Girls equal in British throne succession

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge If Prince William and Kate had a daughter first, she would take precedence over younger brothers

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Sons and daughters of any future UK monarch will have equal right to the throne, after Commonwealth leaders agreed to change succession laws.

The leaders of the 16 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is head of state unanimously approved the changes at a summit in Perth, Australia.

It means a first-born daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would take precedence over younger brothers.

The ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic was also lifted.

Under the old succession laws, dating back more than 300 years, the heir to the throne is the first-born son of the monarch. Only when there are no sons, as in the case of the Queen's father George VI, does the crown pass to the eldest daughter.

The succession changes will require a raft of historic legislation to be amended, including the 1701 Act of Settlement, the 1689 Bill of Rights and the Royal Marriages Act 1772.

The change to the Royal Marriages Act will end a position where every descendant of George II is legally required to seek the consent of the monarch before marrying.

In future, the requirement is expected to be limited to a small number of the sovereign's close relatives.


Equal rights for women in the British Monarchy? It's quite a change. The new rules will reverse 300 years of tradition, custom and law, so it's a big royal deal.

There have been at least 11 attempts to change the passage of succession down the years, but they've never got anywhere. Now, with the arrival of Kate and William on the public stage, a sense of urgency has overtaken the drag of inertia.

The leaders of the Commonwealth have, like David Cameron, recognised this and so decided to act, using Perth to give birth to these royal reforms.

The other modification, allowing future monarchs to marry Catholics, is just as radical, removing an anti-Catholic bias at the heart of the monarchy.

Will these changes make a difference? Potentially, yes, particularly the daughter/son succession one, especially if William and Kate's first-born is a girl. She could become queen and thereby alter the course of British history.

Announcing the succession changes, Prime Minister David Cameron said they would apply to descendents of the Prince of Wales. They will not be applied retrospectively.

"Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen," he said.

"The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic - this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become."

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it was an extraordinary moment: "I'm very enthusiastic about it. You would expect the first Australian woman prime minister to be very enthusiastic about a change which equals equality for women in a new area."

She said the changes appeared to be straightforward. "But just because they seem straightforward to our modern minds doesn't mean that we should underestimate their historical significance, changing as they will for all time the way in which the monarchy works and changing its history."

But the campaign group Republic - which wants an elected head of state in Britain - said "nothing of substance" had been changed.

"The monarchy discriminates against every man, woman and child who isn't born into the Windsor family. To suggest that this has anything to do with equality is utterly absurd," spokesman Graham Smith said.

Queen's speech

On scrapping the ban on future monarchs marrying Roman Catholics, Mr Cameron said: "Let me be clear, the monarch must be in communion with the Church of England because he or she is the head of that Church. But it is simply wrong they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so. After all, they are already quite free to marry someone of any other faith."

David Cameron: ''The idea a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he's a man... is at odds with the modern countries we have become''

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said the elimination of the "unjust discrimination" against Catholics would be widely welcomed.

"At the same time I fully recognise the importance of the position of the established church [the Church of England] in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today," he said.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond also welcomed the lifting of the ban but said it was "deeply disappointing" that Roman Catholics were still unable to ascend to the throne.

"It surely would have been possible to find a mechanism which would have protected the status of the Church of England without keeping in place an unjustifiable barrier on the grounds of religion in terms of the monarchy," he said.

"It is a missed opportunity not to ensure equality of all faiths when it comes to the issue of who can be head of state."

In her opening speech to the summit, the Queen did not directly mention the royal succession laws, but said women should have a greater role in society.

"It encourages us to find ways to show girls and women to play their full part," she said.

Previous attempts

The BBC's royal correspondent, Nicholas Witchell, said this was a hint that the Queen herself backed the change.

The Queen will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee next year and there are already two generations of kings-in-waiting - Prince Charles and his son Prince William.

In January 2011, Labour MP Keith Vaz tabled a Succession to the Crown Bill in the Commons to end gender discrimination in the succession to the throne.

He said his bill - due for its second reading on 25 November - could be used to introduce the reforms announced in Perth.

"As a society that values gender equality so highly, this is a long overdue," he said. "We will now have modern laws that fit our modern monarchy."

The royal author Robert Hardman said there had been 11 attempts in recent years by individual MPs and peers to change the succession laws.

The laws are not a matter for the 54-nation Commonwealth as a whole, only for the 16 countries which have the Queen as their head of state, known as realms.

These are Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, Solomon Islands, St Lucia and the Bahamas.

Chogm summit

Mr Cameron said the realms would work to implement the changes but that for historic reasons the UK would have to publish its legislation first.

The necessary changes to laws will be introduced in the next session of Parliament and New Zealand will lead a working group co-ordinating the measures across the other nations.

