Private Secretary to the Sovereign

Last updated on 4 November 2017

The Private Secretary to the Sovereign is the senior operational member of the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom (as distinct from the Great Officers of the Household). The Private Secretary is the principal channel of communication between the monarch and the governments in each of the Commonwealth realms. They also have responsibility for the official programme and correspondence of the Sovereign. Through these roles the position wields considerable influence.

The office of Private Secretary was first established in 1805. The current Private Secretary is Edward Young who succeeded Sir Christopher Geidt in October 2017.

History

Colonel Herbert Taylor, who was appointed in 1805, is acknowledged as the first Private Secretary to the Sovereign. However, the office was not formally established until 1867. Constitutionally there was some opposition on the part of Ministers to the creation of an office which might grow to have considerable influence upon the Sovereign. However, it was soon realised that the Sovereign was in need of secretarial support, since his or her Ministers had ceased to provide daily advice and support with the growth of ministerial government. Queen Victoria did not have a Private Secretary until she appointed General the Honourable Sir Charles Grey to the office in 1861; her husband Prince Albert had effectively been her secretary until his death.

Functions

The principal functions of the office are:

  • to act as a channel of communication between the Sovereign and his or her governments, and to advise the Sovereign on constitutional, political or governmental questions;
  • to organise the official programme of the Sovereign, and to ensure its acceptability to both the Sovereign and the Government; these duties including drafting speeches, maintaining liaison with other Households, the Royal Train, The Queen's Helicopter, No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron RAF, and the armed forces — the latter through the Defence Services Secretary; and
  • to deal with the Sovereign's official correspondence (including congratulatory messages), from members of the public, the Press Office, and the Court Circular; and also to deal with the Sovereign's private papers, the Royal Archives, and the monarchy's official website.

The position of Private Secretary is regarded as equivalent to that of the permanent secretary of a government department. The incumbent is always made a Privy Counsellor on appointment, and has customarily received a peerage upon retirement (a life peerage since 1972). Until 1965, peerages granted to Private Secretaries were hereditary baronies, with the exception of Lord Knollys, who was created a viscount in 1911. All Private Secretaries since the time of Lord Stamfordham have been created peers, with the exceptions of Sir Alexander Hardinge (inherited his father's barony in 1944), Sir Alan Lascelles (declined as he felt titles to be a show of self-importance) and Sir William Heseltine (who is an Australian).

The Private Secretary is head of only one of the several operational divisions of the Royal Household. However, he or she is involved in co-ordination between various parts of the Household, and has direct control over the Press Office, the Queen's Archives, and the office of the Defence Services Secretary.

Liaison with the Government

The Private Secretary is responsible for liaising with the Cabinet Secretary, the Privy Council Office (PCO), and the Ministry of Justice's Crown Office in relation to:

  • appointments that are formally made by the Sovereign;
  • the scheduling of the meetings of the Privy Council; and
  • the transmission of official documents that need to be signed by the Sovereign.

Security

A recent addition to the Private Secretary's Office is the post of Director for Security Liaison, first held by Brigadier Jeffrey Cook, OBE MC, who was in office 2004-2008. The Private Secretary has general oversight of security, though the Master of the Household is also involved, and the Keeper of the Privy Purse has responsibility for the ceremonial bodyguards, such as the Gentlemen at Arms and the Yeomen of the Guard.

