by Ross Watkins
|Royal baby on the way|
(image source: radaronline.com)
On Monday, St. James’s place announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were expecting a child. This meant that there was an urgency to change the succession rights: this would mean the child of the couple would become monarch regardless of gender. Last October, at the Heads of Commonwealth meeting in Perth, Australia, new legislation was agreed by all member states, changing the law of right of succession to the throne. Since then, the government of New Zealand has been gathering formal consent letters from the 15 realms of the commonwealth.
The new legislation would mean the end of the principle of male primogeniture, which means the male heir will not automatically take precedence over a woman in succession to the throne. This will also mean the end of a ban of succession to anybody who marries a Catholic. This is a very historic event as it will be the most drastic change to the British monarchy in a long time. But this will mean the amendment of key documents including the Bill of Rights and Coronation Oath Act of 1688, the 1701 Act of Settlement and the 1706 Act of Union with Scotland.
If one looked back into history, the ratio of queens to kings in the UK since 1066 would be 1:6 (6 queens to 35 kings). Let us use the example of Queen Victoria. At her birth, Victoria was fifth in line of succession behind her father, the Duke of Kent, and his three elder brothers: Prince George (the Prince Regent, later King George IV), Frederick, Duke of York, and William, Duke of Clarence (later King William IV). All three of her uncles died with no surviving legitimate children. This meant that she had the chance to take the throne. But if one of these men had had a child, Victoria might have never inherited the throne. In the end, Victoria proved to be one of the best monarchs Britain has ever seen and she is still the longest-reigning monarch we have ever had.
|Queen Elizabeth I|
One way or another the reigns of many of our queens have been the most successful of all. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a secure Church of England was established, the arts flourished and her reign saw many discoveries. Also, as previously noted, there was the reign of Queen Victoria which in my view had the greatest success of all with Britain becoming the world most powerful nation and with the forging of its empire which became the biggest the world had ever seen.
"So why wasn’t the law of succession changed sooner?" I hear many of you ask.
Well it remains the fact that women haven’t had the vote for even 100 years yet (they were given the vote in 1918) and even then that was only given to women over 30 who met the minimum property qualifications. Only in 1928 were all women over the age of 21 allowed to vote. So throughout the twentieth century there were still longstanding prejudices against women.Even with Queen Elizabeth II on the throne since 1953, change has been a long time coming; for example, we have had only one female prime minister during all of that time. The vast majority of members of Parliament have been male, which has meant a bill has been hard to pass through a parliament full of men who may still have stood on the old views and were not welcoming of change. But with an increasing representation by women in the House of Commons and a country now more accepting of gender equality country things were going to change at one time or another.
This all means that when the child of the Duke and Duchess is born, for the first time in history, the Commonwealth can rejoice in the fact that it will know that the child will be their future monarch --- whether boy or girl.