REGENT (from Lat. regere, to rule), one who rules or governs, especially one who acts temporarily as an administrator of the realm during the minority or incapacity of the king. This latter function, however, is one unknown to the English common law. " In judgment of law the king, as king, cannot be said to be a minor, for when the royal body politic of the king doth meet with the natural capacity in one person the whole body shall have the quality of the royal politic, which is the greater and more worthy and wherein is no minority. For omne majus continet inseminus " (Coke upon Littleton, 433). Butforreasons of necessity a regency, however anomalous it may be in strict law, has frequently been constituted both in England and Scotland. The earliest instance in English history is the appointment of the earl of Pembroke with the assent of the loyal barons on the accession of Henry III.
Whether or not the sanction of parliament is necessary for the appointment is a question which has been much discussed. Lord Coke recommends that the office should depend on the will of parliament (Inst., vol. iv. p. 58), and in modern times provision for a regency has always been made by act of parliament. In Scotland the appointment of regents was always either by the assent of a council or of parliament. Thus in 1315 the earl of Moray was appointed regent by Robert I. in a council. At a later period appointment by statute was the universal form. Thus by an act of 1542 the earl of Arran was declared regent during the minority of Mary. By an act of 1567 the appointment by Mary of the earl of Moray as regent was confirmed. As late as 1704 provision was made for a regency after the death of Anne. The earliest regency in England resting upon an express statute was that created by 28 Hen. VIII. c. 7, under which the king appointed his executors to exercise the authority of the crown till the successor to the crown should attain the age of eighteen if a male or sixteen if a female. They delegated their rights to the protector Somerset, with the assent of the lords spiritual and temporal. No other example of a statutory provision for a regency occurs till 1751. In that year the act of 24 Geo. II. c. 24 constituted the princess-dowager of Wales regent of the kingdom in case the crown should descend to any of her children before such child attained the age of eighteen. A council, called the council of regency, was appointed to assist the princess. A prescribed oath was to be taken by the regent and members of the council. Their consent was necessary for the marriage of a successor to the crown during minority. It was declared to be unlawful for the regent to make war or peace, or ratify any treaty with any foreign power, or prorogue, adjourn or dissolve any parliament without the consent of the majority of the council of regency, or give her assent to any bill for repealing or varying the Act of Settlement, the Act of Uniformity, or the Act of the Scottish parliament for securing the Protestant religion and Presbyterian church government in Scotland (1707, c. 6). The last is an invariable provision, and occurs in all subsequent Regency Acts. The reign of George III. affords examples of provision for a regency during both the infancy and incapacity of a king.
The act of 5 Geo. III. c. 27 vested in the king power to appoint a regent under the sign manual, such regent to be one of certain named members of the royal family. The remaining provisions closely followed those of the act of George II. In 1788 the insanity of the king led to the introduction of a Regency bill. In the course of the debate in the House of Lords the duke of York disclaimed on behalf of the prince of Wales any right to assume the regency without the consent of parliament. Owing to the king's recovery the bill ultimately dropped. On a return of the malady in 1810 the act of 51 Geo. III. c. I was passed, appointing the prince of Wales regent during the king's incapacity. The royal assent was given by commission authorized by resolution of both Houses. By this act no council of regency was appointed. There was no restriction on the regent's authority over treaties, peace and war, or parliament, as in the previous acts, but his power of granting peerages, offices and pensions was limited. At the accession of William IV. the duchess of Kent was, by I Will. IV. c. 2, appointed regent, if necessary, until the Princess Victoria should attain the age of eighteen. No council of regency was appointed. By I Viet, c. 72 lords justices were nominated as a kind of regency council without a regent in case the successor to the crown should be out of the realm at the queen's death. They were restricted from granting peerages, and from dissolving parliament without directions from the successor. By 3 & 4 Viet. c. 52 Prince Albert was appointed regent in case any of Queen Victoria's children should succeed to the crown under the age of eighteen. The only restraint on his authority was the usual prohibition to assent to any bill repealing the Act of Settlement, etc. When George V. came to the throne a Regency Bill was again required, as his eldest son was under age, and Queen Mary was appointed. By 10 Geo. IV. c. 7 the office of regent of the United Kingdom cannot be held by a Roman Catholic. A similar disability is imposed in most, if not all, Regency Acts.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)