwritten or repealed.

What’s in force today

The first chapter to go was chapter 26; the last was chapter 30 in 1969. All that remains of Magna Carta is Chapters 1, 9, and 29:

“EDWARD by the Grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Guyan, to all Archbishops, Bishops &c.  We have seen the Great Charter of the Lord Henry sometimes King of England, our Father, of the Liberties of England in these words:

HENRY by the Grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Guyan, and Earl of Anjou, to all Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Priors, Earls, Barons, Sheriffs, Provosts, Officers, and to all Bailiffs, and other our faithful Subjects, which shall see this present Charter, Greeting: Know Ye, that We, unto the honour of Almighty God, and for the salvation of the souls of our Progenitors and Successors Kings of England, to the advancement of Holy Church and amendment of our Realm, of our meer and free will, have given and granted to all Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Priors, Earls, Barons, and to all Freemen of this our Realm, these Liberties following, to be kept in our Kingdom of England for ever.”

Chapter 1, in which the English Church is declared free:

[1]”FIRST, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the Freemen of our Realm, for Us and our Heirs for ever, these Liberties under-written, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of Us and our Heirs for ever.”

Chapter 9, in which London is promised its ancient liberties to be governed differently from the rest of England:

[9]”THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have. Moreover We will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and the Barons of the Five Ports, and all other Ports, shall have all their Liberties and free Customs.”

And Chapter 29, probably the most famous of all, which promises trial by jury:

[29]”NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right. “

The Inspiration for Magna Carta

So much for modern law. But Magna Carta’s significance goes beyond that of trial by jury. The very creation of the document was an expression of, but also a catalyst for major political change in the Thirteenth Century, which would ultimately result in the foundation of the House of Commons and the early beginnings of parliamentary government.

King John of England became King in 1199 in the midst of a time of great social and economic change. The kings of the Twelfth Century had been able to fight wars and govern the realm largely with the revenue of their own lands, through duties on imports, and through occasional feudal taxes known as ‘scutage’. But since 1180 heavy inflation had caused the revenue from Crown lands to fall to less then half its value by 1230, not exactly helped by the piecemeal portioning off of royal lands to reward royal supporters. Additionally in 1204 King Philip II of France conquered Normandy. All of these factors made the monarch less and less capable of supporting itself and the government.

John sought to offset this by exploiting the royal prerogative to the full, implementing scutage, abusing forest law, and enacting England’s first income tax. The ploy was successful, trebling royal income, but causing deep resentment in the kingdom.

In 1211 Llywelyn the Great of Wales rebelled against John’s overlordship, backed by the Pope who had declared John an excommunicant of the Church (in other words, persona non grata in the afterlife) in 1209 over the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This crisis caused his campaign to recover Normandy to falter, coming to a crashing end in the Battle of Bouvines in July 1214. In the end,John reconciled himself with the Pope by offering to sell his kingdoms, England and Ireland, to the Pope for 1,000 marks. Understandably, this didn’t go down too well with his subjects.

The subsequent humiliating peace with France caused the Barons to rebel against John’s incompetent government. Llywelyn’s seizure of Shrewsbury in May 1215, joined with Scottish and French armies also invading, entering London in June. This made it clear to John that he had no choice but to come to terms with his barons if he was to save his kingdom. He met his barons at Runnymede, just outside London, on June 15th, and attached his seal to the ‘Articles of the Barons’, later to be solemnised as the Magna Carta.

Magna Carta, taxes, and Parliament

Magna Carta’s original document had 63 articles. Chapters 12 and 14 related to taxation. Article 12 prohibits taxation without ‘common counsel’ and lists the exceptions. ‘Our’ of course relates to the king, as signatory:

[12]”No scutage or aid shall be imposed in our kingdom unless by common counsel of our kingdom, except for ransoming our person, for making our eldest son a knight, and for once marrying our eldest daughter, and for these only a reasonable aid shall be levied. Be it done in like manner concerning aids from the city of London.”

