Governor-General (or Governor General) is a term used both historically and currently to designate the appointed representative of a head of state or their government for a particular territory, historically in a colonial context, but no longer necessarily in that form. The title has been, and is still used, for representatives of the Crown in the Realms of the Commonwealth, or in countries which were once British possessions. A primary example is the position as Governor-General of India, which existed from 1773 to 1950. The Representative of the Crown is a term used in various constitutions to refer to the Governor-General.

This title was also in use in the Imperial Russia for some time, see the Guberniya article.

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Lord Tweedsmuir was Governor General of Canada from 1935 to 1940. The uniform worn here was the customary ceremonial dress for Commonwealth Governors General until recently.

Commonwealth Usage

Today the title Governor-General is used in countries which recognise Queen Elizabeth II as the titular head of state, or sovereign, excluding the United Kingdom.

In its modern usage, the term Governor-General originated in those self-governing Dominions of the British Empire, such as Canada and Australia, which were federations of British colonies. Since each of these individual colonies already had a Governor, the Queen's representative to the federated Dominion was given the superior title Governor-General.

In these countries, now known as Commonwealth Realms, the Governor-General acts as the Queen's representative, performing all the ceremonial and constitutional functions of a head of state.

The Governor-General may exercise almost all the reserve powers that the Queen holds. Except in rare cases, the Governor-General only acts in accordance with constitutional convention and upon the advice of the Prime Minister. This was shown most clearly in 1975, when the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam.

In principle, the Queen could overrule the Governor-General, but this has not happened in modern times.


Until the 1920s, the Governors-General were British, appointed on the advice of the British Government, and acted as the representative of the British Government in each Dominion. The Governor-General could be instructed by the Colonial Secretary on the exercise of some of his functions and duties, such as the use or withholding of the Royal Assent from legislation. In 1931, as a result of discussions at the 1926 Commonwealth Conference, the Statute of Westminster was enacted and this role was abolished. The Governor General became the direct representative of the country's Sovereign only, and relations with the United Kingdom were placed in the hands of a British high commissioner in each country.

Also, in 1929, the Australian Prime Minister James Scullin established the right of a Dominion Prime Minister to advise the monarch directly on the appointment of a Governor-General, by insisting that his choice (Sir Isaac Isaacs, an Australian) prevail over the recommendation of the British government. The convention was gradually established throughout the Commonwealth that the Governor-General is a citizen of the country concerned, and is appointed on the advice of the government of that country, with no input from the British government.

Today the following countries have Governors-General: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Solomon Islands.

The Governor-General is usually a person with a distinguished record of public service, more often than not a former politician. The Governor-General is formally appointed by the Queen, following the specific request of the Prime Minister of the country concerned. Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are the only realms that elect their Governors General in some form. The Governor-General of Papua New Guinea is selected by a parliamentary vote, as is the Governor-General of the Solomon Islands.

Other attributes

(Main article: Administrator of the Government) Different realms have different arrangements governing who acts in place of the Governor-General following his or her death, resignation, or incapacity.

  • In Australia, the government of the day appoints a person as 'Administrator of the Commonwealth' to perform the necessary official functions, pending a decision and consultation with the Queen about a permanent replacement as Governor-General. By convention, the Administrator has usually been the senior Governor of the Australian states, but there is nothing to prevent a different person from being appointed.
  • In Canada and New Zealand, it is the Chief Justice.
  • In Papua New Guinea, it is the Speaker of the House.
  • Many Caribbean countries have a specific office of "Deputy Governor-General."

Most Commonwealth countries that originally had Governors-General are now republics, with the head of state being a President. Some are parliamentary republics, like India, where the presidency is a ceremonial post, like the that of the Queen. In others, like South Africa, the presidency is an executive post, as in the United States. Australia held a referendum on becoming a parliamentary republic in 1999, but this was rejected on various grounds. Barbados and Jamaica have also announced plans to become republics, in each case with a ceremonial President replacing the Queen as head of state, as Trinidad and Tobago did in 1976.

Traditionally, the Governor-General's official attire was the Windsor uniform or other ceremonial military dress, but this practice been abandoned in most jurisdictions in modern times. In South Africa, the Governors-General of the Union by the AfrikanerNationalist government chose not to wear the uniform. Most Governor-Generals continue to wear ceremonial medals on their clothing during special occasiona, however.

In most Commonwealth realms, the flag of the Governor-General has been the standard pattern of a blue flag with the Royal Crest (lion standing on a crown) above a scroll with the name of the jurisdiction. In Canada, however, this was replaced with a lion (with a crown) clasping a maple leaf. In the Solomon Islands, the scroll is replaced with a two-headed frigate bird motif, while in Fiji, the former Governor-General's flag featured a whale's tooth.

Other Usages

See also

de:Generalgouverneur es:Gobernador General eo:Guberniestro ĝenerala fr:Gouverneur général ja:総督 sv:generalguvernör


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