What happens in a state of emergency that is prolonged and unrelated to security with respect to the powers afforded to or used by the executive, checks and balances, and cooperation between the government, parliament, and sub-national authorities? This article investigates the variation in “executive aggrandisement” (a temporary reduction in influence and oversight capacity of formal institutions vis-à-vis the executive) during the COVID-19 pandemic in six parliamentary democracies. We theorise that this variation can be in part explained based on path dependence. We explore how pre-pandemic levels of executive dominance and policy centralisation affect executive aggrandisement during the 2020-22 emergency across our sample of countries. We show that Canada and Germany experienced little to no aggrandisement. In France, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom, government rule increased throughout the crisis at the expense of parliament and sub-national authorities. In line with our expectations, we find that most facets of the process of executive aggrandisement in a state of emergency can be interpreted in view of prior institutional arrangements. The outlier elements can be explained by considering circumstantial factors. Our evidence contributes to the literature on the political consequences of COVID-19 by filling some gaps regarding the roots of executive aggrandisement.