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History
Government
The 'Great Offices of State'

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The Nine Great Officers
Lord Chancellor
The Four Great Offices
Home Secretary
Foreign Secretary
Chancellor

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The 'Great Offices of State'

Once upon a time, in England, there were Great Officers of State. Wikipedia lists nine of them. Some of these offices still exist; some of them have been merged with more up–to–date posts; others have fallen by the wayside.

In some cases at least, the titles of the nine Great Officers can sound quite arcane to modern ears. They were satirised by Gilbert & Sullivan in The Mikado – where Ko–Ko was the Lord High Executioner, and Pooh–Bah was the Lord High Everything Else.

Nowadays, you will sometimes hear mention of "the four Great Offices of State". This (usually) refers to the offices of Prime Minister, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This page covers both the traditional Great Officers and the modern Great Offices. I hope this will help to resolve any confusion, and not add to it ...

Prime Ministers are covered in Prime Ministers: Classified and Prime Ministers: Details. This page lists the people who have held the other three Great Offices – Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer – since 1945. It also lists the nine traditional "Great Officers".

You may find further details about the people listed on this page in Members of Parliament.

The Nine Traditional "Great Officers of State"

In order of precedence (starting with the most senior):

Once the most powerful position in England: generally vacant since 1421, and only appointed to serve at a coronation, where he bears St. Edward's Crown; up to 1948, also presided over the trials of peers in the House of Lords Click to show or hide the answer
Responsible for the efficient functioning and independence of the courts; up to 2007, presided over proceedings in the House of Lords; also up to 2007, was the head of the judiciary in England and Wales; the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 transferred these responsibilities to the Lord Speaker and the Lord Chief Justice respectively; also acts as the custodian of the Great Seal of the Realm, which is used to symbolise the Sovereign's approval of important state documents; from 2005–7, this position was held jointly with that of Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs; since 2007, it has been held jointly with the position of Secretary of State for Justice Click to show or hide the answer
Head of the government department with responsibility for public finance and economic policies; since the 17th century, these powers have been in the hands of a board, of which the Prime Minister is normally the First Lord and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the Second Lord Click to show or hide the answer
Responsible for presiding over meetings of the Privy Council, presenting business for the monarch's approval; in modern times, this is a Cabinet post in its own right Click to show or hide the answer
Traditionally the custodian of the monarch's personal seal (as opposed to the Great Seal of the Realm); nowadays a sinecure, normally combined with the position of Leader of the House of Lords or Commons (which confers membership of the Cabinet) Click to show or hide the answer
Officer in charge of the Palace of Westminster (a hereditary post) Click to show or hide the answer
Traditionally, commander of the royal armies and Master of the Horse (with responsibility for the sovereign's horses and hounds); merged with the crown during the reign of Henry VIII, since when it has been in abeyance except during coronations Click to show or hide the answer
Responsible for organising major ceremonial state occasions, including coronations and state funerals; also oversees the College of Arms, which is responsible for heraldic matters Click to show or hide the answer
Titular head of the Royal Navy; title vested in the sovereign in 1964, following the abolition of the Board of Commissioners and the position of First Lord of the Admiralty; bestowed by the Queen on the Duke of Edinburgh in 2011, on the occasion of his 90th birthday Click to show or hide the answer

Lord Chancellor

Of the nine Great Officers, I reckon the only one that's had any real relevance within the memory of anyone who's still partaking in quizzes is the Lord Chancellor.

As we've seen, the main responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor were transferred in 2007 to the Lord Speaker and the Lord Chief Justice; since 2007, the title has been held jointly with that of Secretary of State for Justice.

This section lists the last six people to hold the position of Lord Chancellor, including the incumbent in 2005 when it was combined with that of Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (and Secretary of State for Justice since 2007).

1970–4 Heath Son of a previous Lord Chancellor, whose father had played football for Wanderers, Old Etonians and Scotland; MP for Oxford, 1938–50; entered the House of Lords when he inherited his father's title on his death in 1950, becoming Leader of the House of Lords; renounced his title and stood for leadership of the Conservative Party, on Macmillan's resignation in 1963; was beaten by Alec Douglas–Home (Macmillan's preferred candidate), but returned to Parliament as member for St. Marylebone; accepted a life peerage in 1970, allowing Heath to appoint him as Lord Chancellor, and appointed again by Thatcher in 1979 Click to show or hide the answer
1979–87Thatcher
1974–9 Wilson, Callaghan Brother of a former Welsh rugby captain; as a barrister, led the prosecution of Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley Click to show or hide the answer
Jun–Oct 1987 Thatcher MP for Wimbledon, 1970–87; awarded a life peerage in 1987 on being appointed Lord Chancellor; resigned four months later due to ill health; his son is a popular actor; his sister (Baroness Butler–Sloss) chaired the inquests into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, and was appointed as chair of the inquiry into child sex abuse in 2014, but resigned after only six days following controversy over her brother's position as Attorney General during part of the time in question Click to show or hide the answer
1987–97 Appointed Lord Advocate (Scotland's senior law officer) in 1979 by Margaret Thatcher, despite not being a member of the Conservative Party (but joined on taking up office and being awarded a life peerage!); one of the longest–serving Lord Chancellors ever Click to show or hide the answer
1997–2003 Blair Appointed by his former pupil barrister (Blair); attracted controversy in 1998 when his official residence in the Palace of Westminster was redecorated at a cost of £650,000 to the taxpayer (including £59,000 for hand–printed wallpaper) Click to show or hide the answer
2003–7 Blair's flatmate when they were both young barristers in London, in the late 1970s; turned down as prospective Labour candidate for Dudley in 1997, for refusing to take his four children out of public schools; the first life peer created by Tony Blair, becoming Solicitor General; took over responsibility for the Millennium Dome in 1998, following Peter Mandelson's resignation; appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (a new post) in 2003, and Justice Secretary (another new post, replacing Constitutional Affairs) in 2007; replaced 49 days later, when Gordon Brown replaced Blair as Prime Minister, by Jack Straw Click to show or hide the answer

