History of the Lieutenancy

There are 98 Lord-Lieutenants. They cover all counties in the UK, from Shetland to Cornwall, County Tyrone to South Glamorgan. As the sovereign’s representative in his or her county, the Lord-Lieutenant remains non-political and does not hold office in any political party. Although they are appointed for life, their customary age of retirement is 75.

CharlesBrandon2The Office of Lord-Lieutenant is steeped in history. Its origins stem from the needs of the Tudor monarchs to strengthen their military forces against possible invasion from France or Spain and to guard against internal revolt. Lieutenants were first created by Henry VIII in 1545 to muster the county militias for the defence of the realm. They had powers to lead the militia in the field and to raise forces locally. The Lord-Lieutenant’s role was literally to ‘stand in for’ the king, in the battlefield and elsewhere. Important parts of the role were to act as an unpaid recruiting sergeant for the king and to play a major part in keeping law and order by both appointing and managing magistrates.

The Lord-Lieutenant was also responsible for looking after state documents in his county and for keeping the king informed of what was going on. From 1569 Lord-Lieutenants could appoint Deputy Lieutenants to assist them in this role. In 1586 Queen Elizabeth I, in response to threats of  invasion from Spain, appointed Lord-Lieutenants more widely. By the time the Spanish Armada arrived on our shores in 1588, Lord-Lieutenants had been appointed in almost every County.

The Napoleonic Wars at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century saw the last high point of militia activity.  In subsequent years they helped to defend the south coast of England, playing a role until the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. Thereafter the military role of Lord-Lieutenants subsided until control of the militia, yeomanry and voluntary forces was removed from the Lord-Lieutenants in 1871; in 1921 they finally lost the power to raise any sort of local force.

Surviving aspects of the Lord Lieutenant’s historic role

Aspects of the historic work of Lord-Lieutenants have survived through to the present-day role of Lord-Lieutenants:

  • They are The Queen’s representative in the county, and from that flows much of what they do – including as necessary acting as her eyes and ears.
  • Links with the military remain strong and important – mainly in an ambassadorial role, but in particular strongly supporting the reserve and cadet forces and major military bases in the county.
  • The Lord -Lieutenant is Chair of the Magistrates Advisory Committee in Somerset. This Committee has overall responsibility for the appointment and disciplining of magistrates.