King Charles III and The Gazette: Peer and counsellor

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Ahead of the coronation due to take place on Saturday 6 May 2023, historian Russell Malloch examines aspects of the new King’s life that have left a record in The Gazette. In this chapter, we look at Charles III’s role as a peer and counsellor.



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Peer and counsellor

Prince Charles’s hereditary honours gave him the right to sit in the House of Peers in the Palace of Westminster, where he was formally introduced on 11 February 1970, wearing the parliamentary robe of a duke, and the gold collar of a knight of the Garter. The prince’s supporters on that occasion were two dukes, Beaufort and Kent, while the Osman coronet from the Caernarvon investiture was carried in the procession by his equerry, David Checketts.

Similar Westminster ceremonies were reported in The Gazette in the past, and in particular when the patent of Prince George (George IV) was read in Parliament in 1783 (Gazette issue 12492), and when Albert Edward (Edward VII) was introduced in 1863 (Gazette issue 22706). The Gazette did not, however, notice the 1970 proceedings or the introduction of Prince Charles’s grandfather or great-grandfather as dukes of York on 23 June 1920 (George VI) and 17 June 1892 (George V), or the ceremonial for his great-uncle (Edward VIII) who came as prince of Wales and earl of Chester on 19 February 1918.

The format of the Victorian ceremony was adopted for Prince Charles’s introduction, as he proceeded from the bar with the usual reverences or bows. His documents were then given to the lord chancellor, Lord Gardiner, who delivered them to the clerk of the Parliaments, Sir David Stephens, who read the 1958 patent and the writ of summons. After Prince Charles took the required oath and signed the roll, he was conducted to his chair on the right hand of the throne.

The prince witnessed the business of Parliament on many occasions, but not as a contributor to debates in the chamber, but rather to hear his mother deliver the sovereign’s speech to the assembled houses of Peers and Commons at the opening of each new session.

Prince Charles attended his first state opening of Parliament on 2 July 1970, when the Queen’s speech referred to the start of negotiations for membership of the European Communities, and to other familiar issues, such as inflation, immigration and the care of the environment.

The prince’s place at Westminster was affected by the House of Lords Act, which received royal assent on 11 November 1999 and, subject to certain exceptions, provided that no-one could be a member of that house by virtue of a hereditary peerage, which was deemed to include “the principality of Wales and the earldom of Chester”. The act did not determine the status of the “royal peculiars” that were revived when the prince became the heir apparent in 1952, including the dukedoms of Cornwall and Rothesay.

The Cabinet Office notes relating to the 1999 legislation indicate that the general exclusion of hereditary peers extended to members of the royal family with the right to sit and vote, which at that time covered the Prince of Wales, the Dukes of Edinburgh, Gloucester, Kent and York, and the Earl of Wessex.

Prince Charles continued to witness proceedings at Westminster after the 1999 statute came into force but, as before, this mainly related to the state openings. The Gazette reported the patent of 10 May 2022 under which the prince was named as a counsellor of state for the purpose of opening the new session of parliament in the absence of the Queen (Gazette issue 63710). He delivered the speech from the throne on that day, with the imperial state crown resting on a cushion before him.

Opening of Parliament with Charles, Prince of Wales in 2022

Counsellor of State

The prince’s introduction to the House of Lords occurred more than two years after he gained his first important constitutional role, when he became a counsellor of state under the provisions of the Regency Acts of 1937 to 1953.

Those acts allowed for such royal functions as may be specified in letters patent to be delegated to counsellors of state to prevent delay or difficulty in the despatch of public business. This procedure was usually used when the Queen was visiting one of her overseas realms, or a foreign country, and was also employed in May 2022 when she was unable to attend the state opening of parliament.

The law required that counsellors had to be at least 18 years of age, and for most of the Queen’s reign the candidates were limited by the Regency Acts to her husband and mother, and the four persons who were next in line to succeed to the Crown. The 1953 provision was amended for the first time in December 2022 when the Earl of Wessex and the Princess Royal were added to the list of eligible persons under the Counsellors of State Act 2022.

Prince Charles was therefore eligible to be appointed a counsellor on reaching his 18th birthday, which he did in November 1966. The Gazette recorded his first nomination to exercise the royal functions, which were set out in a patent of 26 June 1967 that dealt with the Queen’s trip to Canada to attend the celebrations to commemorate the centenary of the confederation (Gazette issue 44352).

The royal functions that were delegated to the prince, who acted in 1967 with the Queen Mother, the Countess of Snowdon and the Duke of Gloucester, included “full power and authority during the period of our said absence to summon and hold on our behalf our Privy Council and to signify thereat our approval for anything for which our approval in council is required”.

The prince attended several Privy Council meetings in this capacity, and The Gazette noticed some of the matters he dealt with. In July 1976, for example, he and the Queen Mother received the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress Len Murray and Lord Justice Waller to be sworn in as members of the council, and they approved an order to increase the payments in respect of disablement or death due to service in the naval forces (Gazette issue 46986).

The Regency Acts may have given the counsellors of state a role in connection with the work of the Privy Council, but the statutes did not make them members of the council, even although they had the right to approve orders. The majority of the counsellors have not been members of the council, as was the case with the Queen Mother and the Countess of Snowdon.

Unlike most of the royal counsellors, Prince Charles was admitted to the Privy Council, being introduced at a meeting at Buckingham Palace on 20 December 1977. The ceremony was attended by an unusually large number of the existing privy counsellors, including the archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Foot as lord president, the secretaries of state for Scotland and Wales, and Margaret Thatcher as leader of the Opposition.

The prince’s appointment was not gazetted, in accordance with the practice that had applied to members of the Privy Council since the early 1940s, and in contrast to The Gazette’s reporting of the ceremony for the majority of earlier counsellors, including the Duke of York (George VI), in June 1925.

About the author

Russell Malloch is a member of the Orders and Medals Research Society and an authority on British honours.

See also

The Accession of King Charles III

Succession to the Crown: An introduction

Gazette Firsts: The history of The Gazette and royal coronations


The Gazette

PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Publication date: 17 April 2023

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.