The Accession Council

Accession describes the event of a new Sovereign succeeding to the throne upon the death of the previous King or Queen. A new Sovereign succeeds to the throne as soon as His or Her predecessor dies.

An Accession Council – formed of all Privy Counsellors, Great Officers of State, the Lord Mayor and City Civic party, Realm High Commissioners and certain senior civil servants – is usually convened within 24 hours of the death of a Sovereign and is customarily held at St James’s Palace. The Accession Council should be held before Parliament meets, and Parliament should meet as soon as practicable after the death.

The Accession Council, which is presided over by the Lord President of the Council, is divided into two parts:

Part l

The action taken by the Privy Council (without the Sovereign) to proclaim the new Sovereign, and the making of certain consequential Orders of Council relating to the Proclamation;

Part ll

The holding by The Sovereign of His or Her first Council.

Accession Council Timings

Accession of Queen/King: Death of preceding Monarch Accession Council (Parts I & II unless stated) Number of attendees Principal Proclamation read at St James’s Palace
Victoria 2.00am, Tuesday 20th June 1837 11.00am Tuesday 20th June Part I – 158
Part II – 82
10.00am Wednesday 21st June
Edward VII 6.30pm Tuesday 22nd January 1901 2.00pm Wednesday 23rd January Part I – 132
Part II – 106
9.00am Thursday 24th January
George V 11.45pm Friday 6th May 1910 4.00pm Saturday 7th May Part I – 140
Part II – 99
9.00am Monday 9th May
Edward VIII 11.55pm Monday 20th January 1936 4.00pm Tuesday 21st January Part I – 196
Part II – 149
10.00 Wednesday 22nd January
George VI [Abdication] 2.00pm Friday 11th December 1936 11.00am Saturday 12th December Part I – 222
Part II – 169
3pm Saturday 12th December
Elizabeth II ‘Early hours’ Wednesday 6th February 1952 Pt I: 5pm Wednesday 6th February
Pt II: 10.00am Friday 8th February
Part I – 191
Part II – 175
11.00am Friday 8th February

Note: Part II does not always immediately follow Part I. On the death of King George VI during the early hours of Wednesday 6th February 1952, Part I of the Accession Council was held at 5pm on 6th February 1952. Part II of the Accession Council was held, on the return of The Queen from Kenya, two days later at 10am, on Friday the 8th February.

The Privy Council Office is responsible for sending summonses to all Privy Counsellors (over 700). Although all Privy Counsellors will receive a summons, not all will necessarily be able to attend at such short notice; this does not affect the process. By custom, an invitation to the meeting is sent to the Lord Mayor of London inviting him and the Court of Aldermen to Part I of the Council. An invitation is also sent to the High Commissioners and Acting High Commissioners of the Realms to attend Part I of the Accession Council. (The Queen is Head of State of 15 countries, in addition to the UK. Known as ‘the Commonwealth Realms’ they are: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, Solomon Islands, St Lucia and The Bahamas.)

When the meeting begins, the Lord President announces the death of The Sovereign and calls upon the Clerk of the Council to read aloud the text of the Accession Proclamation. The platform party (comprising any members of the Royal Family present who are Privy Counsellors, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Archbishop of York, the Prime Minister, the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal, together with the Lord President) then sign the Proclamation. Once the Proclamation has been signed, the Lord President calls for silence and reads the remaining items of Business which deal with the dissemination of the Proclamation and various orders giving directions for firing guns at Hyde Park and the Tower of London.

Part ll of the Council is, in effect, the new Sovereign’s first Privy Council meeting and is attended by Privy Counsellors only. When the new Sovereign enters the room the business begins with a personal Declaration relating to the death of the previous Sovereign.

One of the first acts of the new Sovereign after making His or Her Declaration is to take and subscribe to the Oath relating to the security of the Church of Scotland as required by the 25th Article of the Act of Union 1707 (6 Anne c.11). This Oath has been taken by every Sovereign at their Accession since George l in 1714. (By way of background, in Scotland there is a division of powers between Church and State, with each supreme in their own sphere. The Church is self governing in all that concerns its own activities. Its supreme authority is the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, presided over by a Moderator chosen each year by the Assembly itself. So the Sovereign is required to take the Oath to preserve the security of the Church of Scotland at His or Her Accession.)

The new Monarch reads the Oath aloud.

The Oath
I, [INSERT TITLE] by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of My other Realms and Territories King, Defender of the Faith, do faithfully promise and swear that I shall inviolably maintain and preserve the Settlement of the true Protestant Religion as established by the Laws made in Scotland in prosecution of the Claim of Right and particularly by an Act intituled “An Act for securing the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government” and by the Acts passed in the Parliament of both Kingdoms for Union of the two Kingdoms, together with the Government, Worship, Discipline, Rights and Privileges of the Church of Scotland. So help me God.

The Sovereign signs two identical Instruments recording the taking of the Oath. The signature will be witnessed by any members of the Royal Family present who are Privy Counsellors, the Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the First Minister of Scotland, the Lord Advocate of Scotland, the Advocate General for Scotland (if a Privy Counsellor) and the Lord President of the Court of Session. One copy of the signed Oath is sent to the Court of Session to be recorded in the Books of Sederunt; the other is preserved in the Books of the Privy Council. Once this is completed, the Lord President reads the remaining items on the List of Business. These Orders in Council, mainly concerning the use of the Seals, facilitate the continuity of government. Privy Counsellors will sign the Proclamation as they depart St James’s Palace.

The official record of proceedings at the Accession Council will be published in a special supplement to the London Gazette. Paper copies will be available to purchase from the London Gazette, or can be read and downloaded from the Gazette’s website. Copies of the Orders made at the Accession Council will be published on the Privy Council website.

After the Accession Council, Garter King of Arms, accompanied by the Earl Marshal (who is responsible for the ceremonial arrangements relating to the Proclamation), other Officers of Arms and the Sergeants at Arms, will read the Proclamation from the Balcony above Friary Court, St James’s Palace. Gun salutes will coincide with the Proclamation. Once the Proclamation has been read, the Heralds will travel to Mansion House in the City of London. The Proclamation will then be read at the Royal Exchange in the presence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London and the City Civic party. The Proclamation will also be read out publicly in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and in other locations according to custom.

Note: The timing of the first public Proclamation has varied considerably – see the table above.