Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769)

Sir William Blackstone

Of the King’s Royal Family

THE first and most considerable branch of the king’s royal family, regarded by the laws of England, is the queen.

THE queen of England is either queen regent, queen consort, or queen dowager. The queen regent, regnant, or sovereign, is she who holds the crown in her own right; as the first (and perhaps the second) queen Mary, queen Elizabeth, and queen Anne; and such a one has the same powers, prerogatives, rights, dignities, and duties, as if she had been a king. This was observed in the entrance of the last chapter, and is expressly declared by statute 1 Mar. I. St. 3. c. 1. But the queen consort is the wife of the reigning king; and she by virtue of her marriage is participant of diverse prerogatives above other women.1

AND, first, she is a public person, exempt and distinct from the king; and not, like other married women, so closely connected as to have lost all legal or separate existence so long as the marriage continues. For the queen is of ability to purchase lands, and to convey them, to make leases, to grant copyholds, and do others acts of ownership, without the concurrence of her lord; which no other married woman can do:2 a privilege as old as the Saxon era.3 She is also capable of taking a grant from the king, which no other wife is from her husband; and in this particular she agrees with the Augusta, or piissima regina conjux divi imperatoris [the most pious Queen Consort of the sacred Emperor] of the Roman laws; who, according to Justinian,4 was equally capable of making a grant to, and receiving one from, the emperor. The queen of England has separate courts and officers distinct from the king’s, not only in matters of ceremony, but even of law; and her attorney and solicitor general are entitled to a place within the bar of his majesty’s courts, together with the king’s counsel.5 She may also sue and be sued alone, without joining her husband. She may also have a separate property in goods as well as lands, and has a right to dispose of them by will. In short, she is in all legal proceedings looked upon as a feme sole, and not as a feme covert; as a single, not as a married woman.6 For which the reason given by Sir Edward Coke is this: because the wisdom of the common law would not have the king (whose continual care and study is for the public, and circa ardua regni [arduous affairs of the kingdom]) to be troubled and disquieted on account of his wife’s domestic affairs; and therefore it vests in the queen a power of transacting her own concerns, without the intervention of the king, as if she was an unmarried woman.

THE queen has also many exemptions, and minute prerogatives. For instance: the pays no toll;7 nor is the liable to any amercement in any court.8 But in general, unless where the law has expressly declared her exempted, she is upon the same footing with other subjects; being to all intents and purposes the king’s subject, and not his equal: in like manner as, in the imperial law, “Augusta legibus soluta non est.”9 [“The Queen is not exempt from the laws.”]

THE queen has also some pecuniary advantages, which form her a distinct revenue: as, in the first place, she is entitled to an ancient perquisite called queen-gold or aurum reginae; which is a royal revenue, belonging to every queen consort during her marriage with king, and due from every person who has made a voluntary offering or fine to the king, amounting to ten marks or upwards, for and in consideration of any privileges, grants, licenses, pardons, or other matter of royal favor conferred upon him by the king: and it is due in the proportion of one tenth part more, over and above the entire offering or fine made to the king; and becomes an actual debt of record to the queen’s majesty by the mere recording the fine.10 As, if an hundred marks of silver be given to the king for liberty to take in mortmain, or to have a fair, market, park, chase, or free warren; there the queen is entitled to ten marks in silver, or (what was formerly an equivalent denomination) to one mark in gold, by the name of queen-gold, or aurum reginae.11 But no such payment is due for any aids or subsidies granted to the king in parliament or convocation; nor for fines imposed by courts on offenders, against their will; nor for voluntary presents to the king, without any consideration moving from him to the subject; nor for any sale or contract whereby the present revenues or possessions of the crown are granted away or diminished.12

THE revenue of our ancient queens, before and soon after the conquest, seems to have consisted in certain reservations or rents out of the demesne lands of the crown, which were expressly appropriated to her majesty, distinct from the king. It is frequent in domesday-book, after specifying the rent due to the crown, to add likewise the quantity of gold or other renders reserved to the queen.13 These were frequently appropriated to particular purposes; to buy wool for her majesty’s use,14 to purchase oil for her lamps,15 or to furnish her attire from head to foot,16 which was frequently very costly, as one single robe in the fifth year of Henry II stood the city of London in upwards of fourscore pounds.17 A practice somewhat similar to that of the eastern countries, where whole cities and provinces were specifically assigned to purchase particular parts of the queen’s apparel.18 And, for a farther addition to her income, this duty to queen-gold is supposed to have been originally granted; those matters of grace and favor, out of which it arose, being frequently obtained from the crown by the powerful intercession of the queen. There are traces of its payment, though obscure ones, in the book of domesday and in the great pipe-roll of Henry the first.19 In the reign of Henry the second the manner of collecting in appears to have been well understood, and it forms a distinct head in the ancient dialogue of the exchequer20 written in the time of that prince, and usually attributed to Gervase of Tilbury. From that time downwards it was regularly claimed and enjoyed by all the queen consorts of England till the death of Henry VIII; though after the accession of the Tudor family the collecting of it seems to have been much neglected: and, there being no queen consort afterwards till the accession of James I, a period of near sixty years, its very nature and quantity became then a matter of doubt: and, being referred by the king to his then chief justices and chief baron, their report of it was so very unfavorable,21 that queen Anne (though she claimed it) yet never thought proper to exact it. In 1635, 11 Car. I, a time fertile of expedients for raising money upon dormant precedents in our old records (of which ship-money was a fatal instance) the king, at the petition of his queen Henrietta Maria, issued out his writ for levying it; but afterwards purchased it of his consort at the price of ten thousand pounds; finding it, perhaps, too trifling and troublesome to levy. And when afterwards, at the restoration, by the abolition of the military tenures, and the fines that were consequent upon them, the little that legally remained of this revenue was reduced to almost nothing at all, in vain did Mr. Prynne, by a treatise which does honor to his abilities as a painful and judicious antiquarian, endeavor to excite queen Catherine to revive this antiquated claim.