Article 14 then defines what a ‘common counsel’ is – in other words, a gathering of the kingdom’s magnates, bishops and great men:

[14]”And to obtain the common counsel of the kingdom about the assessing of an aid (except in the three cases aforesaid) or of a scutage, we will cause to be summoned the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls and greater barons, individually by our letters — and, in addition, we will cause to be summoned generally through our sheriffs and bailiffs all those holding of us in chief — for a fixed date, namely, after the expiry of at least forty days, and to a fixed place; and in all letters of such summons we will specify the reason for the summons. And when the summons has thus been made, the business shall proceed on the day appointed, according to the counsel of those present, though not all have come who were summoned.”

The most repugnant chapter from the view of King John, however, was Chapter 61, which sought to constrain his royal power and give the barons the right to rebel against his government if he did not carry out their commands. Here is an abridged version:

[61]”…if we do not correct the transgression, or if we are out of the kingdom, if our justiciar does not correct it, within forty days, reckoning from the time it was brought to our notice or to that of our justiciar if we were out of the kingdom, the aforesaid four barons shall refer that case to the rest of the twenty-five barons and those twenty-five barons together with the community of the whole land shall distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely, by seizing castles, lands, possessions, and in such other ways as they can, saving our person and the persons of our queen and our children, until, in their opinion, amends have been made, and when amends have been made, they shall obey us as they did before.”

As we know, John was compelled to put his seal to Magna Carta to save his crown, but as soon as opportunity allowed he renounced Magna Carta and started the First Baron’s War. In 1216 he died, replaced by his son – and the rest we know.

Chapter 61 was the main bone of contention for John in 1215, but it was chapters 12 and 14 which would inspire and shape the evolution of the first true parliaments by the end of the century. Taxation by consent was fast becoming a universally agreed to requirement. ‘Common counsel’ in the form of representative barons and clergy suited the start of the century fine; but it would be unjustifiable in a representative legislature within fifty years.


The cost of the monarchy

July 5, 2010 5 comments

Time was when the cost to maintain the dignity of the monarch was one and the same with that of administering government. Today there is a much sharper distinction, but there is still a blur in parts – endemic of the inability to fully separate the monarch from the person – the Queen, after all, can never retire, and can never truly take a break from the role.

Much of the struggles of the Seventeenth century were about Parliament gaining control over royal expenditure. This control was made almost complete by 1760, as is detailed below. It’s a broad approximation of a rather complex system, which really ought to be clarified and updated.

The monarchy is financed from six sources.

The Civil List

Firstly – and best known – is the Civil List. The name derives from the list of officials who received royal money for services to the government (the civil service, in other words). This was in contrast to a military list and a naval list, presumably. In 1760, on the Accession to the throne of George III, major reforms were made, in which Parliament provided the monarch with the Civil List as a lump sum payment. In return, the monarch surrendered the hereditary revenues from the Crown Estate, except for the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1830, on the Accession of William IV, the Civil List was defined as designed purely to pay for the costs incurred through the duties carried out by the monarch as Head of State.

This remains the same function for the Civil List today. In return for £200 million per annum in Crown Estate revenues (revenues which are produced from a range of sources, such as rents, commerce, trade, parkland and forestry, minerals and fishing – in fact, the second largest shopping centre in the UK is partly on Crown Land) supplied to HM Treasury (as of 2006/7), Parliament votes each decade an annual sum as the Civil List.

In 1990 this sum was set at £7.9 million per annum. An advantageous economic environment in the 1990s allowed the Crown to amass a substantial surplus, so that in 2000 there was no need to adjust the figure (Parliament is forbidden from actually reducing the List), and in 2010 the figure again stayed static. This reserve is now running low, and the Government recently confirmed it would revisit royal finances in 2012. In real terms, the cost of the Civil List has actually fallen by £4.5 million.

This is not ‘pay’ for the Sovereign, as the Sovereign cannot use the money for personal use. In fact the Queen doesn’t get paid at all. About 70% of this is used primarily to fund staff salaries in the Royal Household. The remainder goes towards official receptions, garden parties and official entertainment during State Visits. The full report can be found here.

