When browsing the Court Circular, I noticed that the Duchess of Cornwall was admitted to the Privy Council in June. This is rather unusual. Although the heir apparent invariably becomes a Privy Counsellor, this honor is not usually extended to their spouse. Until now, the only exception was the Duke of Edinburgh, who joined the Council along with Princess Elizabeth in 1951. Of course, one must bear in mind that most heirs apparent had female spouses, and it would have been unthinkable for them to join the Council before Margaret Bondfield became the first woman Privy Counsellor in 1929.
This episode revealed another interesting tidbit: the ceremonial for admitting a member of the royal family differs from that used for non-royals. The official Order in Council recording the Duchess of Cornwall’s membership states that she was “introduced to Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council.” Usually, these Orders say that the individual was “sworn of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council” since Privy Counsellors take the Privy Council Oath and the Oath of Allegiance.
Curious, I wrote to the Privy Council Office to see if they could explain this discrepancy. I received a very kind reply from Ceri King, the Deputy Clerk of the Council, who said that she couldn’t find any explanation for this custom. It’s just been done that way for a very long time!
I guess some aspects of the British constitution will always remain a mystery….
EDIT: Some readers have asked why the Duchess of Cornwall was admitted to the Council in the first place. Although Buckingham Palace has not commented publicly on the matter, media reports claim that the Queen wants Her Royal Highness to be at the Prince of Wales’ side during the Accession Council.