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Governor-general or governor general, in modern usage, is the title of an office-holder appointed to represent the monarch of a sovereign state in the governing of an independent realm. Governors-general have also previously been appointed in respect of major colonial states or other territories held by either a monarchy or republic, such as French Indochina.

Current uses

In modern usage, the term governor-general originated in those British colonies which became self-governing within the British Empire. Before World War I, the title was used only in federated colonies in which each of the previously constituent colonies of these federated colonies already had a governor, namely Canada, Australia, and the Union of South Africa. In these cases, the Crown's representative in the federated Dominion was given the superior title of governor general. The first exception to this rule was New Zealand, which was granted Dominion status in 1907, but it was not until 28 June 1917 that Arthur Foljambe, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, was appointed the first Governor General of New Zealand. Another non-federal state, Newfoundland, was a Dominion for 16 years with the King's representative retaining the title of governor throughout this time.

Since the 1950s, the title governor-general has been given to all representatives of the sovereign in independent Commonwealth realms. In these cases, the former office of colonial governor was altered (sometimes for the same incumbent) to become governor-general upon independence, as the nature of the office became an entirely independent constitutional representative of the monarch rather than a symbol of previous colonial rule. In these countries the governor-general acts as the monarch's representative, performing the ceremonial and constitutional functions of a head of state.

The only other nation which uses the governor-general designation is Iran, which has no connection with any monarchy or the Commonwealth. In Iran, the provincial authority is headed by a governor general[1] (Persian: استاندار ostāndār), who is appointed by the Minister of the Interior.

British colonialism and the governors-general

Lord Tweedsmuir was Governor General of Canada from 1935 to 1940. The uniform shown here was the unique ceremonial dress for Governors General of Canada.

Until the 1920s, governors-general were British subjects, appointed on the advice of the British government, who acted as agents of the British government in each Dominion, as well as being representatives of the monarch. As such they notionally held the prerogative powers of the monarch, and also held the executive power of the country to which they were assigned. The governor-general could be instructed by the colonial secretary on the exercise of some of his functions and duties, such as the use or withholding of the Royal Assent from legislation; history shows many examples of governors-general using their prerogative and executive powers. The monarch or imperial government could overrule any governor-general, though this could often be cumbersome, due to remoteness of the territories from London.

The governor-general was also usually the commander-in-chief of the armed forces in his or her territory and, because of the governor-general's control of the military, the post was as much a military appointment as a civil one. The governors-general are entitled to wear a unique uniform, which are not generally worn today. If of the rank of major general, equivalent or above, they were entitled to wear that military uniform.

Modern Commonwealth

Commonwealth realms

Following the Imperial Conference, and subsequent issuing of the Balfour Declaration in 1926, the role and responsibilities of the governor-general began to shift, reflecting the increased independence of the Dominions (which were in 1952 renamed Realms; a term which includes the UK itself). As the sovereign came to be regarded as monarch of each territory independently, and, as such, advised only by the ministers of each country in regard to that country's national affairs (as opposed to a single British monarch ruling all the Dominions as a conglomerate and advised only by an imperial parliament), so too did the governor-general become a direct representative of the national monarch only, who no longer answered to the British government. The report resulting from the 1926 Imperial Conference stated: " is an essential consequence of the equality of status existing among the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations that the Governor General of a Dominion is the representative of the Crown, holding in all essential respects the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in the Dominion as is held by His Majesty the King in Great Britain, and that he is not the representative or agent of His Majesty's Government in Great Britain or of any Department of that Government."[2] These concepts were entrenched in legislation with the enactment of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, and governmental relations with the United Kingdom were placed in the hands of a British High Commissioner in each country.

In other words, the political reality of a self-governing Dominion within the British Empire with a governor-general answerable to the sovereign became clear. British interference in the Dominion was not acceptable and independent country status was clearly displayed. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were clearly not controlled by the United Kingdom. The monarch of these countries (Elizabeth II) is in law Queen of Canada, Queen of Australia, and Queen of New Zealand and only acts on the advice of the ministers in each country and is in no way influenced by the British government. Today, therefore, in former British colonies which are now independent Commonwealth realms, the governor-general is constitutionally the representative of the monarch in his or her state and may exercise the reserve powers of the monarch according to their own constitutional authority. The governor-general, however, is still appointed by the monarch and takes an oath of allegiance to the monarch of their own country. Executive authority is also vested in the monarch, though much of it can be exercisable only by the governor-general on behalf of the sovereign of the independent realm. Letters of Credence or Letters of Recall are now sometimes received or issued in the name of the monarch, though, in some countries, such as Canada and Australia, the Letters of Credence and Recall are issued in the name of the governor-general alone.

