Royal equality act will end succession of first born male

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Royal equality act will end succession of first born male – rather than older sister” was written by Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, for The Guardian on Thursday 27th October 2011 23.01 UTC

Commonwealth leaders will pledge to amend legislation dating back to the 17th century to allow daughters of the monarch to take precedence over younger sons in the line of succession.

David Cameron will hail the agreement of the 16 Queen’s realms, the Commonwealth countries where the Queen serves as head of state, to amend “outdated” rules that also prevent a potential monarch from marrying a Catholic.

The prime minister will introduce legislation in Britain before the next general election to ensure that the changes will apply to any children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Officials say the changes will apply even if a child is born before the new legislation is passed.

Speaking before the opening of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth, where the agreement will be sealed, Cameron said: “These rules are outdated and need to change.”

In a meeting in Perth this morning, to be chaired by the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, the leaders of the 16 Queen’s realms will agree to amend rules that currently say:

• An elder daughter should be placed behind a younger son in the line of succession.

The order of succession will in future be determined by the order of birth. The immediate impact will place the Princess Royal, the Queen’s daughter, fourth in the line of succession behind the Prince of Wales and his two sons. At the moment the princess is 10th. The Duke of York, who is fourth, will drop to eighth.

• Anyone who marries a Roman Catholic is barred from succeeding to the crown.

This will end. The change will not affect the position of the monarch as the supreme governor of the Church of England, because Catholics will still be barred from the throne. The Church of England will remain as the established church.

• Descendants of King George II need the monarch’s consent to marry.

This will be reformed.

Cameron will tell the meeting: “The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter, simply because he is a man, just is not acceptable any more.

“Nor does it make any sense that a potential monarch can marry someone of any faith other than Catholic.

“The thinking behind these rules is wrong. That’s why people have been talking about changing them for some time. We need to get on and do it.”

Downing Street has noted what would have happened if the rules had been different at key moments:

• Margaret Tudor would have succeeded Henry VII in 1509, denying the throne to her younger brother, who became Henry VIII. That raises the prospect that Henry VIII would not have been responsible for the greatest example of Euroscepticism: the break with Rome in 1533.

• Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen of Bohemia, would have succeeded her father James I in 1625 instead of Charles I. The civil war, in which Charles was executed, might have been avoided.

• Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Victoria, would have succeeded in January 1901, rather than Edward VII. The new queen would have died less than seven months later, handing the throne to Kaiser Wilhelm II. Britain would have been ruled by the German emperor during the first world war.

The announcement in Perth comes after Cameron wrote last month to the other leaders calling for change. Legislation will have to be introduced in Britain and some of the other 15 realms to amend laws including the Bill of Rights 1688, the Act of Settlement 1700, the Act of Union with Scotland 1706 and the Coronation Oaths Act 1688.

Primary legislation will be necessary in Antigua, Canada and Saint Lucia. Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu will not need to enact their own legislation.

Gordon Brown was keen to introduce the reforms but did not feel he could set aside enough parliamentary time.

Earlier this year Cameron played down the prospect of an imminent change in the rules of royal succession, partly because of concerns that constitutional tinkering could revive the campaign in Australia for it to become a republic.

But Downing Street believes that the Queen’s diamond jubilee next year and the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April show it is time to “secure a breakthrough”.

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, also supports the change. “If Prince William and Catherine Middleton were to have a baby daughter as their first child, I think most people would think it fair and normal that she would eventually become queen of our country,” he said this year.

Buckingham Palace is understood to be supportive. One No 10 source said: “Downing Street has been working on this for five years. Buckingham Palace will not have been taken by surprise. This will welcome the crown into the modern age.”

The changes have to be introduced by all 16 realms at the same time. Failure to amend the legislation in one or more could lead to a situation in which there were different monarchs, possibly both from the House of Windsor, in different countries.

A working group, to be chaired by New Zealand, will co-ordinate the legislation to make sure it is acceptable to all countries.

Cameron has been astonished that it has taken so long to amend such antiquated legislation. In 1955, when Anthony Eden succeeded Winston Churchill, a civil service brief concluded that it was time for a change.

