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The Crown is one of the oldest institutions in the United Kingdom and remains a significant part of its constitution.

It has, however, no single accepted definition. The term has been used to describe a physical object or as an alternative way of referring to the monarch in their personal or official capacity. At its most expansive, the Crown has been taken as a proxy for “the government” or what in other countries would be known as “the State”.

Concept of “the Crown”

The concept of the Crown developed first in England as a separation of the physical crown and property of the kingdom from the person and personal property of the monarch. As the kingdom merged with those in Scotland and Ireland, the concept extended to the legal lexicons of not only the United Kingdom but its dependencies and overseas territories, as well as several now independent Commonwealth Realms.

There are, as a result, many distinct Crowns – of Canada, Australia and other countries where the Queen Elizabeth II is head of state – all connected via the “personal union” of the current monarch, who marks her Platinum Jubilee during 2022.

The terms “the sovereign” or “monarch” and “the Crown” are related but have separate meanings. The Crown encompasses both the monarch and the government. It is vested in the Queen, but in general its functions are exercised by Ministers of the Crown accountable to the UK Parliament or the three devolved legislatures.

Capacities of the Crown

After exploring differing interpretations of the Crown, this briefing paper examines the laws relating to succession to the Crown in the United Kingdom. As much of the uncodified constitution of the United Kingdom comes from the Crown, this paper also looks at the Crown’s various capacities: parliamentary, executive, judicial, religious and international.

This briefing describes the Crown as it operates today, as well as examining some of the continuing traditions with which it is associated.


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