How Much Power Does Queen Elizabeth Have, Really?

Queen Elizabeth II owns all the “unmarked, mute” swans in the United Kingdom, and she can drive without a license. But what does a crown get you these days, really?

Queen Elizabeth II can’t throw everyone who annoys her into the Tower of London. But there’s plenty she can technically do—she just has better sense than to try.


Queen Elizabeth II’s formal and largely theoretical powers have gotten attention, thanks to the Brexit antics of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a truly cursed string of words. He recently called for Parliament to be “prorogued,” or temporarily suspended, as a way of running out the clock and making a “no deal” path out of the EU more likely. But in order to pull this off, he had to ask the queen’s permission—which she granted, not because she necessarily agrees politically with Johnson’s maneuver, but because the delicate balance of the monarchy’s continued existence in the age of democracy means she’s really supposed to do whatever the elected end of the British government asks.

In this, the first in a series of videos in which I attempt to explain the arcane, vaguely comical, mostly vestigial, world of the royals, I break down the difference between the Queen’s technical power—the power she can actually use if she wants “the Firm” to keep operating.

Senior Editor at Jezebel, specializing in books, royals, romance novels, houses, history, and the stories we tell about domesticity and femininity. Resident Windsor expert.


Mortal Dictata

All those other things fall under “she could do these things, but she doesn’t”.

Ministerial Appointments, the Honours List, Pardons, Church decisions etc are all done by the government of the day or the General Synod and she can’t veto any of it because she has no power. As regards for crimes, there’s nothing really stopping the government just changing the system and charging the Monarch anyhow as there is the precedent of beheading a monarch for treason against “the people”.

Her power is literally in the same category of passive aggressive “well you could do that, if you want everyone to hate you” arguments and we keep her there because it’s easier and causes less arguments than trying to work out a different way of having a head of state...

She doesn’t air political opinions because she doesn’t want the attention. She just can’t do it period if she wants to keep her cushy job.