ANOTHER ancient perquisite belonging to the queen consort, mentioned by all our old writers,22 and, therefore only, worthy notice, is this: that on the taking of a whale on the coasts, which is a royal fish, it shall be divided between the king and queen; the head only being the king’s property, and the tail of it the queen’s. “De sturgione observetur, quod rex illum habebit integrum: de balena vero sufficit, si rex habeat caput, et regina caudam.” [“Of the sturgeon be it known that the king shall have the whole: but with respect to a whale it is sufficient if the king have the head and the queen the tail.”] The reason of this whimsical division, as assigned by our ancient records,23 was, to furnish the queen’s wardrobe with whalebone.

BUT farther: though the queen is in all respect a subject, yet, in point of the security of her life and person, she is put on the same footing with the king. It is equally treason (by the statute 25 Edw. III.) to compass or imagine the death of our lady the king’s companion, as of the king himself: and to violate, or defile, the queen consort, amounts to the same high crime; as well in the person committing the fact, as in the queen herself, in consenting. A law of Henry the eighth24 made it treason also for any woman, who was not a virgin, to marry the king without informing him thereof. But this law was soon after repealed; it trespassing too strongly, as well on natural justice, as female modesty. If however the queen be accused of any species of treason, she shall (whether consort or dowager) be tried by the house of peers, as queen Ann Boleyn was in 28 Hen. VIII.

THE husband of a queen regnant, as prince George of Denmark was to queen Anne, is her subject; and may be guilty of high treason against her: but, in the instance of conjugal fidelity, he is not subjected to the same penal restrictions. For which the reason seems to be, that, if a queen consort is unfaithful to the royal bed, this may debase or bastardize the heirs to the crown; but no such danger can be consequent on the infidelity of the husband to a queen regnant.

A QUEEN dowager is the widow of the king, and as such enjoys most of the privileges belonging to her as queen consort. But it is not high treason to conspire her death; or to violate her chastity, for the same reason as was before alleged, because the succession to the crown is not thereby endangered. Yet still, pro dignitate regali [for the royal dignity], no man can marry a queen dowager without special license from the king, on pain of forfeiting his lands and goods. This Sir Edward Coke25 tells us was enacted in parliament in 6 Hen. VI, though the statute be not in print. But she, though an alien born, shall still be entitled to dower after the king’s demise, which no other alien is.26 A queen dowager, when married again to a subject, does not lose her regal dignity, as peeresses dowager do their peerage when they marry commoners. For Katherine, queen dowager of Henry V, though she married a private gentleman, Owen ap Meredith ap Theodore, commonly called Owen Tudor; yet, by the name of Katherine queen of England, maintained an action against the bishop of Carlisle. And so the queen of Navarre marrying with Edmond, brother to king Edward the first, maintained an action of dower by the name of queen of Navarre.27

THE prince of Wales, or heir apparent to the crown, and also his royal consort, and the princess royal, or eldest daughter of the king, are likewise peculiarly regarded by the laws. For, by statute 25 Edw. III, to compass or conspire the death of the former, or to violate the chastity of either of the latter, are as much high treason, as to conspire the death of the king, or violate the chastity of the queen. And this upon the same reason, as was before given; because the prince of Wales is next in succession to the crown, and to violate his wife might taint the blood royal with bastardy: and the eldest daughter of the king is also alone inheritable to the crown, in failure of issue male, and therefore more respected by the laws than any of her younger sisters; insomuch that upon this, united with other (feudal) principles, while our military tenures were in force, the king might levy an aid for marrying his eldest daughter, and her only. The heir apparent to the crown is usually made prince of Wales and earl of Chester, by special creation, and investiture; but, being the king’s eldest son, he is by inheritance duke of Cornwall, without any new creation.28