At diplomatic functions where the governor-general is present, the visiting diplomat or head of state toasts "The King" or "The Queen" of the relevant realm, not the governor-general, with any reference to the governor-general being subsidiary in later toasts if featuring at all, and will involve a toast to them by name, not office. (E.g., "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," not "Her Excellency, the Governor-General." Sometimes a toast might be made using name and office, e.g., "Governor-General Smith.")

Except in rare cases, the governor-general only acts in accordance with constitutional convention and upon the advice of the national prime minister.[3] The governor-general is still the local representative of the sovereign and performs the same duties as they carried out historically, though their role is almost purely ceremonial. Rare and controversial exceptions occurred in 1926, when Canadian Governor General the Viscount Byng of Vimy refused Prime Minister Mackenzie King's request for a dissolution of parliament; in 1953 and 1954 when the Governor-General of Pakistan, Ghulam Mohammad, staged a constitutional coup against the Prime Minister and then the Constituent Assembly; and in 1975, when the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam.[4] In some realms, the monarch could in principle overrule a governor-general,[how?] but this has not happened in modern times.

In some countries, there is disagreement over whether the sovereign or the governor-general is, or both are, considered the head of state.

The governor-general is usually a person with a distinguished record of public service, often a retired politician, judge or military commander; but some countries have also appointed prominent academics, members of the clergy, philanthropists, or figures from the news media to the office.

Traditionally, the governor-general's official attire was a unique uniform, but this practice has been abandoned except on occasions when it is appropriate to be worn. In South Africa, the Governor-General of the Union of South Africa nominated by the Afrikaner Nationalist government chose not to wear uniform on any occasion. Most governors-general continue to wear appropriate medals on their clothing when required.

The governor-general's official residence is usually called Government House. The Governor-General of the Irish Free State resided in the then Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, Dublin, but the government of Éamon de Valera sought to downgrade the office and the last governor-general, Domhnall Ua Buachalla, did not reside there. The office was abolished there in 1936.

In most Commonwealth realms, the flag of the governor-general has been the standard pattern of a blue field with the Royal Crest (a lion standing on a crown) above a scroll with the name of the jurisdiction. In Canada, however, this was replaced with a crowned lion clasping a maple leaf. In the Solomon Islands, the scroll was replaced with a two-headed frigate bird motif, while in Fiji, the former Governor General's flag featured a whale's tooth. In New Zealand, the flag was replaced in 2008 with the shield of the coat of arms of New Zealand surmounted by a crown on a blue field.

Governors-general are accorded the style of His/Her Excellency. This style is also extended to their spouses, whether female or male.


Until the 1920s, the Governors General were British, and appointed on the advice of the British Government.

Following the changes to the structure of the Commonwealth in the late 1920s, in 1929, the Australian Prime Minister James Scullin established the right of a Dominion prime minister to advise the monarch directly on the appointment of a governor-general, by insisting that his choice (Sir Isaac Isaacs (an Australian) prevail over the recommendation of the British government. The convention was gradually established throughout the Commonwealth that the governor-general would be a citizen of the country concerned, and would be appointed on the advice of the government of that country, with no input from the British government; Governor General of Canada since 1952 and Governor General of New Zealand since 1967. Since 1931 as each former Dominion has patriated its constitution from the UK, the convention has become law and no government of any realm can advise the Monarch on any matter pertaining to another realm, including the appointment of a governor-general. The monarch appoints a governor-general (in Canada: governor general) as a personal representative only on the advice of the prime minister of each realm. The Governor General of Canada is appointed by the Queen of Canada on the advice of the Canadian prime minister, the Governor-General of Australia is appointed by the Queen of Australia on the advice of the Australian prime minister, and the Governor-General of New Zealand is appointed by the Queen of New Zealand on the advice of the New Zealand prime minister. In Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, the Prime Minister's advice is based on the result of a vote in the national parliament.

The formalities for appointing governors-general are not the same in all the realms. For example: When appointed, a Governor-General of Australia issues a proclamation in his own name, countersigned by the head of government and under the Great Seal of Australia, formally announcing that he has been appointed by the monarch's commission, previously issued also under the Great Seal of Australia.[5] The practice in Canada is to include in the governor general's proclamation of appointment, issued under the Great Seal of Canada,[6] the monarch's commission naming the governor general as Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces[6][7] Also dissimilar among the realms are the powers of governors-general. The Australian constitution provides that the command-in-chief of the Defence Forces is vested in the governor-general,[6] [7][8] while the command-in-chief of the Canadian naval and military forces remains vested in the monarch by whom the governor general is commissioned.[6]

Commonwealth countries with a governor-general

Commonwealth realm From
Antigua and Barbuda 1981 [9]
Australia 1901 [10]
Bahamas 1973 [11]
Barbados 1966 [12]
Belize 1981 [13]
Canada 1867 [14]
Grenada 1974 [15]
Jamaica 1962 [16]
New Zealand 1917 [17]
Papua New Guinea 1975
Saint Kitts and Nevis 1983 [18]
Saint Lucia 1979 [19]
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1979 [20]
Solomon Islands 1978
Tuvalu 1978 [21]

Other attributes

Different realms have different constitutional arrangements governing who acts in place of the governor-general in the event of his or her death, resignation, or incapacity.

