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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Do you have the time?


Khaki

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We all know that the armistice went into effect at 11am, but what time of the day was 'war' declared by Great Britain, also did the King have to put his signature to the declaration??

khaki

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My reading includes the expiration of the the British ultimatum to Germany as 2300 4 August, and a declaration of war being sent to the German ambassador. I have also read of a Privy Council meeting with the King and a few officials at about that time I have seen no mention of actual signatures

Old Tom

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Interesting thanks, I wonder is war declared by parliament, the cabinet, the King or all three? normally I read war was declared by Britain against Germany etc, etc, but what were the procedures for this, is there a parliamentary vote by both houses?

khaki

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the expiration of the the British ultimatum to Germany as 2300 4 August

And therefore midnight German time.

Responding to khaki's question, I think war is declared by the Prime Minister, acting on the royal perogative, on behalf the monarch.

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Correct John. Which is why the Parliamentary debate on whether to use military force in Syria was so significant.

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I thought this had to be a Big Ben (aka The Queen Elizabeth Tower) and the Leaning Tower of Pisa question and answer topic ( :whistle: ) until I read further - and I appreciate learning something quite different!

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The British Government gave an ultimatum to the German Government that, if it did not withdraw its troops from Belgium by midnight 4/5 August 1914 German time, i/e/ 11 pm GMT on 4 August, a state of war would exist as from that hour. I don't think the King had to sign a formal declaration as such, although several Orders in Council giving effect to the situation would have needed his signature. These had been drawn up well in advance, and the location of the various documents logged, as part of the official "War Book".

Something similar happened in September 1939 after the Germans invaded Poland.

Ron

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Correct John. Which is why the Parliamentary debate on whether to use military force in Syria was so significant.

The parliamentary debate on the use of military force against Syria (and the vote that denied the Government the use of said force) was indeed significant but had nothing to do with any declaration of war - just as the parliamentary debate and vote and that led to the invasion of Iraq by the Blair government was not a declaration of war. In law, only the Monarch can actually declare war, not the Government nor Parliament. That's why Asquith had to ensure a majority in favour of a declaration in both his cabinet and parliament before gaining royal assent in 1914 - a majority he did not have until Germany invaded Belgium.

I've no idea what the actual mechanics are once royal assent is obtained but I should think that the Monarch's signature on some sort of document would be a minimum requirement to ensure the legality, under British law, of any declaration of war by Great Britain.

Cheers-salesie.

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The parliamentary debate on the use of military force against Syria (and the vote that denied the Government the use of said force) was indeed significant but had nothing to do with any declaration of war - just as the parliamentary debate and vote and that led to the invasion of Iraq by the Blair government was not a declaration of war. In law, only the Monarch can actually declare war, not the Government nor Parliament. That's why Asquith had to ensure a majority in favour of a declaration in both his cabinet and parliament before gaining royal assent in 1914 - a majority he did not have until Germany invaded Belgium.

I've no idea what the actual mechanics are once royal assent is obtained but I should think that the Monarch's signature on some sort of document would be a minimum requirement to ensure the legality, under British law, of any declaration of war by Great Britain.

Cheers-salesie.

I'm not that sure that a signature is needed. The royal prerogative is conferred on others, usually the PM but until after the Indian mutiny the East India Company could declare war on behalf of the British Crown anywhere East of Suez and did so on at least one occasion when Britain went to war against Persia to stop them invading Afghanistan. No signature required. I have a copy of an interesting book called Inside the Asquith Cabinet written by one of his ministers and its clear that he didn't need the sovereigns approval and only needed parliament to endorse his declaration after the event in order to stay in office - the declaration was already a fait acomplis

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I'm not that sure that a signature is needed. The royal prerogative is conferred on others, usually the PM but until after the Indian mutiny the East India Company could declare war on behalf of the British Crown anywhere East of Suez and did so on at least one occasion when Britain went to war against Persia to stop them invading Afghanistan. No signature required. I have a copy of an interesting book called Inside the Asquith Cabinet written by one of his ministers and its clear that he didn't need the sovereigns approval and only needed parliament to endorse his declaration after the event in order to stay in office - the declaration was already a fait acomplis

As I said, I'm not aware of the actual mechanics once a declaration of war is decided I just assumed that some form of signature on some document would be needed, and I'm still not convinced that it wouldn't.

Because we have no written constitution this whole area is open to interpretation - the Royal Prerogative is, in practice, conferred on the executive (in effect the Prime Minister) but this is a power on "loan", the actual power still legally rests with the Monarch (it has been on "loan" for a couple of centuries now but on loan nonetheless) and I would say that it would be an extremely foolish Prime Minister who declared war without majority support in neither his cabinet nor Parliament; otherwise the "loan" may well be called in (as Asquith well knew in the days leading up to the Invasion of Belgium). And, let's not forget, that parliamentary approval would be needed for the release of funds to fight the war (one of the root causes of the English Civil War - difficult to wage war without funds). A constitutional balancing act indeed.

An interesting article http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/aug/23/monarchy.iraq

Cheers-salesie.

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If the country is attacked there is likely to be no time to go through any elaborate process - the person running the government on behalf of the sovereign has to have the ability to declare a state of war there and then. Parliament can then decide later that he has acted precipitately etc an boot him or her out but they cannot retrospectively rescind the declaration of war. If you think about it this has to be the case. A soldier who kills another from a hostile country is legally protected if this is done when a state of war exists but if Parliament goes and says "no we weren't really at war after all" they have hung that soldier out to dry.

