Private Secretary to the Sovereign
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.
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 Charles Grey to the office in 1861; her husband Prince Albert had effectively been her secretary until his death.
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
- 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.
Reporting to the Private Secretary is the role of Director for Security Liaison which was established following a recommendation of the Security Commission in 2004. The post was first held by Brigadier Jeffrey Cook, OBE MC, who was in office 2004-2008. The Private Secretary has general oversight of security policy, 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
|George III||Colonel Herbert Taylor||1805||1811|
|The Prince Regent
(George IV from 1820)
|Colonel Sir John McMahon,||1811||1817|
|Lieutenant-General Sir Benjamin Bloomfield, (later Lord Bloomfield)||1817||1822|
|Sir William Knighton,||1822||1830|
|William IV||Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Taylor,||1830||1837|
|the Viscount Melbourne, (informally, while Prime Minister)||1837||1840|
|The Prince Consort, (informally)||1840||1861|
|Colonel Sir Charles Phipps,||1861||1866|
|General Charles Grey||1861||1870|
|Major-General Sir Henry Ponsonby, GCB||1870||1895|
|Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Arthur Bigge, (later Lord Stamfordham)||1895||1901|
|Edward VII||The Lord Knollys, (later Viscount Knollys)||1901||1910|
|Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Stamfordham,||1910||1931|
|Colonel Sir Clive Wigram, (later Lord Wigram)||1931||1936|
|Edward VIII||Major Sir Alexander Hardinge, (later Lord Hardinge of Penshurst)||1936||1936|
|Captain Sir Alan Lascelles,||1943||1952|
|Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Michael Adeane, (later Lord Adeane)||1953||1972|
|Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Martin Charteris, (later Lord Charteris of Amisfield)||1972||1977|
|Sir Philip Moore, (later Lord Moore of Wolvercote)||1977||1986|
|Sir William Heseltine,||1986||1990|
|Sir Robert Fellowes, (later Lord Fellowes)||1990||1999|
|Sir Robin Janvrin, (later Lord Janvrin)||1999||2007|
|Sir Christopher Geidt, (later Lord Geidt)||2007||2017|
Deputy Private Secretaries to the Sovereign since 1972
|Deputy Private Secretary||From||To|
|Sir Philip Moore,||1972||1977|
|Sir William Heseltine,||1977||1986|
|Sir Robert Fellowes,||1986||1990|
|Sir Kenneth Scott,||1990||1996|
|Sir Robin Janvrin,||1996||1999|
|Mary Francis,||February 1999||June 1999|
Assistant Private Secretaries to the Sovereign since 1878
|Assistant Private Secretary||From||To|
|Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Fleetwood Edwards,||1878||1895|
|Colonel Sir Arthur Bigge,||1880||1895|
|Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Frederick Ponsonby,||1895||1914|
|Colonel Sir Arthur Davidson,||1901||1910|
|Colonel Sir Clive Wigram,||1910||1931|
|The Earl of Cromer||1916||1920|
|Major Sir Alexander Hardinge,||1920||1936|
|Sir Frank Mitchell,||1931||1937|
|Sir Alan Lascelles,||1935||1943|
|Sir Godfrey Thomas,||1936||1936|
|Major Sir Michael Adeane,||1936||1953|
|Sir Eric Mieville, KCIE||1937||1945|
|Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Edward Ford,||1946||1967|
|Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Martin Charteris,||1952||1972|
|Sir Kenneth Scott,||1985||1990|
- "Report of the Security Commission - May 2004" (PDF).
- Chris Cook and Brendan Keith, British Historical Facts 1830-1800, Macmillan 1975, p. 107.