Early this morning, 300 years ago, Queen Anne died, and set in place the events that would lead to the Georgian era of Monarchs.
Shortly before she died, Queen Anne sacked her Lord High Treasurer, Robert Harley, and although the post was filed on a temporary basis by Charles Talbot he held it for just a few months.
Robert Harley was effectively the last Lord High Treasurer to hold the post for a decent period of time, and exercise all its powers himself.
Lord High Treasurer was the third highest official in the country, below the usually vacant Lord High Steward and Lord High Chancellor.
As Lord High Treasurer, Robert Harley was the de-facto head of the Monarch’s council and in some ways, an early prototype for the role of Prime Minister. He was an immensely powerfull man in one of the highest offices of the land.
Until he was sacked.
Yet, in that quaint way that British politics operates, the job has never been abolished, and it carries on operating to this very day.
What happened is that the role occupied by a single person was put into “commission”, that is a group of people act as one authority.
Known as the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, it is that commission that underpins the existence of modern government — for the Prime Minister is indeed the First Lord of the Treasury, while the Chancellor is the Second Lord, while a number of government whips adopt the titles of Junior Lords of the Treasury
The post of Lord High Treasurer still exists, along with all its powers — it’s just exercised by a group of people acting in concert together.
Part of the reason for that was the accession of the Hanoverian monarch, George I, who spoke very little English, at least at first, and trusting such an awesome position to just one person was most unwise at a time when the future of the Hanoverian claim to the throne was still in doubt.
Such is the importance of the role, that within the House of Commons, the front bench upon which the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury sit, in their role as “the government”, is still officially known as the treasury bench.
So, by strange turns of fate, the government operates as an extension of a role held by a single man and the title itself dates all the way back to 1125. It used to be treason to kill the Lord High Treasurer, but as the job is now held in Commission, would you need to kill all the Lords Commissioners to qualify as killing the Lord High Treasurer?
Current commissioners consist of David Cameron and George Osborne; with junior lords as Desmond Swayne MP, Anne Milton MP, Mark Lancaster MP, David Evenett MP Robert Goodwill MP, and Stephen Crabb MP.
Just in case you needed to know.
Incidentally, the death of the Queen was somewhat concealed from the public for a while as the politics of the Succession were sorted out. However, by the time the death was formally announced, rumours and gossip meant that practically everyone already knew.
Leading to the refrain “And Queen Anne is dead” which is used when someone says something that is old news or not really timely.