Great Officers of State

In the United Kingdom, the Great Officers of State are traditional ministers of The Crown who either inherit their positions or are appointed to exercise certain largely ceremonial functions or to operate as members of the government.[1] Separate Great Officers of State exist for England and for Scotland, as well as formerly for Ireland. Many of the Great Officers became largely ceremonial because historically they were so influential that their powers had to be resumed by The Crown or dissipated.

Government in medieval monarchies generally comprised the king's companions, later becoming the Royal Household, from which the officers of state arose, initially having household and government duties. Later some of these officers became two: one serving state and one serving household. They were superseded by new officers, or were absorbed by existing officers. Many of the officers became hereditary and thus removed from practical operation of either the state or the household.[2]

England and WalesEdit

The Great Officers of State of the former Kingdom of England, consisting of England and Wales, are:

Position[citation needed] Officer Current officers Notes
1 Lord High Steward Vacant Superseded by the office of Chief Justiciar, which later became a defunct office. The original Royal Household role is now filled by the Lord Steward.[2] The role is now permanently vacant, except for brief appointments during coronations, where the Lord High Steward performs certain functions in the ceremony.
2 Lord High Chancellor Robert Buckland The office of Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, last appointed in 1757, may replace that of Lord High Chancellor
3 Lord High Treasurer In commission as Lords Commissioners of the Treasury Superseded in practice by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is the Second Lord of the Treasury.[3] The Prime Minister also usually (though not always, but continuously since 1905) holds the position of First Lord of the Treasury. The other Lords of the Treasury (varying in number, usually between four and six, and currently six) are typically government whips.
4 Lord President of the Council Jacob Rees-Mogg Currently held by the Leader of the House of Commons
5 Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal The Baroness Evans of Bowes Park[3] Currently held by the Leader of the House of Lords
6 Lord Great Chamberlain In gross: The Marquess of Cholmondeley Superseded in practice by the Lord High Treasurer. The original Royal Household role is now filled by the Lord Chamberlain.
7 Lord High Constable Vacant Superseded in practice by the Earl Marshal. The original Royal Household role is now filled by the Master of the Horse
8 Earl Marshal The Duke of Norfolk The original Royal Household role is now filled by the Master of the Horse
9 Lord High Admiral Vacant From 1708 to 1964, usually in commission to the Board of Admiralty

Initially after the Norman Conquest, England adopted the officers from the Normandy Ducal court (which was modelled after the French court) with a steward, chamberlain and constable. Initially having household and governmental duties, some of these officers later split into two counterparts in Great Officer of the State and officer of the royal household, while other officers were superseded by new officers or absorbed by existing officers. This was due to many of the officers becoming hereditary due to feudalistic practices, and thus removed from the practical operation of either the state or the Royal Household.[2]

The Lord High Steward and Lord Great Chamberlain were superseded in their political functions by the Justiciar and Lord High Treasurer, and in their domestic functions by household offices with similar titles. The marshal of England assumed the place of the constable of England in the royal palace in the command of the royal armies.[2] The Chief Justiciar was once ranked above the Lord High Chancellor in power, influence and dignity until 1231 when the position lost its standing in the Kingdom.[4]

While most of the offices became hereditary at an early stage, currently some officers are appointed, while others inherit their positions.[1] The Lord High Stewardship was held by the Earls of Leicester until 1399 when the holder became the Sovereign; and since 1421, a Lord High Steward has generally only been appointed temporarily for special occasions such as a coronation or, before 1948, for the trials of peers.[5] The office of Lord Great Chamberlain is also hereditary, originally being held by the Earls of Oxford. Later, however, the Chamberlainship came to be inherited by the Earl of Lindsey and then his multiple heirs, each holding a fraction of the office. One of the holders, chosen by rotation, exercises the office as a Deputy.[6] The post of Lord High Constable was originally inherited by the Earls of Hereford, until when one holder was attainted and executed in 1521, the office reverted to the Crown, only to be reinstated for the day of a coronation.[7] The final inheritable office is that of Earl Marshal, held by the Dukes of Norfolk. During the many periods in which the Dukes were attainted, another individual was appointed to the post. Furthermore, prior to 1824, the Earl Marshal had to appoint a Protestant Deputy if he was a Roman Catholic.[8]

