Royal succession

I took part in a discussion on Sky News at lunchtime about changing the law on succession to the crown.  At the moment, we have male-preference primogeniture: that is, the eldest son inherits.  The Government is examining a change to lineal primogeniture: that is, the eldest child inherits, regardless of whether the child is male or female.  If the law is changed, it will currently make little difference: Princess Anne will move up from being ninth in line to the throne to being fourth.  It will only have practical relevance if Prince William and Kate Middleton have a daughter and then a son.  The daughter would then inherit the throne instead of the son.

I cannot see such a change being especially contentious, though it requires the agreement of other Commonwealth countries of which the monarch is head of state.   One tabloid has said that Buckingham Palace has some concerns because it could impact on Christian belief and practice.   They appear to be confusing this proposal with that for allowing a Roman Catholic to succeed to the throne and for a monarch to be permitted to marry a Royal Catholic.   The monarch is the supreme governor of the Church of England.  Allowing a Roman Catholic to inherit the throne creates the problems, not allowing the eldest child to succeed.


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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18 Responses to Royal succession

  1. Jonathan says:

    I think it’s about time this happened, and it’s best they do so before Prince William has children.

    It does raise the question, though, about whether hereditary peerages should be similarly changed. Many of them are even more discriminatory than the succession to the throne as females can’t inherit the titles at all.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Jonathan: Indeed, some creations can pass to the eldest daughter but most cannot.

      • Chris K says:

        This has always interested me as it seemed to be different for different peerages.
        I know (or think I know) it depends on how the Letters Patent is worded, but I don’t know what wording is important or why they are written differently in the first place!

        It also doesn’t make sense how, say, a Barony can be inherited but the Earldom can become extinct on death of the incumbent.

        Any recommended reading that might explain it all a bit more clearly?

        I support the proposal on the Crown because I think women make great monarchs (based on my very limited experience of monarchs, admittedly). But it is absolutely vital that all Commonwealth Realms approve it unanimously. I also wonder how it would affect the Cook Islands, and whether Fiji should be consulted too.

      • Jonathan says:

        Chris K: the default is “heirs male of his body lawfully begotten”. However, in some circumstances they have what is termed “special remainder”, which can allow the title to be inherited by someone different if there isn’t a male heir, either daughters or the original holder’s brother. In more modern times, this was done when the newly created peer was unlikely to produce an heir (e.g. Earl Kitchener, which was inherited by his brother) or where he only had daughters (e.g. Earl Mountbatten or Burma). Some of the others that can be inherited by females are either ancient Scottish titles, or old English titles created by writ of summons.

        There’s a lot of good material on the web. This is a good starting point for special remainders:

  2. Carl.H says:

    I’m a little concerned, call it fear if you will. The upcoming change to the Commons, the proposed change to the Lords and now a proposed change, albeit in a small way not affecting many even royalists, to the succession and royalty.

    In times of hardship, which is where we’re headed, the people need a strong leadership and to know everything at the top is stable. There is unrest in society just bubbling under the surface, I think we`ll see more of it this coming year, and this leads me to think it’s too much, far too quickly.

    Most of the changes occuring seem to be to areas where the British public in general feel there is not a problem. The apparent problem of corruption and deceit is set to continue in the eyes of the electorate. Should things get worse, and nobody can predict definitely the coming times, these changes could have a great destabilising effect.

    The effects of the coming cuts will be to bring people together which may in some political arena’s be seen as Big Society but it will be against the system. The effect for instance of stopping the EMA will be to put more teens on the streets and make their parents poorer. I believe in the coming summers we will see a return to the riots we have seen before and may see a move toward revolutionary organisations.

    If those at the poorer end of society are in turmoil due to cuts and see those at top in argument and large scale change occuring this maybe enough to tip the balance. It may also signal to the wrong/right person that there exists a great opportunity for revolution.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: I suspect this proposal will not cause many ripples, especially when it is not a particularly salient issue. Given that the heir to the throne is male, as is his heir (and if he has children the first may be male), it is likely to be many years before it has any practical relevance.

  3. Edward Brunsdon says:

    There is certainly no problem with Christian belief and practice. I do think if they want to change the rule on Catholics then they should end the Monarch, being the Supreme Governor. It would be better for the CoE because it end the practice of the PM “de facto” appointing Bishops.