The Civil List is nowadays set every ten years. There was a period of very high inflation in the 1970s which required much more frequent revisits to royal finances, but this proved impractical as it endangered the necessary space the monarchy needs to be independent of the government and of Parliament. Given that the Queen is monarch to another fifteen realms, and is Head of the Commonwealth, to place the monarchy fully under such control would endanger the monarchy’s capacity to carry out these functions independently of British institutions.

The Privy Purse

In addition to the Civil List, there is the Privy Purse, the revenue the monarch receives from the Duchy of Lancaster, that remainder of the Crown Estate which remains to the Crown for their use. It is kept apart from the Crown Estate as it is not held in trust to the nation but possessed by the Queen in person, in her right as Duke (yes, Duke) of Lancaster, a title held since 1413. In 2009, this amounted to £13.3 million.

The Privy Purse finances other Head of State functions, such as pensions for present and past employers, staff welfare, parts of the cost of Sandringham and Balmoral, and charity subscriptions and donations. The revenue from the Privy Purse is accountable to Parliament through the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Privy Purse’s annual report for 2009 can be found here.


In addition, grant-in-aid, provided by Parliament, is supplied to members of the Royal Family for the 3,000 public engagements the royal family undertake each year. For example, the Department of Transport helps the royals to get from place to place (broken down here).  I should emphasise: this is costs for official duties; costs for personal jollies and private engagements are not on this bill.

A separate grant is provided by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to go toward the maintenance of royal residences. This particular grant (which is broken down here) accounts for about 75% of grant-in-aid. In 2009, grants-in-aid was £22.6 million.

All such grants are, of course, subject to Parliament.  This, and Parliamentary annuities, is the only money which royals other than the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh can receive.  Not even the Prince of Wales gets a penny of state funds unless he is specifically carrying out a representative role on behalf of the monarch.

Parliamentary Annuities

Parliamentary annuities are grants to members of the Royal Family by Parliament to carry out representative roles on behalf of the monarch. In 2009, £400,000 was provided as an annuity to the Duke of Edinburgh. In the case of royals who are not the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen reimburses the Treasury the cost of the annuities.

Government Funds

This field is for other miscellaneous costs, including the cost to create medals and other honours, other ceremonials, State Visits, maintenance of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence in Scotland), maintenance of the Home Park at Windsor Castle, and equerries on secondment from the Armed Forces. In 2009, this was £4.6 million.

Personal Income

Finally, there is the Queen’s personal income as a private individual. This is sourced from her private investment portfolio and revenue from lands held in her own right (such as Sandringham and Balmoral). This source of funding is used, understandably, for the Queen’s own private expenses.

This does not include the Crown Jewels, the Royal Art Collection, or Royal Palaces – these are held by the Crown, not the Queen. It’s the same as the difference between former President George Bush Jr. having resided in the White House but owning Crawford Ranch in Texas.

The Sovereign is forbidden from generating new wealth, in terms of earnings or business activities. Being unable to retire, the monarch also cannot bypass Inheritance Tax by passing assets on at an early stage to the Heir.

Since 1992, the Queen has voluntarily paid tax on her personal income and the Privy Purse. This isn’t actually much of an innovation – Queen Victoria did the same from 1842 upon Sir Robert Peel’s introduction of income tax, as did Edward VII. In 1910, however, George V managed to get out of it – in return for forking up the cost of entertaining visiting Heads of State. The Prince of Wales, incidentally, voluntarily pays tax on his revenues from the Duchy of Cornwall. All other royals are taxed like any other citizen.

All of this is, of course, a great simplification of an extremely complex form of financing. It clearly needs clarification and updating. Note also that nowhere in this list of sources of revenue has the Queen received any direct pay.

So, to recap – staff salaries and garden parties are from the Civil List; staff pensions and charity subscriptions are from the Privy Purse; Duke of Edinburgh functions are from Parliamentary Annuities; travel is from grants-in-aid; building maintenance is jointly from grants-in-aid and government funds; and State Visit entertainments are jointly from the Civil List and government funds.