THE younger sons and daughter of the king, who are not in the immediate line of succession, are little farther regarded by the laws, than to give them precedence before all peers and public officers as well ecclesiastical as temporal. This is done by the statute 31 Hen. VIII. c. 10. which enacts that no person, except the king’s children, shall presume to sit or have place at the side of the cloth of estate in the parliament chamber; and that certain great officers therein named shall have precedence above all dukes, except only such as shall happen to be the king’s son, brother, uncle, nephew (which Sir Edward Coke29 explains to signify grandson or nepos) or brother’s or sister’s son. But under the description of the king’s children his grandsons are held to be included, without having recourse to Sir Edward Coke’s interpretation of nephew: and therefore when his late majesty created his grandson, the second son of Frederick prince of Wales deceased, duke of York, and referred it to the house of lords to settle his place and precedence, they certified30 that he ought to have place next to the duke of Cumberland, the king’s youngest son; and that he might have a seat on the left hand of the cloth of estate. But when, on the Accession of his present majesty, those royal personages ceased to take place as the children, and ranked only as the brother and uncle, of the king, they also left their seats on the side of the cloth of estate: so that when the duke of Gloucester, his majesty’s second brother, took his seat in the house of peers,31 he was placed on the upper end of the earl’s bench (on which the dukes usually sit) next to his royal highness the duke of York. And in 1718, upon a question referred to all the judges by king George I, it was resolved by the opinion of ten against the other two, that the education and care of all the king’s grandchildren while minors, and the care and approbation of their marriages, when grown up, did belong of right to his majesty as king of this realm, during their father’s life.32 And this may suffice for the notice, taken by law, of his majesty’s royal family.


     1.    Finch. L. 86.
     2.    4 Rep. 23.
     3.    Seld. Fan. Angl. 1. 42.
     4.    Cod. 5. 16. 26.
     5.    Selden tit. hon. 1. 6. 7.
     6.    Finch. L. 86. Co. Litt. 133.
     7.    Co. Litt. 133.
     8.    Finch. L. 185.
     9.    Ff. 1. 3. 31.
   10.    Pryn. Aur. Reg. 2.
   11.    12 Rep. 21. 4 Inst. 358.
   12.    Ibid. Pryn 6. Madox. hist exch. 242.
   13.     Bedefordscire. Maner. Lestone redd. per annum xxii lib. &c.; ad opus reginae ii uncias auri. Herefordscire. In Lene, &c. consuetud. ut praepositus manerii veniente domina sua (regina) in maner. praesentaret ei xviii oras denar. ut esset ipsa laeto animo. [Bedfordshire: The manor of Leighton pays twenty-two pounds per annum, &c.; two ounces of gold for the Queen’s use. Herefordshire: In Lene, &c. it is the custom for the steward of the manor, on the arrival of his lady (the Queen) at the manor to congratulate her with a present of eighteen oras denarii.] Pryn. Append. To Aur. Reg. 2, 3.
   14.    Causa coadunandi ianam reginae. [To buy wool for her majesty’s use.] Domesd. ibid.
   15.    Civitas Lundon. Pro oleo ad lampad. reginae. [To purchase oil for her majesty’s lamps] Mag. rot. Pip. temp. Hen. II. ibid.
   16.    Vicecomes Berkescire, xvi l. pro cappa reginae. [To furnish her attire from head to foot.] (Mag. rot. pip. 19 22 Hen. II. ibid.) Civitas Lund. cordubanario reginae xx s. Mag. Rot. 2 Hen. II. Madox hist. exch. 419.
   17.    Pro roba ad opus reginae, quater xx l. & vi s. viii. d. (Mag. rot. 5 Hen. II. ibid. 250.
   18.    Solere aiunt barbaros reges Persarum ac Syrorum uxoribus civitates attribuere, hoc modo; haec civitas mulieri redimiculum praebeat, haec in collum, haec in crines, etc. [They say that the barbarian kings of Persia and Syria were accustomed to assess cities for their wives in this manner; one city was to provide her head-dress, another the ornaments for her neck, and the third those for her hair, &c.] Cie. In Verrem. lib. 3. c. 33.
   19.    See Madox Disceptat. epistolar. 74. Pryn. Aur. Regin. Append. 5.
   20.    lib. 2. c. 26.
   21.    Mr Prynne, with some appearance of reason, insinuates, that their researches were very superficial. Aur. Reg. 125.
   22.    Bracton, l. 3. c. 3. Britton, c. 17. Fleta, l. 1. c. 45 & 46.
   23.    Pryn. Aur. Reg. 127.
   24.    Stat. 33 Hen. VIII. c. 21.
   25.    2 Inst. 18.
   26.    Co. Litt. 31 b.
   27.    2 Inst. 50.
   28.    8 Rep. 1. Seld. titl. of hon. 2. 5.
   29.    4 Inst. 362.
   30.    Lords journ. 24 Apr. 1760
   31.    Ibid. 10 Jan. 1765.
   32.    Fortesc. Al. 401 440.