Private Secretary to the Sovereign

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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. He or she also has 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 the Rt Hon. Sir Christopher Geidt, KCVO OBE, who succeeded Sir Robin Janvrin (now Lord Janvrin) in September 2007.[1]

History[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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 1817 1822
Sir William Knighton, Bt, MD 1822 1830
William IV Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Taylor, GCB GCH[2] 1830 1837
Victoria
The Rt Hon. the Viscount Melbourne[2] (informally) 1837 1840
HRH The Prince Consort[2] (informally) 1840 1861
Colonel Sir Charles Phipps[2] 1861 1866
General the Hon. Sir Charles Grey[2] 1861 1870
Major-General the Rt Hon. Sir Henry Ponsonby, GCB[2] 1870 1895
Lieutenant-Colonel the Rt Hon. Sir Arthur Bigge, KCB CMG (later Lord Stamfordham)[2] 1895 1901
Edward VII The Rt Hon. the Lord Knollys, GCB GCVO KCMG ISO (later Viscount Knollys)[2] 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, KCB KCVO OBE 2007

Deputy Private Secretaries to the Sovereign since 1972[edit]

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
Mrs Mary Francis, CBE, LVO February 1999 June 1999
Mr Christopher Geidt, CVO, OBE 2005 2007
Mr Edward Young, LVO 2007

Assistant Private Secretaries to the Sovereign since 1878[edit]

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
Sir Edward Ford, GCVO KCB ERD DL 1946 1967
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Martin Charteris, KCVO CB OBE 1952 1972
Mr Philip Moore, CMG 1966 1972
Mr William Heseltine, CVO 1972 1977
Mr Robert Fellowes, LVO 1977 1985
Sir Kenneth Scott, KCVO CMG 1985 1990
Mr Robin Janvrin, CVO 1990 1995
Mrs Mary Francis 1996 1999
Mr Tim Hitchens, LVO 1999 2002
Mrs Kay Brock, LVO 1999 2002
Mr Stuart Shilson, LVO 2001 2004
Mr Christopher Geidt, OBE 2002 2005
Mr Edward Young 2004 2007
Mr Douglas King 2007 2012
Ms Samantha Cohen 2010

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Announcement of the retirement of Sir Robin Janvrin" (Press release). Buckingham Palace. 2006-12-19. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Chris Cook and Brendan Keith, British Historical Facts 1830-1800, Macmillan 1975, p. 107.

See also[edit]