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The West Midlands Lieutenancy



The office has its origins in the Tudor period. Late in his reign King Henry VIII (1509-1547) gave a commission of lieutenancy to a number of noblemen to raise and lead the local militia in the event of a Scottish or French invasion. On the accession of the Boy-King, Edward VI, in 1547, the unsettled conditions of a minority government led Protector Somerset to experiment with a more formal system of lieutenancies. In 1550 Parliament approved the principle that Lieutenants should be appointed “for the suppressing of any commotion, rebellions or unlawful assemblies”. Appointments were fitful until England was threatened by the Spanish Armada (1588), when Queen Elizabeth's government issued commissions of lieutenancy for all the English and Welsh counties. These tended to be for life. King James I (1603-1625) reaffirmed the importance of the office.

During the seventeenth century the functions of the lieutenancy tended to be predominantly military. The counties were required to hold regular musters of able-bodied men and to select from them a band who would be properly trained and armed and kept in a state of readiness. This imposed a considerable responsibility on the Lieutenants and led to the rapid emergence of the office of Deputy Lieutenant, selected from among the gentry of the shires, acting often also as magistrates and deemed to have a particular talent for military training and organisation. Since the office of Lieutenant was the preserve of the titled aristocracy, any holder came to be known as Lord-Lieutenant.

In the later-seventeenth century the military function of the Lieutenant declined and he and his Deputies took an increasing role in policing the counties. The outbreak of war in America and against France in the later eighteenth century necessitated a major overhaul of the militia, which resulted in the reassertion of the traditional military role of the Lord-Lieutenant. Until the Army Regulation Act of 1871, the Lieutenant was the commander of the county militia, with authority to appoint and remove its officers. It was only in 1921 that the Militia Act finally removed from the Lord-Lieutenants their responsibility for enforcing order in the shires. The Lord-Lieutenant was until recently the Custos Rotulorum (Keeper of the Rolls) and as such was chief magistrate in the county, principally responsible for the appointment of new JPs.