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Study Notes

Constitutional Monarchy

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

A constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which the monarch can only rule within the limits of a constitution. It can also be called a parliamentary monarchy, and it effectively means for the UK that the country’s monarch acts as non-political head of state under our unwritten constitutions, although plenty of constitutional monarchies have written constitutions.

Most monarchs hold formal reserve powers, and in most constitutional monarchies the general convention is that the government officially takes place in the monarch’s name. For instance, in the UK there is Her Majesty’s Government, faced in our adversarial system by Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Formal powers that the UK’s monarch possesses is that of dissolving parliament or giving Royal Assent to legislation.

However, monarchs don’t set public policy nor choose political leaders, which is why the Political scientist Vernon Bogdanor has defined a constitutional monarch as “a sovereign who reigns but does not rule.” So, a constitutional monarch acts as a visible symbol of national unity, and the exercise of their powers are generally a formality, without the sovereign enacting personal political preference.

So, in “The English Constitution”, Walter Bagehot identifies the right to be consulted, advise and warn as the three main political rights a constitutional monarch can freely exercise.

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