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IP310 The Monarch: The Role of the Head of State in the British Political System (since 1952)

The Queen passes the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in a State coach to the Palace of Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament, 4 June 2014.

Dr Martin Mik

Dr Martin Mik

Module Leader

Optional module


Term 1

10 weeks

Important information

This module will not be running in the academic year 2020-21.

Have you ever wondered what a head of state does? Does having a hereditary head of state in a 21st century democracy raise questions for you? Is ‘the role is largely ceremonial’ an unsatisfactory explanation? This module will answer the above questions by exploring a number of issues, including: the role of heads of state in political systems generally, and specifically in the 21st century; theories of political representation and representativeness; different types of heads of state; the responsibilities and rights of the Monarch in the British political system; and the role of the Monarch in the contemporary British society. 

Principal Aims

  • To develop an understanding of political systems and the role of heads of state (whether elected or hereditary);
  • To understand key theories of political representation and representativeness;
  • To develop the ability to interpret, compare, analyse, and evaluate the role of heads of state;
  • To strengthen your ability to develop policy proposals, having applied your knowledge, undertaken research to find out possible alternatives, examined their benefits and downsides, formulated (and justified) your proposed solutions;
  • To hone your research and team-working skills.

Principal Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module you will have:

  • Examined and critically assessed arguments, assumptions, abstract concepts and data relating to the challenges and benefits of a hereditary head of state;
  • Acquired an understanding of theories and approaches to political representation and representativeness;
  • Demonstrated an understanding of the evolution of the role of heads of state in different political systems and the British political system in particular;
  • Demonstrated your ability to engage in an academic debate by identifying areas of enquiry, carry out research projects and present well researched and substantiated arguments;
  • Developed your ability to construct arguments based on a selected theory and defend your choice of theory;
  • Applied your skills to develop evidence-based responses/solutions to identified problems; and
  • Demonstrated the ability to communicate complex and contentious ideas and problems clearly and succinctly.


1. Development of the role of the head of the state

2. Role of the head of state in the 21st Century

3. British Monarch and the Legislature

4. British Monarch and the Government

5. British Monarch and the Judiciary

6. British Monarch and Diplomacy (Commonwealth and beyond)

7. British Monarch and the Armed Forces

8. Defender of the Faith: British Monarch and the Faiths

9. British Monarch and the Country

10. Future for the British head of state

Indicative Bibliography

Bagehot, W. (2000 [1867]), The English Constitution. Kitchener, Ont.: Batoche.

Bentley, T., and J. Wilson (eds.), Monarchies - What are Kings and Queens for? London, Demos, 2002.

Assessment (2020-21)

Exam Examination (Centrally-timetabled online assessment - Open Book Assessment (Asynchronous, 24-hour window)) (40%)

Presentation (15%)

Policy Brief (max. 1,000 words) (20%)

Essay (2,000 words) (25%)