Prince William and Kate Middleton’s first child will accede to the throne – even if she is a girl.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s child will not be subject to the centuries-old law of primogeniture, which puts male heirs ahead of women, after a groundbreaking deal by David Cameron.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed a deal with other Commonwealth countries to change the rules on the royal line of succession which means male heirs will no longer be given priority.
This means that in the 15 other countries where Queen Elizabeth II is head of state the rules must be changed.
It had been feared there could be a constitutional crisis if Prince William and Kate Middleton had a baby girl before the law was changed.
But today’s announcement that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting the couple’s first child – third in line to the throne – has come after the deal was agreed.
In October 2011, David Cameron announced that the 16 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is head of state had agreed to give female royals the same rights of succession as their brothers.
“Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen,” David Cameron said.
Under the ancient rules of male primogeniture, first born royal daughters in direct line to the throne were leapfrogged by their younger male siblings.
The principle was criticized and widely viewed as outdated and discriminatory.
The current law of male primogeniture only allows Elizabeth II to be queen because she did not have any brothers.
Moves towards constitutional change gathered pace in the wake of the Duke and Duchess’s wedding in April 2011 in anticipation they would produce an offspring.
David Cameron had previously warned it would take time due to on-going negotiations with the Commonwealth countries where the Queen is also head of state, but at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October 2011 he confirmed the changes would go ahead.
Downing Street said any attempt to alter the law would be a “difficult and complex matter”, with parallel legislation needed in all such Commonwealth nations.
It will also involve amendments to some of Britain’s key constitutional documents, such as the Bill of Rights and Coronation Oath Act of 1688, the 1701 Act of Settlement and the 1706 Act of Union with Scotland.
Proposed legislation will refer to the descendants of the current Prince of Wales, meaning that William’s first child would follow him in the line of succession, whether a girl or a boy.
However, the current generation of royals will not be affected. It will not be retrospective – meaning the Princess Royal will not jump ahead of her younger brothers the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex.
Ministers have made clear the changes will apply from October 28, 2011 – the date of the Commonwealth summit where the countries agreed the plans.
The change needs to be legislated for in the Commonwealth nations of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Belize, St Christopher and Nevis, St Lucia, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Papua New Guinea. But this is regarded as assured.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the Commons in May: “If the birds and bees were to deliver that blessing to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and indeed the nation, then that little girl would be covered by the provisions of these changes of the rules of succession because they operate from the time of the declaration of the Commonwealth summit last October.
“It is very important to remember that the rules are de facto in place, even though they have yet to be implemented through legislation in the way that I have described.”
The changes mean that, for all descendants of the Prince of Wales, younger sons will no longer take precedence over an elder daughter in the line of succession.
Members of the Royal Family who marry a Roman Catholic will also in future be able to succeed to the Crown.
And an ancient and unused rule saying descendants of George II are supposed to gain the consent of the monarch to marry will only apply to the first six people in the line of succession.
The law was brought in following the Glorious Revolution – when a Dutch invasion helped overthrow a Papist king – so that a Catholic could never sit on our throne again.
It also means that the Princess Royal, the Queen’s second born, is just tenth in line to the throne behind her younger brothers Andrew (fourth) and Edward (seventh).
The 15 other countries where Elizabeth II is queen are Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Soloman Islands, Tuvalu, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and St Kitts and Nevis.
The Commonwealth leaders also agreed to overturn the 1701 Act of Settlement, which means that only the Protestant heirs of the Electress Sophia of Hanover, granddaughter of James I, can become king or queen.
The Queen hailed the deal on changing the rules as the 53 Commonwealth countries met last year, saying she wanted the theme of allowing women to play a full part to last for years.
She said: “The theme this year is Women As Agents of Change.
“It reminds us of the potential in our societies that is yet to be fully unlocked and it encourages us to find ways to allow all girls and women to play their full part.
“We must continue to strive in our own countries and across the Commonwealth together to promote that theme in a lasting way beyond this year.”
Her comments were taken as a sign that the Queen approves of the reform.
The Commonwealth is a looser group of 53 countries, of which the Queen is the head.
David Cameron had criticized the existing rules as “out-dated” and in need of change.
It was also agreed that the barrier to the heir to the throne marrying a Catholic will also be removed, but that it would not affect the position of the Anglican Church as the established Church.
The Queen and future monarchs will be Anglicans and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
An ancient rule meaning that all descendants of George II are supposed to require the consent of the monarch before they can marry will also be abolished.
The UK government must now introduce legislation to change the 1701 Act of Settlement, the Bill of Rights 1688, the Coronation Oath Act 1688 and the Royal Marriages Act 1772.
But because the rule will be backdated and it will be many years before a female heir will be close to the throne, the government says the change isn’t urgent.
Government sources have stressed that the new rule will apply only to heirs born after October 2011.
Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, would still be placed below her two younger brothers, the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex.
Had the rule been in force before, British history would have been very different.
Constitutional experts say that in 1509 Margaret Tudor would have taken the throne instead of Henry VIII, and as a result Elizabeth I would never have been Queen.
It would also have meant Queen Victoria would have been succeeded by her daughter, Princess Victoria, the Princess Royal, in 1901, and not King Edward VII.
When she died just a few months later, her son Kaiser Wilhelm II would have ascended the throne – something which could have prevented the First World War.
It is said the Queen of England now would have been the completely unknown Princess Marie Cecile of Prussia.
Most European monarchies have already established an equal law of succession – it is in force in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Now only Spain, Liechtenstein and Monaco are left with the old system.
THE CURRENT LINE OF SUCCESSION
- The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles)
- Prince William of Wales
- Prince Henry of Wales
- The Duke of York
- Princess Beatrice of York
- Princess Eugenie of York
- The Earl of Wessex
- Viscount Severn
- The Lady Louise Windsor
- The Princess Royal
- Mr. Peter Phillips
- Miss Zara Phillips