Kate, William and Male Primogeniture

// 22 November 2010

baby crown booties.jpg

Among all the reports and speculation about the upcoming wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William, the issue of primogeniture has been largely left alone. Primogeniture is the right of the first born to inherit everything. I was shocked to learn the British monarchy works on the male form of primogeniture, meaning that if the royal couple’s first child is a girl, she would not automatically have the right to succeed.

Lorely Burt MP for Solihul has tabled a Commons motion to change the current laws of succession, which discriminate against a female first born. She talked about it today in an interview for Women’s Hour.

This is not the first attempt to change this law. Labour Peer Lord Dubs published a member’s bill in December 2004 to reform succession to the throne but withdrew it in January 2005. The issue of male primogeniture was raised again in 2008 as part of the Equality Act, but ruled out as it would require the consent of some Commonwealth countries or even changing their laws.

If we have to have a monarchy, even if only to bring in tourists, I would rather have a female first born rule over me than a second born male. It’s not as if women do not have the skills to rule the country, the current Queen is an example of a capable monarch. Let’s hope this motion gets through this time.

Photo by Funky Shapes, shared on Flikr under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

earwicga // Posted 23 November 2010 at 10:52 am

‘It’s not as if women do not have the skills to rule the country, the current Queen is an example of a capable monarch.’

She is a figurehead and does NOT ‘rule’ any country.

Btw, did you know that Roman Catholics were banned from the throne by the Act of Settlement of 1701.

A J // Posted 23 November 2010 at 11:10 am

I couldn’t agree more. I’m pretty sure even the Royal Family themselves would probably support it – I can’t imagine the Queen views herself as inferior to men in any way!

The practical difficulties of getting all 16 of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis to each agree, legislate and co-ordinate a change in the rules, is the problem, and that’s always going to be pretty difficult to get round. Especially so given there’s unlikely to be much change practically for 50 years+ (as Charles and William are already established in the line of succession).

I’m not sure that anyone really thinks male primogeniture is right, but changing it will be a fairly tricky task. I really can’t see it happening before William and Kate have kids, unfortunately.

Toni // Posted 23 November 2010 at 1:04 pm

“I was shocked to learn the British monarchy works on the male form of primogeniture..”

Really? So you’ve never wondered why Princess Anne isn’t heir to the throne, given that she’s older than Charlie boy, with his organic Duchy sausages and four thousand quid a pair slippers?!

I think this primogeniture thing ties in with male privilege generally, doesn’t it, such as it’s enshrined in English law, especially land law, which still reads as amazingly archaic. This wedding is making me think again of all the undeserved privilege that still exists. The class system, the fact that 95% of land in Britain is still privately owned.

To me, changing one archaic law in an archaic system would be pointless. I just wish we could get rid of the monarchy. And while I’m sure the Queen does not view herself as inferior to any man, her behaviour, especially towards other women, has never been remotely feminist.

Beth R // Posted 23 November 2010 at 2:05 pm

“Especially so given there’s unlikely to be much change practically for 50 years+ ”

surely that would, if anything, make things simpler – the line of succession is pretty clear at the moment (Charles is eldest as well as being male, and he has his heir and a spare, both male) so the decision can be made entirely seperate from any individual loyalties or preferences any of the commonwealth countries might have to people who would be impacted on by a change in the line of succession.

I’ve seen the Catholic issue raised a few other places recently. It is clearly ridiculous that the monarch is barred specifically from marrying a Catholic, but is free to marry those from other religions, but surely, as head of the Church of England the monarch does need to be CofE? (This is just a statement of what I assume to be the case, not a position I am defending).

Beth R // Posted 23 November 2010 at 2:18 pm

@Toni – Anne is almost two years younger than Charles

Toni // Posted 23 November 2010 at 2:23 pm

Shiha, I have to apologize to you. Princess Anne is of course not older than Prince Charles.

I’m sorry. Stupid of me, I should have checked before commenting.

Sheila // Posted 23 November 2010 at 2:24 pm


Charles is older than Anne.

A J // Posted 23 November 2010 at 3:14 pm

@ Beth R – “surely that would, if anything, make things simpler – the line of succession is pretty clear at the moment (Charles is eldest as well as being male, and he has his heir and a spare, both male) so the decision can be made entirely seperate from any individual loyalties or preferences any of the commonwealth countries might have to people who would be impacted on by a change in the line of succession.”

Fair point. I was meaning more that there’s not any immediate pressing impetus for change which might get the politicians moving. It’s one of these tricky things I imagine they’ll always kick into the long grass until the issue is forced in some way.