    If the wish to end the make preference, they need to get on with it. I think that the public would wouldn’t take too kindly if there was a repeat of what happened in Sweden where they changed the order of succession retrospectively, depriving Carl Philip in favour of his elder sister Victoria.

  4. Edward Brunsdon says:

    BTW – good luck with tonight’s marathon !

  5. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,
    As to the Christian thing and this practice — clearly the Christian tradition and its New Testament scripture have nothing against queens. In the Acts of the Apostles eighth chapter verses 26 to forty we have the account of Saint Philip studying scripture with and proclaiming the gospel to a high official of the Candace (or Queen) of Ethiopia and this queen was the first royal outside the dispossessed House of David and Jesus’s own clan to employ or support a baptized Christian as far as we know. That and milennia of Christian queens both consort and regnant settle such issues beyond any reasonable debate. Leaving aside the fact that I am a Roman Catholic I believe Prince Philip had to denounce the Greek Orthodox Communion as his home as well. It is simply the desire to constantly remind Roman Catholics of this antipathy which is unique to your constitution.

    However, while Sweden has adopted such laws and families are small in Europe and many other things argue for this there are Christians around the world who still have a whole scriptural and traditional set of serious opinions on such lines. I can think of about five well established positions as to royals lines and the theological underpinnings. Whatever, the Brits do it might be better to let people air out their doctrinal discussions and give them what my state calls “legal cognizance”. Some dispute is actually much more respectful of difference than nodispute at all.
    Linear systems of Christian Kings have included for example:
    1.Male primogeniture and approach thereto favored with election among princes.
    2.Male primogentiure and approach there to without election or females ever.
    3. Male primogeniture and approach thereto favored with election among princes and substituting Princesses.
    4.The British System as it is and its ancestors (arguably vey Biblical despite lack of Queens Regnant of Israel)
    5. Lineal primogeniture and approach thereto without consideration of sex.
    6. Lineal primogeniture and approach thereto without consideration of sex and with complexities of preference or election.
    7.Succession by choice of the dying monarch among close royal heirs.

    This seems alot but actually leaves out many ancient formulations, including choice by the dying monarch of anyone (or any male)i n the Royal House who was of either royal blood or royal rank. This system was very widespread outside of Christianity and prevailed in many areas for centuries continuously. My point in all this is that it seems unwise to foreclose people saying what their objections are before the law is changed. Kings seem a bit of an endangered species in your realm anyway. Leaving off the digits, Edward son of Victoria came late and left early, the Edward who abdicated in the eyes of all the world was followed by a short reign of a man who was a good but rather atypical king because he was Colin Firth — I mean because he stammered in the media age. Contrast this with Victoria and the current Queen. Of course George V is there interfering with my little exposition so I will ignore him.

  6. ladytizzy says:

    Allowing the eldest child to inherit is very Roman Catholic; why not allow the spouse to inherit?

    • franksummers3ba says:

      Lady Tizzy,
      I am sure you aware that in male only lines of Kings where Quees regnant do not occur there are two types. Those where the Queen Mother regency and/or Queen consort SupremeDeputy-ship and autonomous Ministry (for absent, disabled and dying kings) are allowed and those where royal women do not fill such roles. The difference is large. In Imperial China and other places women ruled and reigned for decades although never being truly regnant. In some other societies where these offices are not accepted then the role of queens or Empresses is much less significant.

  7. Jean Mc Lean says:

    What about James II? Admittedly his accession was before the Act of Settlement, but it does show a Roman Catholic can be head of the Church of England. One could argue the Act of Settlement bar on Roman Catholics seems itself to recognise this real possibility.
    Post Glorious Revolution history shows many Tories (most concerned with the Church of England) and Anglican divines found it very hard not to recognise the legitimate rights of James II and his male successors to the crown, a de jure right as opposed to William’s de facto settlement.