Some offices are put into ‘commission’; that is, multiple commissioners are appointed to collectively exercise the office. The office of Lord High Treasurer has been in commission since 1612, although not filled continuously until 1714:[9] the First Lord of the Treasury is the Prime Minister, the Second Lord is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the remaining Lords Commissioners are Government Whips.[10] The office of Lord High Admiral was for many years also in commission,[1] but merged with the crown in 1964 and is now an honorary appointment in the gift of the reigning monarch. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (consort of the current monarch) was granted the title on his 90th birthday. The remaining officers became governmental officers: Lord Chancellor, Lord President and Lord Privy Seal are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister.[11] The Lord Chancellor is Secretary of State for Justice; the posts of Lord President and Lord Privy Seal are normally each combined with a cabinet post[1]—currently Leader of the House of Commons and Leader of the House of Lords, respectively — they are a device by which cabinet members with these (or other) unpaid posts are paid a salary and given precedence.

The Great Officers had and have varying duties. The Lord High Steward was originally a holder of significant political power, but the office gradually became ceremonial, as have those of the Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord High Constable, and the Earl Marshal, all of them traditionally hereditary.[1] The Lord High Treasurer, Lord High Constable, and Lord High Admiral were originally responsible for monetary, military, and naval matters respectively.[9][7][12] The Lord President of the Council is responsible for presiding over the meetings of the Privy Council.[13] The office of Lord Privy Seal is a sinecure, though he is technically the Keeper of the Privy Seal. The Lord Chancellor is the most important of the Great Officers: he is the cabinet minister responsible for the Ministry of Justice (formerly the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Department for Constitutional Affairs) and formally Keeper of the Great Seal.

The Lord Keeper of the Great Seal was generally a temporary position to handle the great seal until the appointment of a new high chancellor or for a non-noble appointment. Eventually, the keeper was granted the same status as the high chancellor. By the late 1700s, the lord keeper's role was merged into the chancellorship itself.[14]

The House of Lords Act 1999 removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords, but the Act provided that the Lord Great Chamberlain and Earl Marshal be exempt from such a rule, so that they may continue to carry out their ceremonial functions in the House of Lords.[11] With the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Lord High Chancellor has been replaced in some roles by Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales as head of the judiciary[15] and Lord Speaker as chair of the House of Lords.[16]


The term "officer of state" is sometimes used loosely of any great office under the Crown. As in England, many offices are hereditary. A number of historical offices ended at or soon after the Treaty of Union 1707. There are also a number of Officers of the Crown and Great Officers of the Royal Household.

Officers of StateEdit

Order Officers of State Notes[17][18] Current
Greater Officers
1 Lord High Chancellor Merged with Lord High Chancellor of England
2 Lord High Treasurer Merged with Lord High Treasurer of England
3 Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland Vacant since 1922
4 Lord Secretary Abolished
Lesser Officers
5 Lord Clerk Register The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
6 Lord Advocate James Wolffe, QC
7 Treasurer-depute Abolished
8 Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian
9 Lord Lyon King of Arms Joseph John Morrow, QC
Comptroller Lord High Treasurer see other officer
Master of the Requests Lord Secretary

These Officers of State were also called "Officers of the Crown" despite there being a separate group of officers so named that are not officers of state.[17]

Officers of the CrownEdit

Order Officers of the Crown[19] note current
1 Lord President of the Council Privy Council abolished, 1708 N/A
2 Lord High Chamberlain Resigned to the Crown, 1703 N/A
3 Lord High Steward joined with Lord Steward & later the Crown N/A
4 Lord High Constable Extant The Earl of Erroll
5 Knight Marischal vacant since 1863 N/A
6 Earl Marischal forfeit 1715 N/A

These officers were unlike the officers of state and did not sit or vote in meetings.[17]


