Succession to the British throne

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Succession to the British throne is determined by descent, legitimacy and religion. The crown is inherited by an individual's children and by a childless individual's nearest collateral line. The order of succession before 28 October 2011 was governed by male-preference cognatic primogeniture, by which succession passes first to an individual's sons, in order of birth, and subsequently to daughters, again in order of birth. However following the legislative changes giving effect to the Perth Agreement, an elder child will precede in the line of succession a younger sibling born after 28 October 2011 regardless of their sex. The Act of Union 1800, the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Bill of Rights 1689 restrict the succession to the legitimate Protestant descendants of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and expressly debar those who are Roman Catholics.[1] However, Protestant descendants of those debarred for being Catholics are eligible to succeed.[2] Between 1689 and 2015, the spouses of Catholics were also debarred.

Elizabeth II is the present sovereign and her heir apparent is her eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales. Second in line is Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, the Prince of Wales's eldest son. Third in line is Prince George of Cambridge, the son of the Duke of Cambridge. Fourth in line is Prince Harry, the younger son of the Prince of Wales. The first four individuals in the line of succession who are twenty-one years or older, along with the Sovereign's consort, may be appointed Counsellors of State. Counsellors of State perform some of the Sovereign's duties whilst he or she is abroad or temporarily incapacitated. Otherwise, individuals in the line of succession need not have specific legal or official duties (though members of the royal family often do).

The person who is monarch of the United Kingdom is also the monarch of 15 other sovereign states within the Commonwealth of Nations. By convention (iterated in the preamble to the Statute of Westminster 1931) the line of succession cannot be altered without the agreement of all 16 Commonwealth realms, indicated by the assent of the parliament of each. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2011, the heads of government of the realms agreed unanimously to abandon male preference primogeniture for people born after the date of the agreement and to lift the ban on the spouses of Roman Catholics. The ban on Catholics themselves was retained to ensure that the monarch would be in communion with the Church of England.[3] After the necessary legislation had been enacted in accordance with the constitutions of each of the realms, the succession changes took effect on 26 March 2015.[4]

Current line of succession[edit]

The first 16 individuals in the line of succession are all descended from Queen Elizabeth II:[5]

Charles, Prince of Wales, has been first in the line of succession since 1952.
  1. Charles, Prince of Wales (b. 1948), eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II
  2. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (b. 1982), elder son of Charles, Prince of Wales
  3. Prince George of Cambridge (b. 2013), son of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge
  4. Prince Harry (b. 1984), younger son of Charles, Prince of Wales
  5. Prince Andrew, Duke of York (b. 1960), second son of Queen Elizabeth II
  6. Princess Beatrice of York (b. 1988), elder daughter of Prince Andrew, Duke of York
  7. Princess Eugenie of York (b. 1990), younger daughter of Prince Andrew, Duke of York
  8. Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex (b. 1964), youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II
  9. James, Viscount Severn (b. 2007), son of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
  10. Lady Louise Windsor (b. 2003), daughter of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
  11. Anne, Princess Royal (b. 1950), daughter of Queen Elizabeth II
  12. Peter Phillips (b. 1977), son of Anne, Princess Royal
  13. Savannah Phillips (b. 2010), elder daughter of Peter Phillips
  14. Isla Phillips (b. 2012), younger daughter of Peter Phillips
  15. Zara Phillips (b. 1981), daughter of Anne, Princess Royal
  16. Mia Tindall (b. 2014), daughter of Zara Phillips

The line continues with the nearest collateral line, namely, descendants of Elizabeth's younger sister Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (1930–2002) (numbered 17–22). The next of the collateral lines, descending from Elizabeth and Margaret's grandfather George V, descend from younger brothers of the Queen's father, George VI: Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1900–1974) and Prince George, Duke of Kent (1902–1942). No official, complete, version of the line of succession is currently maintained. Amateur genealogists, however, do occasionally attempt to create comprehensive lists. The most recent of these was published in 2001 and counted the total number of eligible persons at 4,973.[6]


The current succession law in the United Kingdom evolved from succession law in both England and Scotland. Originally in both countries, there were no fixed rules governing succession to the Throne. The individual could have relied on inheritance, statute, election (by Parliament or by another body), nomination (by a reigning Sovereign in his or her will), conquest or prescription (de facto possession of the Crown). It was often unclear which of these bases should take precedence; often, the outcome depended not on the legal strength of the claims, but on the political or military power of the claimants.