In his speech, the prime minister also praised the Queen's 60 years of public service and announced the creation of a Diamond Jubilee Trust to help those in need across the Commonwealth. The trust will be chaired by former Prime Minister Sir John Major.

Mr Cameron said Britain would make a multi-million pound donation to the grant-making body and encouraged other commonwealth nations to do the same.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (Chogm) are held every two years, and present an opportunity for the 54 nations with current or former ties to Britain to discuss a range of issues.

The Chogm summit will also discuss economic growth, climate change and human rights at this year's meeting.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    At long last. Now we need to get a few women Bishops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    "Norma Stitz
    no descendants of William the Bastard The legitimate line of succession from Alfred the Great runs true through the Scottish royal family."

    Ah, but William's son Henry I married Alfred's descendant Matilda of Scotland, great granddaughter of Edmund Ironside. That brought Wessex royal line into the Norman and then Plantagenate kings and that line then rejoins the Scottish line later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    Good job this wasn't put forward by E-Petition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    585.FrTed 578. Yankee_Poodle

    "Wouldn't it be nice to live in a united country where anyone ... can aspire to become the head of state?" ...."Yes. Know of one?"

    Like most Brits, I'd like to live in a country where a corrupt head of state can be fired: That has happened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    For those confused by the apparent change in the rules, based on the previous set of rules, Charles is first in line for succession and is followed by William. If William succeeds, then his first born son (if any) would be first in line to succeed him. If he only had daughters, I stand to be corrected, but I believe his brother Harry, if surviving, would have succeeded him and not his daughter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.


    Apart from being wrong about cost, you are completely missing the point. If we don't like our politicians we can vote them out or even choose to stand for election ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    It's all been downhill since women got the vote LOL!

  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    135. "is an outdate institution.." And how come Prince "William slept rough in London as part of his involvement with homeless charity Centrepoint". Our Queen has devoted her life to her country not going off the rail like some. Prince Philip has been the strength for our Queen all his life. This monarch is the kindest and down to earth generation in the midst of Royal Protocols.

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    The mature nation that is comfortable with itself realises that having a monarchy that is not elected does not matter has it has no real power, and that the power lies truly with the elected politicians.

    But there are unelected officials with real power; the European judges, who have the ability to override any British law. That should be a major concern to everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 606.

    I don't care what the monarchy costs. I don't care who they marry. I don't care what colour hat Mrs Windsor wore.
    I want rid of the whole lot of them. If Americans think they're good for tourism, great. Let's ship the whole lot to Disney World.

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    Continued from above. ...serve the realms more easily. I agree with the Catholic thing though, as much as I argue with them.

    But dosen't our glorious leader Mr Cameron have something better and more important to do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    I was always of the opinion that whoever in the family is most fitting for the job should get the crown, but who am I to question the ways of royalty? An interesting turn of events, and at least SOME of us in America still hold enough loyalty and fondness for the mother land to wonder what may become of the monarchy in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    "You folks truly don't understand the importance of the monarchy to your nation's tourist dollars."

    Actually that's been proven to be a compelte fallacy. The incremental revenue on tourist dollars from the monarchy is negligible. Only Windsor Palace makes it into the top 20 UK tourist attractions. The royals really cost circa £200million. And it's about democracy anyway, not just cost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    The three strongest monarchs this country has ever had have been women. Queen Elizabeth I, Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. It's about time the laws of succession were changed to honour and respect their collective achievements and to recognise that women are more than capable of leading the Monarchy and representing this country on the world stage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    " Boxer_the_Horse

    The King cannot be a Catholic because:
    An earlier Pope proclaimed Elizabeth 1st and all her descendants illegitimate"

    Elizabeth I had no descendants. Her successor was her aunt's great grandson.

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    Andrew Maund


    That's the closest I've ever come to throwing up before I'm doubled up with laughter after reading a comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    You folks truly don't understand the importance of the monarchy to your nation's tourist dollars. Yes, upkeep of them costs money, but you're delusional if you think that if they didn't exist that your common folks would gain any monetary advantage; your govt would just waste the money on some scheme that would benefit the fat cats, the military or the politicians themselves, like all govts do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    The King cannot be a Catholic because:
    An earlier Pope proclaimed Elizabeth 1st and all her descendants illegitimate
    A later Pope proclaimed that the Pope, in making official decisions, was infallible
    A true Catholic obeys the Pope
    Hence a Catholic descendant of Elizabeth 2nd would have to agree that he wasn't the legitimate King

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    OK. We've had:

    1. The Queen does a good job.
    2. The monarchy is irrelevant.
    3. Gender equality in everything.
    4. Vote on a head of state.
    5. Hasn't the PM got more important things to do?

    We are going over the same ground. Time to leave this discussion. Thank you all.


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