The history of the West Yorkshire Lieutenancy

The office of Lord-Lieutenant originated in the 1500s, during the reigns of the Tudor kings. But the principles behind it can be traced to Anglo-Saxon England, divided as it was into counties that were the basis for military recruitment at times of emergency. In the medieval period, chosen noblemen were given special responsibility for this and by the early 16th century they had become known as County Lieutenants (this would be their official title until the 1970s).

On behalf of the King, they raised forces to deal with internal and external threats to the realm during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. The office was formalised by Parliament in 1549, during the reign of Edward VI, when Lieutenants – also known as King’s Justices – could be appointed “for the suppressing of commotions, rebellions or unlawful assembly”.

The early holders of the office often had multiple lieutenancies. For example, the first recorded Lord-Lieutenant of Yorkshire – taking this office in 1586 - was Henry Hastings, the Earl of Huntingdon. A major military figure during the age of the Armada, he was also Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Rutland, County Durham, Westmoreland and Cumberland.

The mid-17th century upheaval of the Civil Wars was naturally a testing time for the office of Lord-Lieutenant and its holders. For example, the Lieutenant of Yorkshire from 1628 to his death was Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford – impeached by Parliament and executed in 1641.

But the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 also saw a restoration in the fortunes of county lieutenancies, with a Militia Act giving holders of the office new responsibilities. They had also acquired the important task of recommending candidates for Justices of the Peace, who played a key role in many areas of local administration until the 1880s.

It was also in 1660 that Yorkshire was sub-divided, so that there were now Lord-Lieutenants for the West, North and East Ridings. This would remain the case until 1974, when local government legislation created West, North and South Yorkshire, plus Humberside and Cleveland.

Lord-Lieutenants long retained their historic role in the raising of county militias, although their importance declined in the Victorian period and in 1871 they lost control of the system.

In 1906, Lord-Lieutenants lost their sole right of recommendation for JPs and the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act of 1907 finally ended the militia system by creating “special reservists”. But county associations were created to administer the new territorial forces and the Lord-Lieutenants would preside over them, meaning that they retained a vestigial military function up to the Second World War.

The loss of historic military and judicial roles after some 400 years might have meant that the office of Lord-Lieutenant had shed its purpose. But instead, it has displayed the longevity and the adaptability of the Royal Family that it serves. The symbolic national significance of Royalty was reinforced by WWII and its aftermath, and as the representatives of the Monarch and her family in their historic counties, the Lord-Lieutenancy has had renewed relevance.

In addition to representing continuity, the office has also reflected societal change. For centuries it was the invariable convention that the Lieutenancy would be held by men of aristocratic lineage, and this continued well into the 20th century. But after the death of Earl Scarbrough in 1969, his successors as Lord-Lieutenants of the West Riding (subsequently West Yorkshire) would be people – men and women – who had achieved success in business or professions. They have included Kenneth Hargreaves (Lord Lieutenant West Riding 1970-4; West Yorkshire, 1974-8), whose career centred on his role in the family textile company; John Lyles (1992-2004), who chaired a carpet yarn company; and Dr Ingrid Roscoe (2004 to 2018), a writer, lecturer and art historian. The current Lord-Lieutenant is Ed Anderson, currently chairman of the Airport Operators’ Association and as a former High Sheriff of West Yorkshire the holder of another historic office that connects royalty with its realm. Two latter day Lord-Lieutenants of West Yorkshire have been titled, but Sir William Bulmer (1978-85) was an industrialist and John Aked Taylor (1985-92) chaired his family-owned brewery and was awarded a life peerage in 1982. This trend can be seen as part of an important pattern in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II – a gradual move away from the aristocratic culture enveloping the monarchy, towards an embrace of meritocracy, in the spirit of the age. Elizabeth II’s reign has witnessed profound technological, social and economic changes and yet she has retained the affection and respect of a nation even as it shed many of its old certainties. The office of Lord-Lieutenant of West Yorkshire continues to play an important role in connecting the Monarch and her family with all parts of her realm, enabling her to witness and celebrate the changing face of a nation that adapted to the present while keeping itself grounded in royal tradition.

There have been twenty-eight Lord-Lieutenants in this county since 1660, please see the full details on our West Riding Lord Lieutenants section.