After the abolition of the Mayor of the Palace, France established seven officers of the crown (ordered by rank): the high constable, the high admiral, the high or great chancellor, the great justiciar, the great chamberlain, the great protonotary, and the great steward or seneschal. These offices were duplicated in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and Scotland. By the time of King Malcolm II, the great protonotary was extinct and the great justiciar was replaced by the lord justice general.[20]

The post of High Constable is held by the Earls of Erroll. Originally, the heads of the Keith family held the office of Earl Marischal, but in 1716, the holder was attainted for treason, and the office has not been regranted. The Dukes of Argyll are the Hereditary Masters of the Household. All other officers are Crown appointees. Many of these offices, though originally associated with political power, are only ceremonial now.

The remaining officers are related to Scotland's judiciary. The Lord Justice General was originally an important noble, though in the 19th century, the office was combined with that of Lord President of the Court of Session. Now, the Lord Justice General is the head of Scotland's judiciary. The Lord Clerk Register is an officer with miscellaneous functions that included conducting the elections of representative peers and registering births and deaths. The Lord Advocate is at the head of the law offices of Scotland; all prosecutors act in his name. The Lord Justice Clerk serves as a deputy of the Lord Justice General. Finally, the Lord Lyon King of Arms is the sole judge in the Lyon Court, which determines cases relating to heraldry.

Previous to the Union of 1707 there were eight total officers of state, four great officers and four lesser officers. This limited by an act of parliament, such that the 2 officers of state, Comptroller and Master of the Requests, were merged with Lord High Treasurer and Lord Secretary respectively.[21] The greater officers were the Lord High Chancellor, Lord High Treasurer, Lord Privy Seal, the Lord Secretary. The lesser officers were the Lord Register, the Lord Advocate, the Lord Treasurer-depute, and the Lord Justice Clerk with the Lord Register the only one fixed in precedency.[17]

A number of offices ended at or soon after the Union of 1707. These include the High Chancellor, the High Treasurer, the Treasurer-depute of Scotland, the Secretary of State, Scotland, the Master of Requests and the President of the Privy Council.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "State, Great Officers of" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 25 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 801. This cites:
    • Stubbs, Constitutional History, ch. xi.
    • Freeman, Norman Conquest, ch. xxiv.
    • Gneist, Constitution of England, ch. xvi., xxv. and liv.
  2. ^ a b c d Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Household, Royal" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 13 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 813–814.
  3. ^ a b "Who is in Theresa May's reshuffled Cabinet?". The Telegraph. 12 June 2017. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  4. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Justiciar" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 595.
  5. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lord High Steward" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 3.
  6. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lord Great Chamberlain" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 2.
  7. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lord High Constable" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 3.
  8. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Earl Marshal" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 796–797.
  9. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lord High Treasurer" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 4–5.
  10. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Treasury" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 228–229.
  11. ^ a b Great Officers of State: The Lord Great Chamberlain and The Earl Marshal Archived 6 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine. The Royal Family. Debrett's Limited. Accessed 17 September 2013.
  12. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Admiral" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 195.
  13. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lord President of the Council" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 5.
  14. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lord Keeper of the Great Seal" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 5.
  15. ^ Rozenberg, Joshua (30 January 2013). "Lord chief justice: changes to judiciary 'eroding something important'". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  16. ^ "Lord Speaker". 1 October 2008. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  17. ^ a b c d Chamberlayne, Edward; Chamberlayne, John (1718). Magnae Britanniae notitia, or, The present state of Great-Britain: with divers remarks upon the ancient state thereof. Printed for T. Godwin. p. 396.
  18. ^ "The Officers of State in Scotland". Juridical Review. 23: 152–170. 1911–1912. Retrieved 22 April 2017.
  19. ^ Chamberlayne & Chamberlayne 1718, p. 399.
  20. ^ Walter Goodal (1872). A Short Account of the Officers of State, and other Great Officers in Scotland. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 1, pp 415–426. doi:10.1017/S008044010000075X.
  21. ^ Chamberlayne & Chamberlayne 1718, Chapter V. pp. 400-401.