Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Great Officer of State

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. The Great Officers 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

The Great Offices of Lord High Steward, Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord High Constable and Earl Marshal were traditionally hereditary, while the other five were appointed for limited periods. However, the offices of Lord High Steward and Lord High Constable fell out of use in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the offices are now "called out of abeyance" only for the day of coronations. Also, the office of Lord High Treasurer has been "in commission," or entrusted to multiple individuals instead of a single person, since 1714. Finally, the office of Lord High Admiral was for many years also in commission, and is now vested in the Sovereign. Thus, there are really only five Great Officers of State, and there may soon be four, for Tony Blair's Government has announced plans to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor.

The Great Officers had varying duties. The Lord High Steward was a ceremonial officer, as are the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal. The Lord High Treasurer, Lord High Constable, and Lord High Admiral were originally responsible for monetary, army, 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 Department for Constitutional Affairs).