​​Everything you need to know about the regency act – and when the Queen could trigger it

Queen ‘maintaining a busy diary’ says commentator

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On Tuesday, the Queen missed the State Opening of Parliament for only the third time during her entire reign. Her heirs, Prince Charles and Prince William, stood in for the monarch in an unprecedented move that signifies a shift within the Royal Family. The Prince of Wales has taken on several of his mother’s responsibilities in the past decade, a load that has become heavier in recent months due to concerns surrounding Her Majesty’s health. 

His increasing involvement has led to him being described as regent in all but name. 

Now, the Queen’s recent absence from the State Opening, and Charles acting on her behalf, has raised questions about whether the Regency Act will ever be put into effect. 

The Regency Act, officially signed into law in 1937, specifies who stands in for a monarch when they are unable to carry out their duties. 

It came into force in the first year of King George VI’s reign, as his heir, then-Princess Elizabeth, was just 10 years old. 

If the throne had passed to Elizabeth before her eighteenth birthday, a regent would have been appointed to rule for her until she came of age. 

The Act specified that a regent should be appointed if “the Sovereign is by reason of infirmity of mind or body incapable for the time being of performing the royal functions.”

Typically, the next adult in the line of succession becomes regent, so in the case of the Queen, Charles would step in. 

The role of Counsellors of State, which allows two of five people to exercise power if the monarch is temporarily unable to fulfil their duties, was also part of the 1937 Act. 

The Counsellors are the Sovereign’s spouse and the four members of the Royal Family next in the line of succession. 

It is in their positions as Counsellors of State that Charles and William stood in for the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament. 

Following the Queen’s State Opening absence, some royal experts have claimed that the Queen could appoint Charles as regent in the coming year. 

Robert Hardman, author of Queen of Our Times, a definitive biography of Elizabeth produced with the help of Buckingham Palace, told The Daily Beast that the “resolution to her absence” is from “the use of the Regency Act”.

Duncan Larcombe, former royal editor at The Sun, said he suspects “Charles will actually be officially installed in some kind of regency capacity within a year.”

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Similarly, Clive Irving, author of The Last Queen, said he suspects the Regency Act will be put in place “once the Jubilee is over”. 

If the Queen does decide to step down from all of her royal duties and install a regent, she would not be the first monarch to do so.

The most recent example was in 1811, when George IV, Augustus Frederick, the Prince of Wales was appointed as regent after his father King George III became too mentally unstable to reign. 

At this time, a regency could only be established on a case by case basis, so the Regency Act of 1811 was passed to allow the Prince to stand in for George III. 

He was Prince Regent for nine years until his father died in 1820, after which he was crowned King George IV.

George IV oversaw a revival in architecture and the arts during his regency and reign, which is now identified by the label “regency.” 

He also gave a name to London landmarks Regent’s Street and Regent’s Park.

Charles, the current Prince of Wales, has been said to be “teetering on the edge of becoming a de facto prince regent.”

Former BBC royal correspondent, Peter Hunt, told PA on Tuesday the State Opening was a “significant moment for two future kings.”

He continued: “Charles will accelerate his on-the-job training. The heir is teetering on the edge of becoming de facto prince regent. William will observe what awaits him.

“With the Queen progressively withdrawing from public life, the palace is keen to show the monarchy is safe in the hands of father and son.”

While appointing Charles as regent would not mean the Queen is abdicating, Mr Irving has claimed that the “use of the Regency Act is the first step towards abdication.”

It has long been believed that Her Majesty would never abdicate, with many saying it would take “drastic” circumstances for her to give up the throne. 

In her Accession Day message to mark her 70-year reign, she renewed the pledge she made in 1947, on her 21st birthday, to commit her life to service. 

While in Britain abdication is associated with the chaos and constitutional crisis caused by Edward VIII in 1936, other monarchies embrace abdication as a positive way of passing on the responsibilities to the next generation of royals. 

In the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, abdication has meant reinvention. 

While the older generation is able to peacefully retire, the younger generation can take over and inject much-needed energy and imagination into the monarchy.

However, Queen Elizabeth is said to remain very much “in charge” of the British Royal Family. 

Robert Lacey, royal expert and author, told People magazine on Tuesday that the Regency Act will not be invoked in this case. 

He said: “Asking her son, Charles, and William to attend is clearly about succession, about emphasising a partnership and teamwork.

“Regency involves a surrender of constitutional authority, which is very much not happening in this case.

He added: “The sense I get from everyone I speak to is that the Queen remains totally in control of her faculties and of everything at the palace.

“The problem is physical mobility — and that is not a constitutional or regency issue. She is in charge.”

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