However, over time, the default rule became male primogeniture: later monarchs coming to the throne by exception to this rule went to great lengths to explain and justify going against these rules, and to prove their rivals illegitimate. Eventually, Parliament took control of succession.


House of Wessex[edit]

Upon the death of Offa of Mercia (July 796) who had forced him into exile, Egbert of Wessex returned to Wessex and took the throne. Overtaking Mercia as the dominant power in Britain, Egbert militarily expanded his realm to include Kent, Sussex, Surrey, some Mercian territory, and briefly all of Mercia; this gained him the title Bretwalda, or "ruler of Britain". Egbert's heirs have ruled England almost exclusively ever since; in the years since there have been only five, or possibly six, monarchs of the country who were not his descendants: the four Danish kings, William the Conqueror, and arguably Harold II, whose claimed patrilineal descent, referred to below, is not universally accepted as true.

Egbert was succeeded by his son Æthelwulf upon his death. Æthelwulf's second son Æthelbald was not as patient and forced his father to abdicate the throne. Dying without issue Æthelbald was followed by his brother Æthelberht who left two children who were young and skipped. The next brother, Æthelred did have two young sons, but still upon his death his younger brother Alfred the Great took the throne, which caused no resistance mostly due to domestic turmoil connected with Danish invasions. Alfred was succeeded on his death by his son Edward the Elder, but the latter's death caused a rougher transition. England was briefly split with various of Edward's children ruling Mercia, Wessex and Kent. In Wessex he was followed by Ælfweard who died only about two weeks later and was probably never crowned. Though he may have been followed by his brother Edwin, this too would have been very brief as Athelstan soon came to power over a reunited England.

Athelstan had no children and was succeeded by his half-brother Edmund. Though Edmund had a son, his half-brother Eadred took the throne upon his death. This only delayed Edmund's son Eadwig's accession to the throne, as Eadred died without issue. Eadwig also remained childless, however, so upon his death the crown went to his brother Edgar, who had already taken some of the realm by force.

Edgar died at the relatively young age of about 32 leaving an unclear succession. He left two sons, ostensibly one each to his two wives, but rumors circulated that the eldest son Edward who was initially crowned was actually born to a mistress. As Edward and his brother Æthelred were both quite young, they did not directly participate in the struggle, which was led on the one side by Æthelred's mother and on the other by the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, Edward's participation became quite direct when he was murdered three years into his reign by servants of his stepmother, allowing Æthelred to ascend the throne. Æthelred "the Unready" spent the bulk of his reign unsuccessfully defending the realm against Viking invaders. Sweyn I of Denmark conquered England and took the throne in 1013, only to die a few weeks later. This allowed Æthelred to retake the crown for the three final years of his life, but his son and successor Edmund Ironside lasted only seven months before being conquered by Sweyn's son Cnut the Great.

House of Denmark[edit]

Sweyn and Cnut then are the first two monarchs in a completely new succession, which was destined to be short-lived. Cnut left two sons, the elder, illegitimate Harold Harefoot (who may not even have been his son) and the younger, legitimate Harthacnut who was supposed to be heir to the throne of all Cnut's realms. However, Harthacnut could not travel to England due to threats of invasion in Denmark, so Harold took the throne. Harthacnut eventually began assembling a force to depose his half-brother, but Harold died before this could materialize and Harthacnut assumed power in England peacefully. Harthacnut left no sons, however, and since his mother, Emma, had been married to Æthelred the Unready (and borne him sons) before his death and Cnut's accession, the throne passed back to the original Anglo-Saxon line in the form of her son (Harthacnut's half-brother) Edward the Confessor.

Anglo-Saxon Restoration[edit]

Starting with Edward the Confessor there was a brief reinstatement of the House of Wessex, but the power of the crown had diminished greatly and succession was controlled by the Witenagemot. Edward was therefore succeeded by Harold Godwinson, who made no hereditary claim but was the most powerful landowner and adviser under Edward. Modern reconstructions make him a possible descendant of Æthelred's disenfranchised son rather than Alfred the Great, Æthelred's younger brother. Harold was killed in the Battle of Hastings, and was theoretically succeeded by Edgar Ætheling, who had not even been crowned when the Norman William the Conqueror marched on London and took the throne.

