26th July 1968. La Reyne le Veult.
Today in 1968 the Royal Assent was given to the Theft Act replacing the 1916 Larceny Act. Nothing particularly unusual, just the final confirmation of a procedure which had passed through Commons and Lords in the British Parliament, and sealed by the Norman French ‘La Reyne le Veult’, The Queen Wills It. (1)
The last time a bill was rejected was in 1707 when Queen Anne gave the thumbs-down to one concerning the Scottish Militia.
The Royal Prerogative of Assent is now done by proxy through The Lord Commissioners who are Privy Councillors appointed on the Monarch’s behalf’ and granted through Letters Patent. Queen Victoria was the last to grant the Royal Assent in person in 1854.
The change away from the monarch’s direct involvement came with Henry VIII’s decision to execute Catherine Howard for adultery, which was inserted in an Act of Attainder, noting that Assent by Commissioners; ‘is and ever was and ever shall be as good, as Assent by the Sovereign person‘.
The Royal Assent by The Commissioners Act 1541 was a practical way round the sensitive problem of the bill being read in his presence.
Thus the bill passed in 1542 for the execution of Catherine Howard for adultery created a new way in which Royal Assent was granted for legislation.
It read: ‘The Bill of Atteynder of mestres Katherirn Hawarde late Quene of England and divers other personnes complices’…(sic)
In that Katherine was to be convicted by Bill of Attainder it avoided normal prosecution in a court of law, in other words, at the King’s behest.
Until 1542 the Royal Assent could only be granted by King in person at a ceremony when the whole bill was read out loud. However Henry decided that a repetition of, ‘so grievous a Strong and recital of so infamous a Crime in his presence might re-open a Wound already closing in the Royal Bosom’. So to avoid this, Parliament inserted a clause in the Bill of Attainder which provided for Royal Assent be granted by Commissioners.
Initially the arrangement was used sparingly but became the norm and though the last to grant the Assent personally was Victoria, previously George IV had attempted to thwart a bill over Emancipation and George V had taken legal advice relating to the 1911 Ireland bill.
The Henrician Act wasn’t finally repealed until The Royal Assent Act of 1967 which confirmed the modern system. The mills of the law grind exceedingly slow but sure.
(1) It would be Le Roy Vuelt for a King.
Acts of Parliament were dated in the year in which session of parliament it started rather than when passed.