The Four Great Offices

The only person to have held all four Click to show or hide the answer
The only person to have held the other three, without ever being Prime Minister Click to show or hide the answer

Home Secretary

Prime Minister Years Name
Atlee1945–51 Click to show or hide the answer
Churchill1951–4 Click to show or hide the answer
Eden1954–7 Click to show or hide the answer
Macmillan1957–62 Click to show or hide the answer
Macmillan, Douglas Home 1962–4 Click to show or hide the answer
Wilson 1964–5 Click to show or hide the answer
1965–7 Click to show or hide the answer
1967–70 Click to show or hide the answer
Heath 1970–2 Click to show or hide the answer
1972–4 Click to show or hide the answer
Wilson 1974–6 Click to show or hide the answer
Callaghan 1976–9 Click to show or hide the answer
Thatcher 1979–83 Click to show or hide the answer
1983–5 Click to show or hide the answer
1985–9 Click to show or hide the answer
1989–90 Click to show or hide the answer
Major 1990–2 Click to show or hide the answer
1992–3 Click to show or hide the answer
1993–7 Click to show or hide the answer
Blair 1997–2001 Click to show or hide the answer
2001–4 Click to show or hide the answer
2004–6 Click to show or hide the answer
2006–7 Click to show or hide the answer
Brown 2007–9 Click to show or hide the answer
2009–10 Click to show or hide the answer
Cameron 2010–16 Click to show or hide the answer
May 2016–present Click to show or hide the answer

Foreign Secretary

Prime Minister Years Name
Baldwin, Chamberlain1935–8 Click to show or hide the answer
Chamberlain, Churchill1938–40 Click to show or hide the answer
Churchill1940–5 Click to show or hide the answer
Atlee1945–51 Click to show or hide the answer
Mar–Oct 1951 Click to show or hide the answer
Churchill 1951–5 Click to show or hide the answer
Eden Apr–Dec 1955 Click to show or hide the answer
Eden, Macmillan 1955–60 Click to show or hide the answer
Macmillan 1960–3 Click to show or hide the answer
Douglas Home 1963–4 Click to show or hide the answer
Wilson 1964–5 Click to show or hide the answer
1965–6 Click to show or hide the answer
1966–8 Click to show or hide the answer
1968–70 Click to show or hide the answer
Heath 1970–4 Click to show or hide the answer
Wilson 1974–6 Click to show or hide the answer
Callaghan 1976–7 Click to show or hide the answer
1977–9 Click to show or hide the answer
Thatcher 1979–82 Click to show or hide the answer
1982–3 Click to show or hide the answer
1983–9 Click to show or hide the answer
Jul–Oct 1989 Click to show or hide the answer
Thatcher, Major 1989–95 Click to show or hide the answer
Major 1995–7 Click to show or hide the answer
Blair 1997–2001 Click to show or hide the answer
2001–6 Click to show or hide the answer
2006–7 Click to show or hide the answer
Brown 2007–10 Click to show or hide the answer
Cameron2010–14 Click to show or hide the answer
2014–16 Click to show or hide the answer
May2016–present Click to show or hide the answer

Chancellor of the Exchequer

Prime Minister Years Name
Atlee 1954–7 Click to show or hide the answer
1950–1 Click to show or hide the answer
Churchill 1951–4 Click to show or hide the answer
Eden 1955–7 Click to show or hide the answer
Macmillan 1957–8 Click to show or hide the answer
1958–60 Click to show or hide the answer
1960–2 Click to show or hide the answer
Macmillan, Douglas Home 1962–4 Click to show or hide the answer
Wilson 1964–7 Click to show or hide the answer
1967–70 Click to show or hide the answer
Heath Jun–Jul 1970 Click to show or hide the answer
1970–4 Click to show or hide the answer
Wilson, Callaghan 1974–6 Click to show or hide the answer
Thatcher 1979–83 Click to show or hide the answer
1983–9 Click to show or hide the answer
1989–90 Click to show or hide the answer
Major 1990–3 Click to show or hide the answer
1993–7 Click to show or hide the answer
Blair1997–2007 Click to show or hide the answer
Brown2007–10 Click to show or hide the answer
Cameron2010–16 Click to show or hide the answer
May2016–present Click to show or hide the answer

© Haydn Thompson 2017–18