1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/State, Great Officers of

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/State, Great Officers of

GREAT OFFICERS OF STATE, a designation popularly applied to all the principal ministers of the British Crown, but xxv. 26 strictly applicable only to the lord high steward, the lord high chancellor, the lord high treasurer, the lord-president of the (privy) council, the lord (keeper of the) privy seal, the lord great chamberlain, the lord high constable, the earl marshal, and the lord high admiral. Of these, three - the lord chancellor, the lord-president of the council, and the lord privy seal - the first and second are always, and the third almost always, cabinet ministers. The offices of two more - those of the lord treasurer and the high admiral - are now executed by commission, the chief of the lords commissioners, known severally as the first lord of the treasury and the first lord of the admiralty, being likewise members of the cabinet, while the first lord of the treasury is usually at the head of the government. But, although it has become the rule for the treasury and the admiralty to be put in commission, there is nothing except usage of longer or shorter duration to prevent the Crown from making a personal appointment to either of them, and the functions which formerly appertained to the lord treasurer and the high admiral are still regularly performed in the established course of the national administration. The four offices of the high steward, the great chamberlain, the high constable, and the earl marshal stand on a different footing, and can be regarded at the present day as little else than survivals from an earlier condition of society. They have practically ceased to have any relation to the ordinary routine of business in the country or of ceremonial in the palace, and the duties associated with them have either passed entirely into abeyance or are restricted within extremely narrow limits, save on certain occasions of exceptional pomp and solemnity. All of them were once hereditary, and, taking the three kingdoms together, they or their counterparts and equivalents continue to be held by right of inheritance in one or other of them even now. These and the more important foreign great offices of state are all dealt with under their proper headings, and other information will be found in the articles Cabinet, Ministry, Privy Council, Treasury, and Household, Royal.

On the subject of the great offices of state generally, see Stubbs, Constitutional History, ch. xi.; Freeman, Norman Conquest, ch. xxiv.; Gneist, Constitution of England, ch. xvi., xxv. and liv.; also Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. liii., and Bryce, Holy Roman Empire, ch. xiv.