  8. franksummers3ba says:

    Jean McLean,
    I am not sure if I am among the people you are addressing or not. I think frankly that in the context of current succession law, there is probably a sense of unease in both houses of Parliament and in the British public as regards even considering the “sensus fidei fidelis” among Christian royalists at all or what the US Declaration calls “a decent respect for the opinions of Mankind” among even all royalist regimes. Somehow, Spain, Monaco, Belgium, Luxembourg and what else there is still seems something less than a Roman Catholic Community of Royals. In the context of all that is going on in the Protestant World even the concentration Sweden, Norway, Holland, the UK so near eachother is not as assuring as it might be. There are almost no third parties in royal terms to our great Western Dispute. The Ancient Armenian Christian Royalty is too long gone to be consciously grieved in the young UK but all Christians miss them whether they know it or not. In the Orthodox world there scarcely remains a seated royal house. In the Coptic Communion there was a high king lost many centuries ago and the recently lost Emperor of Ethiopia. Doubtless most Brits do not seriously feel that they need that fellowship in which crowned heads once lived. The Commonwealth has only the recently converted monarchs of Tonga and others royals who are not Christian, as far as I recall. In insecure times although it might be good to build bridges it is unlikely that such changes on any side as might restore something of the ancient organic structure can even be contemplated. The word “disintegration” is worth remembering in this context. If a sense of Chrstendom among Christian royals is restored it will not sneak up on us. Some bright light will shine forth rays that motivate peoples to rethink old positions on all sides. If that light is a king then a little good old fashioned fear of being glib will be part of the motivation.

  9. Jean Mc Lean says:

    I was questioning the common assumption that a Roman Catholic could not assume the throne as head of the Church of England. This is not the case in history. If a monarch is placed on the throne through divine providence, then surely it must be respected whatever the outcome.
    Even then, I think there is a lesser problem in having a Roman Catholic rather than an atheist on the throne.

    • franksummers3ba says:

      Jean McLean,
      It does something to have that sentiment expressed as you did whether it is accurate or not. It seems fair enough. It could bear to be repeated a few times. A Roman Catholic Monarch who would do justice to the situation would have to be quite brave and personally well-reducated in Christianity. The Anglican Communion has a special place in the whole of Christendom which is not easily described in these little comments. With the Pope’s State visit and the initiative to create Anglican Uniates in the Roman Catholic Church there are posssibilities. Not to impugn the courage of any hypothetical RC King or Queen of the UK you also have going for you the fact that so few of your Monarchs have been assassinated even in the centuries when many met violent deaths. The idea that one might have time for a slow and careful policy without suddnly being killed in the middle of some small experiment would be appealing even to those who value Christian unity a great deal and their own survival very little. Otherwise, I think a knowledgeable and suitable candidate might try hard to avoid the honor should that hypothet come to be. Long life to the Windsors, but should they become extinct in a century or so I can imagine it is possible a Roman Catholic could be Monarch. Should Prince Edward’s son convert and a tragedy make him King I can almost imagine it. Should Prince Charles or Prince Williams convert I really cannot imagine it yet.

  10. Gar Hywel says:

    I think it is Prince Harry who ran a light hearted campaign for what he described as “Demarchy”, a democratic monarchy.

    If there are two or three brothers and sisters in the family then, we should all take a vote!

    I favour a Republican presidency, particularly in view of the totally fictitious genealogies
    of yore, which caused war. This might well co-exist with kingship, and be a different kind of Demarchy, a monarch and a president too.

    It is very effective in France, with the Pretender as heir, and an executive president.

    The difference is that their oligarchy do not have their hands in the till/coffers in quite the same way as ours.

    • franksummers3ba says:

      Gar Hywel,
      Sparta had two Kings and while such extreme framing is rare some kind of diarchy is not. In purely technical terms Britain is relatively fluid to the point that at times a kind of diarchy exists between the Monarch and the PM. One republican and one royal monarch in the Greek sense has been tried unsuccessfully a few places. The Head of State and Chief Executive are separate republican diarchs in several countries. Little Andorra is almost a true diarchy on the most extreme version of the Two Swords doctrine.
      I think Prince Harry is a redhead. Be careful in assuming any idea of his cannot find sudden passion power and lightening growth. I like redheads just fine but I really do judge them differently. He wakes up every day knowing he will be a very exceptional version of Homo Sapiens whatever happens to society as a whole. That frees him to think differently…
      Election among Princes still occurs in several places. The Cardinals without are by custom known Princes without Blood by some formalists. But even in the other sense there are houses that elecet a King from Princes. They are few and mostly hidden and disestablished.

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