Queen Elizabeth II views the Royal Dockyard Chapel restoration and meets local people involved with the project during an official visit on April 29, 2014, in Pembroke Dock, U.K. Bethany Clarke/Getty Images
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Queen Elizabeth II, who turned 94 on April 21, has ruled longer than any other monarch in British history. But at this point, is the British monarch's role purely ceremonial, or does she or he hold any real political power?
That turns out to be a complicated question. Even though the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, it doesn't have a single codified constitution like the United States. Instead, the power balance between the Crown (the monarchy) and Parliament (the elected officials) is mediated by a set of rules known as constitutional "conventions," some of which are written down and others that are based on custom and tradition.
According to some of the oldest traditions, the queen is the ultimate source of power in the British government; the British legislature is formally known as "The Queen in Parliament." But as we'll see, in modern practice the queen wields no real political power to act independently of the wishes of Parliament or the prime minister. Read more >>