The ban on marrying a Catholic is clearly ludicrous in modern society, but for as long the monarch remains head of the CofE, it kind of does make sense that they need to remain at least loosely Anglican (or Protestant, anyway). On a practical basis, I can’t see a monarch who was non-protestant being able to take the throne, even if it is legally possible. The links to the CofE would have to be loosened first.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 23 November 2010 at 3:24 pm

Britain is ruled by the Queen- we live in the ‘United KINGDOM of GB & NI’. We are still legally subjects too- because there is no bit of legislation that says otherwise. However over the last 800 years or so, we actively restricted the monarch’s power, balancing it with greater rights for parliament and for individuals (who in this sense start to take on the characteristics of citizen, rather than subject). But, we have never formally removed the Queen’s right to rule- she still formally gets a veto on legislation she doesn’t like which would stop it being passed. Now this has not been exercised since 1707- but she still has the legal power. In this sense, the Queen has chosen to be a figurehead- she is not one in law.

Anansie // Posted 23 November 2010 at 4:19 pm

“If we have to have a monarchy”.

Do we though? In the meantime, it might be fun to slash their benefits and watch them trying to earn a living.Toni, do slippers that cost four grand even exist? Or did you get that wrong as well as Prince charles’s age?

I understand monarchs were barred from marrying anyone of the Catholic faith because of the fear that a Catholic’s loyalties would be divided, or focussed solely on Rome and the pope.

polly // Posted 23 November 2010 at 9:06 pm

Personally I find it hard to be exercised about the fact that a ridiculously archaic institution whereby the post of head of state is inherited is also biased in favour of males. I understand the point that’s being made, but given that the monarchy is an inherently anti democratic institution in a supposed democracy, I don’t think changing the method of succession would improve it in any way. Just abolish it. The current system discriminates against 60 odd million of the population, so I don’t think not discriminating against potential female offspring of Kate Middleton and William Windsor/Saxe-Coburg-Gotha or whatever he’s called would make much difference.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 24 November 2010 at 12:52 am

Applauds Polly.

I think one of the main reasons for the decision to prohibit the monarch from marrying a catholic was a concern that the children might be raised RC. This was especially because of a growing awarness (in 1701) of a mother’s role in shaping children’s beliefs in their formative years (and also a growing expectation that royal mother’s would be involved in that process). It probably didn’t help that the monarch on the throne at the time was a woman- reminding people that monarchs could have husbands who should in theory dictate the religion of the household (ie cultural belief expected women to take their husband’s faith when they married, even though this was becoming less true in practice).

The Act of legislation that brought that into being was the Act of Settlement that followed closely on the heels of civil war, the removal of the thrown from a catholic monarch and it being given to William and Mary because they were protestant- and parliament wanted to secure that decision after they and then Queen Anne didn’t have any surviving children. (This is closely followed by the Jacobite rebellions where the Catholic heirs try to get back the throne). So, you have an interesting situation, where some of the major legislation that limits the role of monarchs and establishes the power of Parliament is actually caused by (among other things) a desire to have a protestant monarch. So, if you like, anti-catholicism started (or at least hastened) the process of greater democracy that would lead us to be critical of the anti-catholicism inherent in this Act.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 24 November 2010 at 1:20 am

Speaking from ‘across the pond,’ I have to tell you that anyone who thinks democracy is a good system needs their brain scanned and possibly upgraded. Humans are not intelligent enough for democracy and monarchies are fairly stable systems.

Seriously, Queen Elizabeth, take the U.S back!

Name: Mark // Posted 24 November 2010 at 7:38 am

Well done a holiday, who could refuse that, but why is it when we want a holiday for any other purpose we here about how it will cost the economy billions and is just the wrong example. Parasite holiday celebrate the parasites.

Denise // Posted 24 November 2010 at 1:23 pm

Politicalguineapig, I take it you’re being ironic?! Democracy may be too intelligent for some people, but most people are far too intelligent for monarchies. But yes, you’ve certainly got a stable system when you have subjects rather than citizens, who have to rent the land you and your family stole from them over the centuries, and give you the fruits of their backbreaking labour, and fight in the wars you casually start. AND pay for your rellies nuptials. In return for all that, you call them ignorant peasants who are too stupid for democracy! Yep. Sor-ted.

As Toni said above, who cares about changing one archaic law in an archaic system? Just get rid.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 24 November 2010 at 5:42 pm

Who are too stupid for democracy?

The aristos until the middle ages.

Elite white men until the 18thC.

The middle class until 1832.

The lower middle class until 1867.

Some of the working-class until 1884.

Women over 30 until 1918.

The rest of Working-class men until 1918.

Women over 21 until 1928.

People aged between 18 and 21 until 1970.

Why do we assume anyone is too stupid for democracy? That same assumption stopped many, many people from having political power until very recently. Just because you don’t agree with somebody- or you think they don’t act in their own self-interest- doesn’t mean they are stupid or their opinions are invalid.