  • In Australia, an Administrator of the Commonwealth may be appointed to perform the necessary official functions, pending a decision by the sovereign, on the advice of the prime minister, about a permanent replacement as governor-general. The administrator has usually been the senior state governor. Each state governor normally holds what is known as a dormant commission. There have been cases where a governor has fallen out of favour with the government, causing their dormant commission to be revoked. The most recent example was that of Sir Colin Hannah, Governor of Queensland, in 1975.
  • In Canada, Jamaica, and New Zealand, it is the Chief Justice.
  • In Papua New Guinea, it is the Speaker of the House.
  • Many Caribbean countries have a specific office of "Deputy Governor-General".

Former British colonies

The title has been used in many British colonial entities that either no longer exist or are now independent countries.

In the Americas

In Asia

In Africa

Zambia and the Seychelles became republics within the Commonwealth on independence.

In the Americas

  • Guyana:
    • 26 May 1966 – 16 December 1966 Sir Richard Luyt (b. 1915–d. 1994), formerly the last colonial Governor
    • 16 December 1966 – 10 November 1969 Sir David James Gardiner Rose (b. 1923–d. 1969)
    • 10 November 1969 – 22 February 1970 Sir Edward Luckhoo (acting) (b. 1912–d. 1998); succeeded by the first President
  • Trinidad and Tobago:
    • 31 August 1962 – 15 September 1972 Sir Solomon Hochoy (b. 1905–d. 1983), formerly the last colonial Governor
    • 15 September 1972 – 1 August 1976 Sir Ellis Clarke (b. 1917)

Dominica became a republic on independence in 1978, with a ceremonial President as head of state.

In Asia

In Europe

Cyprus became a republic on independence.

In Oceania

  • Fiji:
    • 10 October 1970 – 13 January 1973 Sir Robert Sidney Foster (b. 1913–d. 2005), formerly the last colonial Governor
    • 13 January 1973 – 12 February 1983 Ratu Sir George Cakobau (b. 1912–d. 1989)
    • 12 February 1983 – 6 October 1987 Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau (b. 1918–d. 1993); it became a republic under a President on 5 December 1987

Kiribati and Vanuatu became republics on independence.

Other colonial and similar usage



The equivalent word in French is gouverneur général, used in the following colonies:

Furthermore, in Napoleonic Europe successive French Governors-general were appointed by Napoleon I in:

  • the German states of Brandenburg (various other got 'mere' Governors), two incumbents between 27 October 1806 and 10 December 1808, during the French occupation
  • Province of Courland under the French occupation (from 1 August 1812, Duchy of Courland and Semigallia and District of Pilten nominally re-established under joint French-Saxon protectorate 8 October 1812 - 20 December 1812) : Jacques David Martin, baron de Campredon (b. 1761 - d. 1837)
  • Parma and Piacenza under occupation, (after a Commissioner) 15 February 1804 - 23 July 1808, later annexed as département under a Prefect of Taro
  • principality of Piombino May 1806 - 1811 : Adolphe Beauvais (d. 1811)
  • annexed Tuscany, two incumbents, over prefects for Arno, Méditerranée [Mediterranean] and Ombrone:
    • May 1808 - 3 March 1809 Jacques François de Boussay, baron de Menou (b. 1750 - d. 1810)
    • 3 March 1809 - 1 February 1814 Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte (with courtesy style of Grand Duchess of Tuscany) (b. 1777 - d. 1820)
  • the Illyrian provinces (comprising present Croatia, Slovenia and even adjacent parts of Austria and Italy), annexed as part of the French Empire proper, 14 October 1809 - August 1813


The Balkan Wars of 1912–13 led to the Greek acquisition of the so-called "New Lands" (Epirus, Macedonia, Crete and the islands of the eastern Aegean), almost doubling the country's territory. Instead of fully incorporating these new lands into Greece by dividing them into prefectures, the Ottoman administrative system continued in existence for a while, and Law ΔΡΛΔ΄ of 1913 established five governorates-general (Γενικαὶ Διοικήσεις, sing. Γενική Διοίκησις): Epirus, Macedonia, Crete, Aegean and SamosIkaria. The governors-general had wide-ranging authority in their territories, and were almost autonomous of the government in Athens.