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The King was legally obliged to sign the Order In Council authorising the decision to go to war. In the the normal course of events, orders in council, were and still are, used for day to day administrative purposes, such as changes in ministers and a host of other administrative matters. These do not/did not require the monarch's personal authorisation, they are simply orders issued in the monarchs name through the device of an Order in Council.

The decision to go to war, made by Asquith, who had the albeit reluctant support of his cabinet, without consulting Parliament, was a different matter. The King was obliged to accept the Prime Minister's decision as a matter of precedence, but with Parliament being by-passed, only the King could authorise the decision to to war, using the Royal Prerogative, and this required an Order in Council to be signed by him.

The historian, AJP Taylor described the situation:

"At 10.30pm on August 4 1914, the king held a privy council at Buckingham Palace which was attended only by one minister and two court officials ... The cabinet played no part once it had resolved to defend the neutrality of Belgium ... Nor did the cabinet authorise the declaration of war. The parliament of the United Kingdom, though informed of events, did not give formal approval to the government's acts until it voted a credit of £100 million, without a division, on August 6."

TR

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If the country is attacked there is likely to be no time to go through any elaborate process - the person running the government on behalf of the sovereign has to have the ability to declare a state of war there and then. Parliament can then decide later that he has acted precipitately etc an boot him or her out but they cannot retrospectively rescind the declaration of war. If you think about it this has to be the case. A soldier who kills another from a hostile country is legally protected if this is done when a state of war exists but if Parliament goes and says "no we weren't really at war after all" they have hung that soldier out to dry.

This point goes without saying - it goes to the very root of why some wish to change the Royal Prerogative. And, although an interesting extension to this thread, it is not the question asked in the opening post.

For interest, though, a government consultation paper on the new point you raise: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/243164/7239.pdf

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The King was legally obliged to sign the Order In Council authorising the decision to go to war. In the the normal course of events, orders in council, were and still are, used for day to day administrative purposes, such as changes in ministers and a host of other administrative matters. These do not/did not require the monarch's personal authorisation, they are simply orders issued in the Monarchs name through the device of an Order in Council.

The decision to go to war, made by Asquith, and it has to be said, a reluctant cabinet, without consulting Parliament, was a different matter. Constitutionally, the King was obliged to accept the Prime Ministers decision but with Parliament being essentially by-passed, only the King could authorise the decision to to war, using the Royal Prerogative and this required an Order in Council to be signed by him.

The historian, AJP Taylor described the situation:

"At 10.30pm on August 4 1914," Taylor continues, "the king held a privy council at Buckingham Palace which was attended only by one minister and two court officials ... The cabinet played no part once it had resolved to defend the neutrality of Belgium ... Nor did the cabinet authorise the declaration of war. The parliament of the United Kingdom, though informed of events, did not give formal approval to the government's acts until it voted a credit of £100 million, without a division, on August 6."

TR

I pretty much agree with you, Terry - but would say that the Monarch is not legally obliged to sign Orders of Council, but is constitutionally obliged to sign in order to make said orders legal (it can't be a legal obligation because we have no written constitution and, therefore, the power of Royal Prerogative held by the Prime Minister is only on "loan" from the Monarch).

Cheers-salesie.

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Salsie

I agree that i should have used the word "constitutionally", however the Royal Prerogative is just that, held by the monarch who has the power to declare war in such circumstances. This power is/was not devolved to the the PM in the circumstances as described, it is only a matter of precedence that this happened. My understanding is that the King could have refused to sign the order, and presumably Asquith would then have had to take the matter before Parliament.

However, whatever the finer points of the debate, the king was still required to sign the order.

TR

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Salsie

I agree that i should have used the word "constitutionally", however the Royal Prerogative is just that, held by the monarch who has the power to declare war in such circumstances. This power is/was not devolved to the the PM in the circumstances as described, it is only a matter of precedence that this happened. My understanding is that the King could have refused to sign the order, and presumably Asquith would then have had to take the matter before Parliament.

However, whatever the finer points of the debate, the king was still required to sign the order.

TR

The King could certainly have refused to sign the order (in law) but would almost certainly not have done so if Asquith had secured majority support in cabinet and parliament - Asquith knew this and only achieved said support after the invasion of Belgium, and after Grey's speech in the house, although there was no vote, it was clear that parliament approved the declaration (hence its overwhelming vote to release war funds on the 6th).

I personally think that this set-up is pretty good and should not be changed i.e. the status quo ensures no omnipotent power for the Monarch, the Government, nor Parliament (but let's not forget, that in 1914 as well as now, whoever pays the piper calls the tune; and that Parliament, therefore, has the real power in war if it chooses to use it).

Cheers-salesie.

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Whether or not parliament would have approved the declaration is neither here nor there. My point was that the king was required to sign the order in council, which was the situation that existed at that time. I laid out the general differences in the various orders in council in my original post. I have made no mention of recent issues in this respect and have no intention of getting involved in it.

TR

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Whether or not parliament would have approved the declaration is neither here nor there. My point was that the king was required to sign the order in council, which was the situation that existed at that time. I laid out the general differences in the various orders in council in my original post. I have made no mention of recent issues in this respect and have no intention of getting involved in it.

TR

But the approval of Parliament is paramount (whether by actual vote or de facto) and before the invasion of Belgium parliamentary approval was not there. Said approval is not legally required, of course, but without it Asquith dare not ask the King to act, and if he had then the King would almost certainly have refused.

Cheers-salesie.

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