Plus why do we think monarchies are ‘more stable’? Seriously, what are you seeing about them that make them appear more stable? Just curious.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 24 November 2010 at 7:51 pm

I was, sadly, not being sarcastic. At least in a monarchy, you only have to put up with one family’s stupidity. And eventually, they die out/ abdicate/get overthrown.

In a democracy, there’s a never-ending supply of stupid people shouting at the top of their lungs. I think the last election over here pretty much proved that democracy is a rapidly fading concept.

Kate // Posted 24 November 2010 at 8:23 pm

I think this law is worth looking at – it won’t take a long time and can be tacked on to the other constitutional changes going through parliament. It shouldn’t be controversial and if it is controversial than I’d quite like those people to make themselves known! And the time to do it is now because as soon as the couple have a baby there will be a person involved and it becomes very difficult to have an objective debate without the tabloids pinning it on to a royal baby.

monty // Posted 25 November 2010 at 1:50 am

>Feminist Avatar said:

>We are still legally subjects too- >because there is no bit of legislation >that says otherwise.

British Nationality Act 1981

Feminist Avatar // Posted 25 November 2010 at 10:29 am

@ Monty- Quite the opposite- the British Nationality Act 1981 reaffirms that we are subjects.

@Politicalguineapig- I am not sure how one stupid leader is better than many. At least in a democracy, one person’s ignorance, prejudice and power is limited by the rights of others.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 25 November 2010 at 5:24 pm

Feminist Avatar: You assume that people want rights, when in reality, they are only too happy to vote those rights away.

Also, monarchic systems have cropped up in nearly every human society, and they usually continue for several centuries (despite major changes in leadership). Most democratic countries have only had the system in place for 200-300 years or less. So, my conclusion is that monarchies are more stable then democracies, and humans prefer the simplicity of a monarchy. Humans, like it or not, are hierarchical creatures.

polly // Posted 26 November 2010 at 12:47 pm

Politicial guinea pig – the monarch’s power at the moment is largely symbolic in the way it is exercised (it could in theory be exercised in a different way, but it isn’t for the most part).

I also doubt anyone who was around this country for much of its history would call it ‘stable’. Particularly circa the civil war. But the last 2000 years or so have involved invasions by all and sundry and battles over the throne for the most part, with quite a few monarchs meeting a grisly end.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 26 November 2010 at 1:29 pm

I want rights- and surely the history of the feminist movement is that many women, at least, want rights?

The history of most monarchies are replete with violence and civil wars that suggest that people are quite committed to their rights. Furthermore, most monarchies have elaborate rituals to balance the rights of the monarch versus that of the people- just look at the history of peasant protest- which are usually based around disputes over customary rights for evidence. Plus, we don’t really have absolute monarchies in Britain at least until medieval period- before that you have various competing kingships. And once we have an absolute monarch (at that point in England and a different one in Scotland), we start to see both continual civil wars and disputes over that absolute rule. These are far from stable- in fact if the British case is evidence of anything, it is how unstable monarchies are as a system of power.

And, while in the West, democracies are relatively new, they aren’t a modern concept. Plenty of ancient societies were democratic and had democracies that lasted hundreds of years.

George // Posted 26 November 2010 at 1:40 pm

Oh, cool, politicalguineapig. I’ll just get my hierarchy-loving bum back into the kitchen and make the patriarchal hordes a massive sandwich, shall I?

Also, all this talk of people being “not clever enough” to participate effectively in a democracy sounds like eugenicist bullshit to me.

Back on topic – I agree with Polly.

Anchoredwunderlust // Posted 26 November 2010 at 3:31 pm

And those humans who engage themselves in horizontalist or leaderless or at least more socialist activities, communes and temp protest villages are just freaks of nature? Democracy does not equal government/parliament. Under 20 ticks in boxes over a life time is not having democratic power over your life or country

Politicalguineapig // Posted 27 November 2010 at 6:01 am

George: I’m not too fond of equality, as I dream of having men confined to their houses and licking the steeltoed boots of women. (I kid, sort of.) And how is wanting white guys to quit screwing up the world in any way, shape or form eugenicist? I’d rather have one white guy in charge of a country then a thousand of them.

Feminist Avatar and polly: I call it stable, because the institution continued, even if individuals didn’t. And please tell me how those days differed from the modern era in terms of war? The only difference I can see is that one doesn’t have armies stampeding across one’s farmland anymore. Humans just don’t do peace. If it wasn’t some pedigreed personage with a crown starting a war, it’d be some other excuse.

Also, as for rights: humans can easily be pressured into forfeiting rights, witness all the counter terrorism measures that the public accepts.

Anchoredwanderlust: And how many of those communities are around today, hmm? In the short term, yeah, socialism and leaderless communities will work. In the long term, they either get torn apart by internal pressures or get conquered.