The Cost

The total cost then, would be Civil List plus grant-in-aid, plus Parliamentary annuities plus government funds. The Privy Purse is not a burden on the taxpayer, and nor is the Queen’s private expenditure.  Many critics have attempted to criticise the monarchy by pointing to their apparent spend-happy private life, but it’s frankly irrelevant.

In total, we’re looking, as of 2009, at £41.5 million, as can be seen in this annual summary.

This total does not include the costs incurred to the protection of the royal family to the police and the Armed Forces; these are not disclosed.

Is this good value for money? All estimates seem to indicate to the monarchy not being all too expensive. Per taxpayer, this equates more or less to two pints of milk, or 61 pence.  As Robert Hardman noted in the Daily Mail on July 10, 2010, if MPs’ salaries were pegged to the Civil List, they would still be paid £26,701 instead of the present £63,291.

(Incidentally I’m most certainly not a fan of the Daily Mail, but I guess even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day.)

The Republic website erroneously claims that the cost of monarchy is significantly higher – a remarkable £184.8 million. However, this tally is disingenuous in a number of ways. It counts the charges I list above, but they throw in an addition £100 million ‘as an estimate’ for security, which they readily admit to be biased towards the highest possible figure. They also count upkeep of the Palaces as a separate charge even though they are accounted for in the charges I list above.

While they are correct in stating that the Crown Estate is held in trust to the Crown and hence the country, they also take it upon themselves to proclaim that the Queen and the Prince of Wales have no right to have the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall as their personal possessions. I know of no lawful authority that could seize a person’s property in such a way. Sorry, Republic.

They also criticise the fact that we don’t know how much the Queen pays in tax – but then, isn’t such information supposed to be covered by Data Protection laws, anyway?  It is rightly kept private.

The most important question however is this: if Britain were to abolish the monarchy, would these costs go away? Answer: no.

The security bill (even if it were £100 million!) would remain pretty much the same. Equally, the cost of maintaining the palaces would remain the same – the German Bundespräsident has a number of official residences too, after all. The staffing costs, the pensions, the full range of duties a Head of State carries out will still have to be carried out by whatever replaces the monarchy. State Visits would continue. Garden parties would continue. Visits to local councils, receptions and the granting of honours would continue. The Head of State’s functions as constitutional umpire would continue. And of course, the new Head of State would require a salary.

What’s more, out of all the G8 countries – FranceItalyRussiaGermanyJapan, the United States and Canada (okay, Canada shares our Queen, but the flight carries the Governor-General), the Queen doesn’t have her own plane, despite increasing terror concerns since 9/11.

I have done my best to find an English language translation of the German federal budget to ascertain the cost of the Bundespräsident; alas, it is not forthcoming, so you’ll have to trust me on this; the Budget seems to indicate that in 2009 the Presidency, which is close in approximation to the role of the British monarchy, cost £20 million. However, this is purely for the dignity of the president, much like our Civil List. Therefore, while at first glance it appears to be half the cost of the monarchy, in truth half the cost is simply moved elsewhere, into a generic building maintenance fund in the Budget. In the end, it works out broadly the same then.

So the cost of the monarch is not all that burdensome; nor can it be made sufficiently cheaper to be worth ditching. At best, you can argue that a republic would save us, what? £5 million? Half a Mars Bar for everyone, then. But then we’d lose the bulk of the £13.3 million the monarch provides from the Privy Purse.

Also, thanks to Gallia Watch, a French politics blog, we can see in action the great contradiction of republics that mean they can accumulate bloated salaries and huge personal budgets without any outcry from the public.  At least here the monarchy has to make sure every penny is well-spent before it goes cap-in-hand to Parliament.

I have also heard rumour that the expenses for the President of the Italian Republic is currently around £200 million.  However I have not been able to verify this as of yet.

Most importantly though, if we became a republic, we’d be losing a whole lot more that can’t be quantified in money. You cannot put a price on magnificence.