The brief said: “It is unsatisfactory that personal and constitutional questions of such high importance should still depend on the operation of an 18th-century statute which was admittedly passed hurriedly, and in the face of considerable opposition, to deal with an ad hoc situation created largely by the unsatisfactory conduct of King George III’s brothers.”

Successive governments have failed to act. In 1964 the then home secretary, Henry Brooke, declined to “proceed with legislation … at the moment” because of the challenge in winning agreement with other realms.

The bar on marrying a Catholic meant that Prince Michael of Kent, the grandson of George V, had to forfeit his place in the line of succession in 1978 when he married an Austrian Catholic, now Princess Michael of Kent. Autumn Phillips, the wife of the Queen’s grandson Peter, converted to Anglicanism from Catholicism to preserve her husband’s position in the line of succession. He is currently 11th in line but will jump to fifth when the first changes are introduced.

The leaders’ group will also debate a report recommending that homosexuality should be legalised across the Commonwealth. Peter Tatchell, a gay rights campaigner, said last week that 40 Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexuality.

Expert view: Paul Lay

In our age of gender equality and religious tolerance there will be no further hindrance to an elder daughter succeeding to the crown before her younger brothers. Yet in one of those contingencies that makes history such a delight, the three most successful monarchs to have ascended to the English and then British throne have all been women.

Elizabeth I only gained the crown because her elder half-sister, Mary – a woman and a Catholic – died young and childless. She in turn had only become the first queen of England because there were no males left in the Tudor line once young Edward VI passed on in 1553. Three centuries later, Victoria, less glamorous but more fertile, was to preside over the high noon of empire. The present incumbent, currently enjoying adulation in the antipodes, personifies dignity and cool judgment. Things could have turned out worse. They could also have turned out better.

The Act of Settlement was passed by parliament and signed on 12 June 1701 by William III, a childless widower pushing 50, in poor health and largely immune to female charm. The question of succession had become desperate owing to the death in July 1700 of the 11-year-old William, Duke of Gloucester, the only surviving son of the heir to the throne, Princess Anne.

The exiled Stuarts may have been the divisive agents of a bloody civil war, and papists to boot, but they had male heirs, and James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, was ready to pounce, with the aid of Louis XIV of France, who acknowledged him as James III. Had English rulers taken a more enlightened view of gender issues they might not have got into such a mess. Charles I, the fount of all the troubles of the 17th century, had an elder sister, Elizabeth, the Winter Queen of Bohemia and heroine of Protestant Europe.

Having endured decades of religious and political turmoil, and fearful for the Protestant succession, it was to the descendants of this Stuart that William III’s supporters went in search of a monarch to keep the other Stuarts out. They wanted the young elector George Lewis of Hanover, Elizabeth’s grandson. He didn’t speak English but was a Protestant and hated the French – qualifications suffice to make him king.

George and his Hanoverian successors were never popular and the monarchy was at a low ebb when Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837 in the absence of legitimate male candidates. Though the elderly Victoria came to symbolise a dowdy puritanism, the early years of her reign were marked by scandal and assassination attempts. Even her saintly consort Prince Albert only became popular after his premature death. But she made female rule acceptable.

Victoria’s eldest child was also female and also named Victoria. She may well have proved a wiser monarch than her younger brother, the corpulent and foolish Edward VII, had she been allowed to succeed in January 1901. His love affair with France (or, at least its women) helped forge the entente cordiale with devastating consequences for Anglo-German relations, until then rather good.

Princess Victoria also happened to be the Empress of Germany and Queen of Prussia and would have united the crowns of the greatest military and industrial powers of the age. Her son, Kaiser Wilhelm II, would have been King William V, the first and second world wars would never have happened and we would all be driving top-of-the-range Audis and embracing low levels of personal debt.

Paul Lay is editor of History Today

• The main article above was amended on 28 October 2011. The original said the Duke of York would drop to seventh in line to the throne when succession was determined by order of birth. He would drop to eighth.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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