Rachel H-G // Posted 29 November 2010 at 10:43 am

*stares into crystal ball*

If William and Kate’s first child is a girl, the male primogeniture rule will be scrapped.

polly // Posted 29 November 2010 at 10:43 pm

Well the USA have had a republic since 1776, (at least the caucasian invaders have, obviously North America had indigenous peoples before then), the French got rid of their hereditary monarchy in 1792 (with a brief hiccup in the shape of Napoleon Bonaparte), England was last a republic in 1659. Not that much difference in terms of stability I’d say – but I’m no historian.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 30 November 2010 at 12:39 pm

The longevity of an institution does not speak to its stability- or even its power. The British parliament is almost 1000 years old- does that mean that democracy (as represented by parliament) is more or less stable than monarchy (especially as there was no decided King of England in its early years)?

My point- people have always wanted rights. Even in monarchies- that was what I was getting at when I mentioned the civil wars. I was highlighting how contested these issues are and always have been. I don’t really know if democracy is more ‘stable’ than monarchy because to be honest I am very suspicious of clams to ‘stability’ anyway- what does that mean? Usually that people are willing to conform to a dominant model for behaviour (which isn’t necessarily fair or just and can be exclusive of social groups that don’t conform).

But, I think democracy is better because there are more opportunities for everyone’s voice to be heard- to work towards an equal society. (Because democracy is more than a vote- it is the ability to protest, petition, to write books and blogs, and comments on blogs- to shape the public sphere and through it society’s values). And, I think that what a monarchy represents- even a benign monarchy- is a world where inequality is still enshrined in state structures, and I don’t think we can truly move towards an equal society while our head of state symbolises inequality.

Catherine Osborn // Posted 30 November 2010 at 3:00 pm

Such an important issue.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a monarchist or a republican, the law as it stands sends out a clear message that a woman will do but a man is better; a sentiment that is, unfortunately, often encountered in the workplace. Check out, for example, the list of editors of the New Statesman over the last 97 years. The only woman in a list of 17 names also happens to be the only *acting* editor the magazine has ever had.

I don’t want this law changed because I’m worried that a hypothetical future princess will have her feelings hurt, but because I want my son and daughter to grow up in a society that values women as highly as men.

The monarchy won’t be abolished any time soon but we may just be able to drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 1 December 2010 at 9:02 pm

Feminist Avatar: The individual person wants rights, I’ll give you that, but the great big mass of people always seem eager to vote them away. (See U.S. Tea Party, Germany 1935, most Russian elections.)

As for equality, I don’t think that’s what people really want. We’re hierarchical critters, and everyone wants their group to be on top.

Polly: Depending on how you figure it, Britain’s been an absolute monarchy for about 1,000-700 years, and has a paltry 300 years of constituitional monarchy. The U.S. has only been a democracy for about 300 years. So in terms of duration and continuity, monarchy seems to last longer.

Irina // Posted 6 December 2010 at 1:00 pm

Winston Churchill once said that democracy seemed like a terrible system (or words to that effect) until you looked at the alternatives.

Agree with Feminist Avatar that the mass of people often vote their rights away. A lot of people do seem too thick (or can’t be bothered) to think what will happen until it hits them. That doesn’t mean democracy is bad – the opposite. It means more people need to think for themselves, which most of us are not encouraged to do. Bertrand Russell said most people would rather die than think – it’s true!

Politicalguineapig // Posted 10 December 2010 at 4:09 pm

Irina: if people can’t be bothered to think,why should they be trusted with the vote? If people wanted democracy, they’d take the trouble to be informed. Since they won’t take advantage of the information available, I fail to see why democracy is a viable system.

Andie // Posted 11 December 2010 at 10:19 pm

Politicalguineapig, so you’re obviously someone who is or is not going to “trust” “them” with the vote, depending on whether or not “people” fulfil the criteria you would lay down? You’re clearly one of the lucky elite then, who gets the right to decide about the lives of the common people.

Just because some people don’t take advantage of the information available to them doesn’t mean that others won’t. If it had been down to royal families/tory politicians/the ruling class generally, there would never have been any progress in any area. The likes of you and me would have thought ourselves extremely fortunate to have even got to learn to read and write. And as women, we’d have been wondering whether to be a lady’s maid or a governess. Until we became a wife and gave birth to a number of children, whether we wanted to have them or not.

Your arguments – if they can be described as that – simply do not hold up.

Politcalguineapig // Posted 13 December 2010 at 4:47 pm

Andie: Currently, democracy is impeding progress. The people who are voting want a return to the Dark Ages, and dissolving democracy is the only way to keep America from becoming a theocracy.

I used to be in favor of democracy, until I realized this. In an ideal world, people could be trusted to make steady progress, but that isn’t the world we live in. People don’t want progress, it’s as simple as that.

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