Law 524 in 1914 abolished the governorates-general and divided the New Lands into regular prefectures, but in 1918 Law 1149 re-instated them as a superordinate administrative level above the prefectures, with Macedonia now divided in two governorates-general, those of Thessaloniki and KozaniFlorina. The governors-general of Thessaloniki, Crete and Epirus were also given ministerial rank. To these was added the Governorate-General of Thrace in 1920–22, comprising Western Thrace and Eastern Thrace (returned to Turkey in the Armistice of Mudanya in 1922). The extensive but hitherto legally rather undefined powers of the governors-general created friction and confusion with other government branches, until their remit was exactly delineated in 1925. The governorates-general, except for that of Thessaloniki, were abolished in 1928, but re-established in December 1929—for Crete, Epirus, Thrace, and Macedonia—and delegated practically all ministerial authorities for their respective areas. Over the next decade, however, in a see-saw of legislative measures that in turns gave and took away authority, they gradually lost most of their powers in favour of the prefectures and the central government in Athens.

Following liberation from the Axis occupation, in 1945 the Governorate-General of Northern Greece was established, initially with subordinate governorates for West Macedonia, Central Macedonia, East Macedonia, and Thrace, the first three of which were then grouped anew into a new Governorate-General of Macedonia, albeit still subject to the Governorate-General of Northern Greece. This awkward arrangement lasted until 1950, when the administration of Macedonia was streamlined, the junior governorates abolished and only the Governorate-General of Northern Greece retained. Finally, in 1955, the Governorate-General of Northern Greece was transformed into the Ministry of Northern Greece, and all other governorates-general elsewhere in Greece were abolished.


From 1691 to 1948 the Dutch appointed a gouverneur-generaal ("governor-general") to govern the Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia.

While in the Caribbean, various other titles were used, Curaçao had three Governors-General between 1816 and 1820:

  • 1816–1819 Albert Kikkert
  • 1819–1820 Petrus Bernardus van Starkenborgh
  • 1820 Isaäk Johannes Rammelman Elsevier


The equivalent word in Portuguese is governador-geral. This title was only used for the governors of the major colonies, indicating that they had, under their authority, several subordinate governors. In most of the colonies, lower titles, mainly governador (governor) or formerly captain-major (capitão-mor), prevailed

  • In the Portuguese State of India (Estado da Índia, capital Goa) the style was changed repeatedly for another, mostly Vice-Rei (Viceroy). The Viceroy title was usually reserved for members of the Portuguese Royal Family, the remaining governors receiving the title of governador-general;
  • In Brazil, after a few governors, from 1578 till its promotion in 1763 to a Viceroyalty (though various members of the nobility since 1640 had assumed, without sovereign authority, the title of Viceroy).
  • in Africa, from 1837 Portugal appointed a governor-general to govern the overseas province of Angola, and another to govern the province of Moçambique. For some time, a governor-general was also appointed to rule Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea, while these territories were united in a single province. Between 1921 and 1930, additional powers were given to some of the Angola and Mozambique governors, who were restyled in full Alto-comissário e governador-geral (High commissioner and governor-general).


The Philippines from the 16th through the 20th century had a series of governors-general during the Spanish and American colonial periods, as well as the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines during World War II


From 21 November 1564 the Spanish East Indies had a governor-general, which was under the Viceroy of New Spain based in Mexico. After the successful Mexican War of Independence in 1821, the governor-general reported directly to Spain.

United States of America

From 1899 to 1935 under the Insular Government, the Philippines was administered by a series of governors-general, first military and then civilian, appointed by the United States Federal Government.

Other Western usages

Asian counterparts

See also


In Canada the title "Governor General" is always used unhyphenated. In Australia and New Zealand, the term is always hyphenated.[22][23]


  1. 1.0 1.1 IRNA, Online Edition. "Paris for further cultural cooperation with Iran". Retrieved 21 October 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Heard, Andrew (1990), "Canadian Independence", Vancouver: Simon Fraser University, retrieved 25 August 2010 Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. In particular, see the history of the Governor General of Australia
  4. Letter from the Queen's Private Secretary to the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Australia of 17 November 1975, at The Whitlam Dismissal, retrieved 15 February 2006.
  5. Proclamatrion, 28 March 2014
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Proclamation, February 1995
  7. 7.0 7.1 Governor-General's Role
  8. Todd's Parl. Gov., 2nd ed. p. 377.)
  11. "The Government of Bahamas - Landing Page". Retrieved 25 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. [1] Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  13. [2][dead link]
  15. "Office of the Governor General". 7 May 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. [3] Archived 11 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  19. [4] Archived 22 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  20. [5] Archived 19 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  21. "Government". 26 April 1999. Retrieved 25 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Governor General of Australia ~ Welcome Message - Main Home Page

External links