Bogdanor, V (1997) The Monarchy and the Constitution, Oxford University Press

The Official Website of the British Monarchy

The Duchy of Lancaster

The Crown Estate

Deutsche Bundespräsident


Categories: Finance, Monarchy, Parliament

Monarchy is not undemocratic

July 3, 2010 2 comments

One final comment on the existence of the monarchy.

The United Kingdom is one of the world’s forty-four monarchies, and one of the oldest monarchies too.

Support for the monarchy among the British at least remains high. This is in part a sort of absent-minded sentiment and appreciation of history and tradition, and also from a fact realised by most politicians that they have little to gain from replacing it with a president, directly or indirectly elected.

There are benefits for the United Kingdom in maintaining its monarchy. But first, we should look at an oft-repeated claim by republicans – the claim that possession of a monarchy is somehow ‘undemocratic’. It really isn’t.

‘Monarch’ comes from the Greek, ‘rule by one’, and describes a supreme magistrate who inherits their position. The term has moved on from its strict Greek interpretation, and today, when we think of a monarch, we do not think of the Queen governing directly but as acting as the head of British civil and political society. The degree of power that a monarch possesses bears no relation to the title any more.

Equally, the fact that a country is a republic tells us nothing of the degree of liberties and control over the government, and they can be as savagely despotic and undemocratic as any absolute monarchy. Not only is monarchy not inconsistent with democracy, but a brief glance at the Economist’s democracy index suggests that constitutional monarchy is most likely to give sustenance to stable democratic government.

Abraham Lincoln famously described democracy as ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’, and Britain’s constitutional monarchy ticks all these boxes. ‘Of the people’ and ‘by the people’ indicate responsibility to the people, as in, through an elected Parliament. Tick.

Government for the people, to be meaningful, means government for the entire people, not just those that elected the governing majority, but all minorities and non-voters too.

Therefore, monarchy is not in opposition to democracy, any more than republicanism is in any way inexorably bound to democracy. ‘Republic’ in its contemporary definition merely denotes that the Head of State does not inherit their position, and says nothing about democracy. Monarchy is not a system of government, but a mere type of government, a subset of parliamentarism.

Inheritance itself is neither democratic nor undemocratic when it comes to a ceremonial Head of State. It is simply a convenience which is adhered to in this particular case to avoid the drawbacks involved in electing it. Inheritance only becomes anti-democratic when the office-holder exercises meaningful power, as it is with government that democracy is concerned.

Some would probably at this point object that there’s therefore no purpose in a ceremonial Head of State at all, and there’s a worthy discussion to be had there – but the fact is that right now, almost every country in the world has a single person as Head of State, and the majority of those do not give any executive powers to the Head of State.

Parliamentary states choose to have a ceremonial Head of State in order to prevent certain key powers being exercised by the Head of Government – that is, the Prime Minister. It is better to separate these functions, and in Britain’s case, the inherited nature of the monarch provides additional benefits to this separation of powers.  It’s the same principle behind a court judge, who must not be partial to either side in a case and exercises powers it would not be appropriate to bestow on the prosecution or the defence.

The Head of State is first and foremost a symbol of the nation, and represents it to the public, to other countries, and other ‘players’ in the State. She represents first and foremost the deep rich historical heritage of the United Kingdom and the continuity of the State. The Queen in this capacity does not represent one single group, class, party, or anything else. She can be identified with, for example, all four nations of the United Kingdom collectively, but not with a single one of them in particular. A President however cannot help but be identified with a particular political philosophy, a particular region, or be identified with a particular incident, comment, scandal or otherwise.

Another often-overlooked attribute is Britain’s longstanding tradition of parliamentary government and constitutional monarchy. The monarch has little incentive to seek to regain the powers that were once wielded by them personally, because 1) Britain is a mature democracy and such power exercised by the monarch would not be tolerated by the vast majority of the populace, and 2) Britain’s historical zenith of power (i.e. that of 19th Century Empire) was at the time of the monarch’s final transformation into a ceremonial Head of State, meaning there is little nostalgia for a ‘golden age’ of monarchical rule.

Categories: Monarchy, UK Constitution