Great Officer of State

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In the United Kingdom, the Great Officers of State are officers who either inherit their positions or are appointed by the Crown, and exercise certain ceremonial functions. Separate Great Officers exist for England and Scotland, and formerly for Ireland.


The Great Officers of England are:

  1. Lord High Steward
  2. Lord High Chancellor
  3. Lord High Treasurer
  4. Lord President of the Council
  5. Lord Privy Seal
  6. Lord Great Chamberlain
  7. Lord High Constable
  8. Earl Marshal
  9. Lord High Admiral

Some officers are appointed, while others inherit their positions. 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 either for the day of a coronation or for the trials of peers (before 1948). 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 multiple heirs, each holding a fraction of the office. One of the holders, chosen by rotation, exercises the office as a Deputy. The post of Lord High Constable was originally inherited by the Earls of Hereford, but 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. 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.

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 1714. The office of Lord High Admiral was for many years also in commission, and is now vested in the Sovereign. The remaining officers — Lord Chancellor, Lord President and Lord Privy Seal — are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister. The posts of Lord President and Lord Privy Seal are normally combined with that of Leader of the House of Commons and Leader of the House of Lords, respectively, though the current Government has the posts reversed.

The Great Officers had and have varying duties. The Lord High Steward was originally a holder of significant political power, but gradually became a ceremonial officer, as have become the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal. The Lord High Treasurer, Lord High Constable, and Lord High Admiral were originally responsible for monetary, military, and naval matters respectively. The Lord President of the Council is responsible for presiding over the meetings of the Privy Council. The Lord Privy Seal is a sinecure office, though he is technically the Keeper of the Privy Seal. The Lord Chancellor has the greatest range of functions: he is the Keeper of the Great Seal, the Speaker of the House of Lords, the most senior judge in England and Wales, and a cabinet minister responsible for the Lord Chancellor's Department (now the Department for Constitutional Affairs).

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.

The current Great Officers are:


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

Scotland's present Officers of State are:

  1. Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland
  2. Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland
  3. Lord Clerk Register
  4. Lord Advocate
  5. Lord Justice Clerk
  6. Lord Justice General
  7. Lord Lyon King of Arms

Officers of the Crown are:

  1. The Great Chamberlain
  2. The Lord High Constable
  3. Earl Marischal
  4. Lord High Admiral
  5. The Knight Marischal
  6. Lord Lyon King of Arms

The Great Officers of the Royal Household are:

  1. The Lord High Constable
  2. The Master of the Household
  3. The Keeper of Holyroodhouse
  4. The Armour-Bearer
  5. The Bearer of the Royal Banner
  6. The Bearer of the National Flag of Scotland
  7. Lord Justice General
  8. Great Steward of Scotland

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

As in England, many offices are hereditary. 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 nineteenth 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.

The current Great Officers are:

The Royal Household in Scotland also includes a number of other hereditary and non-hereditary offices, now including The Master Carver, Hereditary Keepers of Palaces and Castles, the Lord Lyon and his heralds and pursuivants, the Governor of Edinburgh Castle, the Queen's Bodyguard, the Dean of the Thistle, the Dean of the Chapel Royal, chaplains, physicians, surgeons, apothecaries, the Historiographer Royal, the Botanist, the Painter and Limner, the Sculptor and the Astronomer Royal for Scotland.

The most senior cabinet posts, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Prime Minister are also collectively known as great offices of


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