Normans and Plantagenets[edit]

William I, the first Norman monarch of England, willed that his second son William—not his eldest son Robert—receive the Crown. (Robert instead inherited the Duchy of Normandy.) William II and Robert agreed that in the event of one dying without children the other would inherit their possessions (and realms), but Robert was away on the crusades when William II died, and their younger brother Henry claimed the throne instead. Robert's subsequent invasion of England was resolved diplomatically via the Treaty of Alton, in which he renounced his claim to the English throne for a stipend and other concessions. Women were not originally accepted as monarchs; William II's successor, Henry I, named his daughter Matilda as his heir, but his nephew Stephen took the Throne, eventually resulting in a period of civil war known as The Anarchy, during which Matilda ruled briefly.

As part of the settlement Stephen named as his successor Matilda's son Henry II, which was challenged by his own children. Henry II's son, Henry the Young King, was crowned king during his own father's lifetime, but he never actually ruled, and is not known by any ordinal. He predeceased his father, who was succeeded by Richard I. Richard designated his younger brother's son Arthur as his heir, but his youngest brother John assumed the Crown instead. The throne then passed directly from father to son four times, through Henry III and Edward I, II, and III. This straightforward succession was about to end, however; the proper rules of primogeniture would be followed once more with the accession of 10-year-old Richard II, the son of Edward the Black Prince, the deceased eldest son of Edward III. Afterward, a long, violent conflict ensued between the descendants of Edward III's five legitimate sons.

Houses of Lancaster and York[edit]

According to the rules of primogeniture, Richard II's heir presumptive was the seven-year-old Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, grandson and heir of Lionel of Antwerp, the second surviving son of Edward III. However, in 1399 Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt (third surviving son of Edward III), deposed his cousin and became Henry IV. Henry IV's House of Lancaster (John of Gaunt's descendants) was opposed by another branch of the royal family, the House of York (Lionel of Antwerp's descendants), which had a better claim by strict primogeniture. As both houses used roses in their family symbols the conflict is known as the Wars of the Roses. Henry IV passed the throne to his son Henry V, who likewise passed it to his son Henry VI. However in 1461, Henry VI was deposed by the Yorkist Edward IV. Henry VI returned to the Throne briefly in 1470, but Edward IV deposed him again in 1471; this second time Henry and his son Edward were murdered, destroying the main Lancaster line. Edward IV's son, Edward V, was proclaimed king on his father's death, but never crowned as his uncle, Richard III, was given the throne by an Act of Parliament.


Richard III was defeated and killed in battle against Henry Tudor, who became King as Henry VII. Though a Lancastrian by descent, Henry claimed the crown not on inheritance but by right of conquest. The Act of Parliament passed in 1485 which recognised Henry VII as the Sovereign did not assert that he was entitled to the Crown by inheritance but rather, merely acknowledged the fact that Henry ruled over England.

Henry VII was followed by his son, Henry VIII. Though his father was a Lancastrian, Henry VIII could also claim the Throne through the Yorkist line, as his mother Elizabeth was the sister and heiress of Edward V. In 1542 Henry also assumed the title King of Ireland; this would pass down with the monarchs of England, and later Great Britain, until the Acts of Union 1800 merged the separate crowns into that of the United Kingdom.

Henry VIII's numerous marriages led to several complications over succession. Henry VIII was first married to Catherine of Aragon, by whom he had a daughter named Mary. His second marriage, to Anne Boleyn, resulted in a daughter named Elizabeth. Henry VIII had a son Edward by his third wife, Jane Seymour. An Act of Parliament passed in 1533 declared Mary illegitimate; another passed in 1536 did the same for Elizabeth. Though the two remained illegitimate, an Act of Parliament passed in 1544 allowed reinserting them, providing further "that the King should and might give, will, limit, assign, appoint or dispose the said imperial Crown and the other premises … by letters patent or last will in writing." Mary and Elizabeth, under Henry VIII's will, were to be followed by descendants of the King's deceased sister Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk (he however excluded his niece Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk). This will also excluded from the succession the descendants of Henry's eldest sister Margaret Tudor, who were the rulers of Scotland.

When Henry VIII died in 1547, the young Edward succeeded him, becoming Edward VI. Edward VI was the first Protestant Sovereign to succeed to the rule of England; he strongly opposed having the Catholic Mary be his heir. Therefore, he attempted to divert the course of succession in his will. He excluded Mary and Elizabeth, settling on the Duchess of Suffolk's daughter, the Lady Jane Grey. The Lady Jane was also originally excluded on the premise that no woman could reign over England. Nonetheless, the will, which originally referred to the Lady Jane's heirs-male, was amended to refer to the Lady Jane and her heirs-male. Upon Edward VI's death in 1553, Jane was proclaimed reigning Queen of England; however, she was not universally recognised and after nine days overthrown by the popular Mary. As Henry VIII's will had been passed by an Act of Parliament in 1544, Edward's contravening will was unlawful and ignored.

