King Charles on Monday asked the UK Parliament to amend specific legislation concerning the royal family in order to allow his sister and youngest brother to be made Counsellors of State — a move that would add them to the select group of royals who can step in to represent the monarch and carry out (most of) their duties if the sovereign is unable to perform them due to illness or absence from the country.
By law — specifically, the Regency Act 1937 and the Regency Act 1953 — the Counsellors of State are the spouse of the monarch and the first four people in the line of succession who are above the age of 21 (or 18, in the case of the first in line to the throne). They must all be British citizens living in the UK.
A look at the current official line of succession makes it very clear why the King is requesting the addition of Princess Anne (her technical title is Anne, Princess Royal) and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
By the law as it stands, the Counsellors of State are: Queen Camilla; Prince William; Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Princess Beatrice of York.
Of that group of five, only two are official working members of the royal family. Andrew was forced to retire from royal life in 2019 when his association with financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein came under scrutiny (and since then, he has settled a civil lawsuit brought by a woman who alleged that she was forced to have sex with him when she was under the age of 18). Harry and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, chose to step back from official royal life and move to the United States in 2020. Beatrice has never been a working member of the royal family.
Expanding the group to include Anne, who is 16th in line to the throne, and Edward, who is 13th in line, would mean the addition of two full-time, publicly funded royals to the short list of people who can step in for the King if needed.
In February, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the monarch has no control over which members of the royal family are Counsellors of State; they are determined by legislation and can be changed only by an act of Parliament.
On Monday, a message from the King “signed by his own hand” requesting that Anne and Edward be made Counsellors of State was read in the House of Lords.
“To ensure continued efficiency of public business when I am unavailable, such as when I am undertaking official duties overseas, I confirm that I would be most content, should Parliament see fit, for the number of people who may be called upon to act as Counsellors of State under the terms of the Regency Acts 1937 and 1953 to be increased to include my sister and brother, the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex & Forfar, both of whom have previously undertaken this role.”
After the message was read by the Lord Chamberlain, murmurs of “here, here” could be heard in the House of Lords.
The royal family’s official website includes a section about the Counsellors of State and their responsibilities, although it has not been updated to reflect the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
“Counsellors of State are authorised to carry out most of the official duties of the Sovereign, for example, attending Privy Council meetings, signing routine documents and receiving the credentials of new ambassadors to the United Kingdom,” the official website reads. “However, there are a number of core constitutional functions that may not be delegated: commonwealth matters; the dissolving of Parliament, except on Her Majesty’s express instruction; the creation of peers; appointing a prime minister.”
Read more of BuzzFeed News’s reporting on Counsellors of State here.