What is Monarchy?
Monarchy is rule by an individual who is royal, and the system is usually hereditary. The term monarchy derives from the Greek, monos arkhein, meaning 'one ruler'.
The British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the Sovereign and Head of State of the UK and its overseas territories. The monarch, referred to in the abstract as 'The Crown', is the source of all legislative and executive power.
Since Henry VIII, the British monarch is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
The British monarch is also the Head of the Commonwealth, and the head of state in 16 of the 54 Commonwealth member countries.
The British political system is a 'constitutional monarchy': the supreme power held by the monarch is largely ceremonial and formal, with actual political power exercised by others.
Queen Elizabeth II can trace her lineage back to King Egbert, who united England in 829. The only interruption to the institution of the Monarchy was its brief abolition from 1649 to 1660, following the execution of Charles I and the rules of Oliver Cromwell and his son, Richard.
The crowns of England and Scotland were brought together on the accession of James VI of Scotland as James I of England in 1603. The 1707 Act of Union joined the countries as the Kingdom of Great Britain, while the 1801 Act of Union joined this with the Kingdom of Ireland, to create the United Kingdom.
Over the last thousand years, political power in Britain has passed from the Monarch, who reigned and ruled by virtue of the 'Divine Right of Kings', to Parliament. Parliament began as a body of leading nobles and clergy that the Monarch consulted in the exercise of power, which gradually assumed more and more power at the expense of the Monarch - particularly during the upheavals of the 17th Century, which culminated in the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1689. The 1701 Act of Settlement, critically, passed the power to decide on succession to the throne to Parliament.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, power had passed almost entirely to Parliament. However, Parliament and the Government exercise their powers under 'Royal Prerogative': on behalf of the Monarch and through powers still formally possessed by the Monarch.
The argument that the UK should abolish the Monarchy and become a republic remains at the fringes of mainstream political debate, partly because there is no alternative able to attract significant popular support. The political role of the Monarchy is of little interest to much of the public, which largely regards the Royal Family as celebrities.
However, the future shape of the Monarchy and the conduct of the Royal Family are highly controversial and widely-discussed topics.
The Monarchy as an institution retains public support and the Queen herself is perceived largely as above criticism, despite the standing of the Royal Family being regarded to have suffered considerably in the last 20 years.
The public cost of the Monarchy is also subject to widespread debate, as is the taxation of Royal Income, and symbolic issues about the inequality of the Royals and the citizens of the UK (who are formally the Monarch's 'subjects').
Another long-standing area of controversy has been the principle of male primogeniture and the specific injunctions against Roman Catholics ascending to the throne.
This issue was taken up recently by the Prime Minister, and at a meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government in Perth in October 2011, Mr Cameron announced that unanimous agreement had been reached on changes to the rules of succession.
Firstly, it was agreed to end the primogeniture rule, the change to be introduced for all descendants of the Prince of Wales. This means that if the first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to be a girl, she would succeed to the throne ahead of any brothers she may have.
Secondly, it was agreed to abolish the rule which says that no-one who marries a Roman Catholic can become monarch. However, the Prime Minister stressed that the monarch "must be in communion with the Church of England" because he or she is the head of that church.
New Zealand is to now chair a working group which will discuss the best way of accomplishing the reform in all the countries concerned, and legislation will need to be passed in the UK to change the rules on succession.
According to the Foreign Office, the Government is still looking into what legislation needs to be amended, but this will include the Bill of Rights, the Coronation Oath Act, the Act of Settlement, the Act of Union with Scotland, the Accession Declaration Act, Princess Sophia's Precedence Act, Royal Marriages Act, the Union with Ireland Act and the Regency Act.
The Queen is the second longest serving monarch. Only five other kings and queens in British history have reigned for 50 years or more. They are:
Victoria (63 years)
George III (59 years)
Henry III (56 years)
Edward III (50 years)
James VI of Scotland (James I of England) (58 years)
Since 1952 The Queen has given Royal Assent to more than 3,500 Acts of Parliament
Over the reign,Her Majesty has given regular audiences to 12 Prime Ministers. They are:
Winston Churchill 1951-55
Sir Anthony Eden 1955-57
Harold Macmillan 1957-63
Sir Alec Douglas-Home 1963-64
Harold Wilson 1964-70 and 1974-76
Edward Heath 1970-74
James Callaghan 1976-79
Margaret Thatcher 1979-90
John Major 1990-97
Tony Blair 1997-2007
Gordon Brown 2007-2010
David Cameron 2010 – present
There have been six Archbishops of Canterbury during The Queen's reign (Archbishops Geoffrey Fisher, Michael Ramsey, Donald Coggan, Robert
Runcie, George Carey and Rowan Williams).
There have been six Roman Catholic Popes during The Queen’s reign (Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI).
Source: The official website of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee – 2012
"The great strength of our constitutional approach is its ability to evolve.
"Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some of our out-dated rules – like some of the rules of succession – just don't make sense to us any more.
"The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic – this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become."
Prime Minister, David Cameron, speaking at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth - October 2011
"The events that I have attended to mark my Diamond Jubilee have been a humbling experience. It has touched me deeply to see so many thousands of families, neighbours and friends celebrating together in such a happy atmosphere…
"I hope that memories of all this year's happy events will brighten our lives for many years to come. I will continue to treasure and draw inspiration from the countless kindnesses shown to me in this country and throughout the Commonwealth. Thank you all."
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Message – June 2012