The British monarchy is one of the older established monarchies in the world, and although it has changed quite a bit in the intervening centuries, the British monarch is still one of the most recognizable world figures. As of 2013, Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State in Great Britain, and the country’s face. She has the authority over the courts, is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and is the head of the Church of England. As a result, Queen Elizabeth appoints ministers, judges, diplomats, bishops, governors and some officers in the armed forces. She is head of the executive branch of government in Great Britain and must officially assent to a Bill from Parliament in order for it to become a law.
King John found his royal powers and prerogatives hobbled in 1215, with the signing of the Magna Carta. The British had never been particularly fond of absolute monarchy, and the lords and nobles of the realm had, quite simply, had all they could take from the British monarch and his decrees. Royal power and royal duties changed and declined over the centuries.
The result today is that, while Queen Elizabeth is sovereign over her nation, the British Parliament holds the real power. The queen can suggest or advise, but the days of her telling Parliament what it will and will not pass are long over. She does open the session of Parliament every year, however, and makes a speech setting forth her government’s objectives for the coming year.
One of the most obvious duties of the British monarch is walkabout. This is the name for the tours, openings, and appearances Queen Elizabeth makes all over her country, and anywhere she visits. The queen often shakes hands with her subjects, accepts bouquets and gifts, and generally presents a public, charitable face, whereby her subjects can see her. Walkabout has greatly increased the popularity of the monarch.
Queen Elizabeth also visits other heads of state and/or government, and is her country’s “public relations” person. Her visits help set the tone for relations between governments. She attends state dinners in her own and other countries, and Buckingham Palace is the site of most state functions.
The British monarch is more of a figurehead these days, but he or she can help nudge the country in various directions and is, therefore, still a major player in Government.