The Queen signed it at the top!

There is a ridiculous theory that implies by that the Queen placing her signature at the top of bill requiring her assent (instead of at the end, the bottom, underneath the body of words) invalidates the document and her “permission”, or oversight. This false premise is applied to legislation such as the Royal Style and Titles Act 1973 and the Australia Act 1986, (both of which were reserved for Her Majesty’s pleasure), to claim that these Acts did not receive assent. 


The origin of this myth is presumably based in the OPCA premise that legislation is a form of contract, and hence it requires a signature at the end of the body of text.

The Royal Sign Manual

The signature of a monarch is called a Royal Sign Manual. The Royal Sign Manual of Elizabeth II is “Elizabeth R” (R is for “regina” – a Latin word meaning “queen”).


The Royal Sign Manual is generally placed by the monarch at the top of a bill requiring assent. The following are a group of references regarding the proper placing of the Royal Sign Manual throughout history…

Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates By Great Britain Parliament (1862) describing how a Officers Commission is enacted: ““In every case- whether it be that of a first commission or that of the promotion of an officer- a “submission” is made by the Commander-in-Chief to the Queen. He states the name of the officer, together with the rank in the army which it is proposed the officer should hold. If the Queen approves it, Her Majesty signs her name at the TOP of the submission paper … When made out, the commission is sent by the Secretary of State to Her Majesty. Her Majesty writes her name at the TOP of the document. It is countersigned by the Secretary of State, and then it is complete.”

The English Cyclopedia; Bradbury, Evans, (1866): “The royal sign-manual is usually placed at the TOP left hand corner of the instrument, together with the privy seal; and it is requisite in all cases where the privy seal and afterwards the great seal are used. The sign manual must be countersigned by a principle secretary of state, or by the lords of the treasury, when attached to a grant or warrant, it being then the principle act, and it must also be accompanied by the signet or privy seal.”


Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary: “The royal signature superscribed at the TOP of bills of grants and letter patent, which are then sealed with the privy signet or great seal, as the case may be, to complete their validity.”

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Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary: the king’s signature on a royal grant or charter placed at the TOP of the document.”


American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: “A signature, especially that of a monarch at the TOP of a royal decree.”


Wikipedia: Sign Manual: “The Royal signature, normally written at the TOP of a document.”

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It is rare for any legislation, (either Commonwealth or State) to be reserved for Her Majesty’s pleasure. Under section 9 of the Australia Act 1986 State legislation not subject to the withholding of assent or reservation by the Governor, and Commonwealth legislation is likewise given assent under section 58 of the Constitution by the Governor General, where according to his discretion, he can assent in the Queen’s name, or reserve the law for the Queen’s pleasure. Here is a list of Commonwealth bills reserved for the Sovereign’s assent since Federation:


I have searched all data bases intensively, and cannot locate a single piece of legislation where Her Majesty has placed the Royal Sign Manual at the bottom of the document to give it assent. All of them are placed in the correct position at the top of the document. Here are a few examples:

Royal Style and Titles Act 1973:


Royal Warrants and Proclamation for the Great Seal of Australia:


Australia Act 1986 (UK):

Australia_Act_1986 (1)

Proclamation for the Australia Act 1986 (Cth):


Office of Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia (Amendment) 2003:


Letters Patent Relating to the Office of Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia 2008:


Epistolary context

The origin of the top placement of the Royal sign Manual by the monarch has deeper roots than one imagines. Mel Evans in “Royal Voices: Language and Power in Tudor England” (from page 53 – part 1.4.4) details the “material politeness” and etiquette for royalty placing their signature on correspondence. She notes that in the correspondence that make up the “scribal letter corpus” collected over centuries:

“Almost all (94% 151 letters) of the English royal scribal letters in the corpus are signed at the top of the page in the header. When reading (left to right) the declarative ‘By the King/Queen’, where present, follows the signature. For a recipient, this organisation has pragmatic impact as the signature would be the first textual property of the letter encountered by the recipient. Recognised as a royal sign manual, the signature frames the interpretation of the subsequent text, legitimising and authorising the contents. The placement may also have more practical affordances. A top signature impacts minimally on the organisation of the main text, enabling rapid, autonomous text production by the scribe(s).”

The author further notes that:

“Among the top-signed letters, there is variation on the horizontal axis. A top-left placement is the most frequent position in the scribal letters and the letters of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Edward VI only show this placement. The majority of Mary’s letters are also top-left signed, but three have a top-middle signature.” 

Citing Daybell (2016) she explains the apparent source of this left-middle-right placement, from the writing instructions of William Fulwood in his 1568 work The Enimie of Idlenesse: Teaching the maner and stile how to endite, compose, and write all sorts of Epistles and Letters: as well by answer, as otherwise“. Fulwood advised:

“…to our superors we must write at the right syde in the nether end of the paper … to our equalles we may write towards the midst of the paper [and] To our inferiors we may write on high at the left hand.” 

Further, Angel Day’s 1586 work The English Secretary which was the first comprehensive epistolary manual. Citing Goatly (2007) she writes:

“From a cognitive perspective, conceptual metaphors that equate power, status and authority with height underlie the spatial organisation of the page. The signature first and foremost signals the origin of the letter’s content to the recipient (a textual function), but it also acts as an authorising device (stance-marking function) and, depending on how it is positioned, can influence the relationship between letter writer and recipient (interactive function).”


For the sake of completion, I’ll also address Wayne Glew‘s remarks that the Royal Sign Manual on the Australia Act 1986 is a forgery, because it reads “Elyabeth” instead of “Elizabeth”. What he is looking at is not a “y” but a “z” in stylized cursive writing. There’s also her Royal Sign Manual from 2003 and 2008  for comparison. The point seems quite moot anyway, considering she is photographed signing the Proclamation. See article “The Australia Acts 1986“.