List of Private Secretaries to the Sovereign since 1805

Sovereign Private Secretary From To
George III Colonel Herbert Taylor 1805 1811
The Prince Regent
(George IV from 1820)
Colonel the Rt Hon. Sir John McMahon, Bt 1811 1817
Lieutenant-General Sir Benjamin Bloomfield, GCB (later Lord Bloomfield) 1817 1822
Sir William Knighton, Bt 1822 1830
William IV Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Taylor, GCB, GCH[1] 1830 1837
Victoria
The Rt Hon. the Viscount Melbourne, PC[1] (informally, while Prime Minister) 1837 1840
HRH The Prince Consort, KG, KT, KP, GCB, GCMG, KSI[1] (informally) 1840 1861
Colonel the Hon. Sir Charles Phipps, KCB[1] 1861 1866
General the Hon. Sir Charles Grey[1] 1861 1870
Major-General the Rt Hon. Sir Henry Ponsonby, GCB[1] 1870 1895
Lieutenant-Colonel the Rt Hon. Sir Arthur Bigge, KCB, CMG (later Lord Stamfordham)[1] 1895 1901
Edward VII The Rt Hon. the Lord Knollys, GCB, GCVO, KCMG, ISO (later Viscount Knollys)[1] 1901 1910
George V 1910 1913
Lieutenant-Colonel the Rt Hon. Lord Stamfordham, GCB, GCVO, GCIE, KCSI, KCMG, ISO 1910 1931
Colonel the Rt Hon. Sir Clive Wigram, GCB, GCVO, CSI (later Lord Wigram) 1931 1936
Edward VIII Major the Rt Hon. Sir Alexander Hardinge, GCVO, KCB, MC (later Lord Hardinge of Penshurst) 1936 1936
George VI 1936 1943
Captain the Rt Hon. Sir Alan Lascelles, GCB, GCVO, CMG, MC 1943 1952
Elizabeth II 1952 1953
Lieutenant-Colonel the Rt Hon. Sir Michael Adeane, GCB, GCVO (later Lord Adeane) 1953 1972
Lieutenant-Colonel the Rt Hon. Sir Martin Charteris, GCB, GCVO, OBE (later Lord Charteris of Amisfield) 1972 1977
The Rt Hon. Sir Philip Moore, GCB, GCVO, CMG (later Lord Moore of Wolvercote) 1977 1986
The Rt Hon. Sir William Heseltine, GCB, GCVO, AC 1986 1990
The Rt Hon. Sir Robert Fellowes, GCB, GCVO (later Lord Fellowes) 1990 1999
The Rt Hon. Sir Robin Janvrin, GCB, GCVO (later Lord Janvrin) 1999 2007
The Rt Hon. Sir Christopher Geidt, GCVO, KCB, OBE (later Lord Geidt) 2007 2017
The Rt Hon. Edward Young, CVO 2017

Deputy Private Secretaries to the Sovereign since 1972

Deputy Private Secretary From To
Sir Philip Moore, KCVO, CB, CMG 1972 1977
Sir William Heseltine, KCVO, CB 1977 1986
Sir Robert Fellowes, KCVO, CB 1986 1990
Sir Kenneth Scott, KCVO, CMG 1990 1996
Sir Robin Janvrin, KCVO, CB 1996 1999
Mary Francis, CBE, LVO February 1999 June 1999
Christopher Geidt, CVO, OBE 2005 2007
Edward Young, CVO 2007 2017

Assistant Private Secretaries to the Sovereign since 1878

Assistant Private Secretary From To
Lieutenant-Colonel the Rt Hon. Sir Fleetwood Edwards, KCB 1878 1895
Colonel Sir Arthur Bigge, KCB 1880 1895
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Frederick Ponsonby, KCB, KCVO 1895 1914
Colonel Sir Arthur Davidson, KCB, KCVO 1901 1910
Colonel Sir Clive Wigram, KCVO, CB, CSI 1910 1931
The Earl of Cromer 1916 1920
Major the Hon. Sir Alexander Hardinge, CB, CVO, MC 1920 1936
Sir Frank Mitchell, KCVO, CBE 1931 1937
Sir Alan Lascelles, KCVO, CB, CMG 1935 1943
Sir Godfrey Thomas, Bt, KCVO, CSI 1936 1936
Major Sir Michael Adeane, KCVO, CB 1936 1953
Sir Eric Mieville, KCIE KCVO, CSI, CMG 1937 1945
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Edward Ford, GCVO, KCB, ERD, DL 1946 1967
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Martin Charteris, KCVO, CB, OBE 1952 1972
Philip Moore, CMG 1966 1972
William Heseltine, CVO 1972 1977
Robert Fellowes, LVO 1977 1985
Sir Kenneth Scott, KCVO, CMG 1985 1990
Robin Janvrin, CVO 1990 1995
Mary Francis 1996 1999
Tim Hitchens, LVO 1999 2002
Kay Brock, LVO 1999 2002
Stuart Shilson, LVO 2001 2004
Christopher Geidt, OBE 2002 2005
Edward Young 2004 2007
Douglas King 2007 2012
Samantha Cohen 2010 2017

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Chris Cook and Brendan Keith, British Historical Facts 1830-1800, Macmillan 1975, p. 107.

See also

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