Mary was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth, who broke with the precedents of many of her predecessors, and refused to name an heir. Whilst previous monarchs (including Henry VIII) had specifically been granted authority to settle uncertain successions in their wills, the Treasons Act 1571 asserted that Parliament had the right to settle disputes, and made it treason to deny Parliamentary authority. Wary of threats from other possible heirs, Parliament further passed the Act of Association 1584, which provided that any individual involved in attempts to murder the Sovereign would be disqualified from succeeding. (The Act was repealed in 1863.)


The House of Stewart (later Stuart) had ruled in Scotland since 1371. It had followed strict rules of primogeniture until the deposition and exile of Mary I in 1567; even then she was succeeded by her son, James VI.

After the union of the crowns[edit]


Elizabeth I of England was succeeded by King James VI of Scotland, her first cousin twice removed, even though his succession violated Henry VIII's will, under which Lady Anne Stanley, heiress of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk, was supposed to succeed. James asserted that hereditary right was superior to statutory provision, and as King in Scotland was powerful enough to deter any rival. He reigned as James I of England, thus effecting the Union of the Crowns, although England and Scotland remained separate sovereign states until 1707. His succession was rapidly ratified by Parliament.[7]

James's eldest surviving son and successor, Charles I, was overthrown and beheaded in 1649. The monarchy itself was abolished. A few years later, it was replaced by the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell, effectively a monarch with the title of Lord Protector rather than King. Cromwell had the right to name his own successor, which he exercised on his deathbed by choosing his son, Richard Cromwell. Richard was ineffective, and was quickly forced from office. Shortly afterward, the monarchy was restored, with Charles I's son Charles II as King.

After the death of her last child in 1700, Princess Anne became the last individual left in the line of succession determined by the Bill of Rights.

James II and VII, a Catholic, followed his brother Charles II, despite efforts in the late 1670s to exclude him in favour of Charles' Protestant bastard son, the Duke of Monmouth. James was deposed when his Protestant opponents forced him to flee from England in 1688. Parliament then deemed that James had, by fleeing the realms, abdicated the thrones and offered the Crowns not to the King's infant son James but to his Protestant daughter Mary and to her husband William, who as James' nephew was the first person in the succession not descended from him. The two became joint Sovereigns (a unique circumstance in British history) as William III of England and Ireland (and II of Scotland) and Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland. William had insisted on this unique provision as a condition of his military leadership against James.

The English Bill of Rights passed in 1689 determined succession to the English, Scottish and Irish Thrones. First in the line were the descendants of Mary II. Next came Mary's sister Princess Anne and her descendants. Finally, the descendants of William III & II by any future marriage were added to the line of succession. Only Protestants were allowed to succeed to the Thrones, and those who married Roman Catholics were excluded.

After Mary II died in 1694, her husband continued to reign alone until his own death in 1702. The line of succession provided for by the Bill of Rights was almost at an end; William and Mary never had any children, and Princess Anne's children had all died. Therefore, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement. The Act maintained the provision of the Bill of Rights whereby William III & II would be succeeded by Princess Anne and her descendants, and thereafter by his own descendants from future marriages. The Act, however, declared that they would be followed by James I & VI's granddaughter Sophia, Electress and Dowager Duchess of Hanover (the daughter of James's daughter Elizabeth Stuart) and her heirs. As under the Bill of Rights, non-Protestants and those who married Roman Catholics were excluded.

Upon William III & II's death, Anne became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. Because the Parliament of England settled on Sophia, Electress of Hanover as Anne's heir without consulting Scottish leaders, the Estates of Scotland retaliated by passing the Scottish Act of Security. The Act provided that, upon the death of Anne, the Estates would meet to select an heir to the throne of Scotland, who could not be the same person as the English Sovereign unless numerous political and economic conditions were met. Anne originally withheld the Royal Assent, but was forced to grant it when the Estates refused to raise taxes and sought to withdraw troops from the Queen's army. England's Parliament responded by passing the Alien Act 1705, which threatened to cripple Scotland's economy by cutting off trade with them. Thus, Scotland had little choice but to unite with England to form the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707; the Crown of the new nation (along with the Crown of Ireland) was subject to the rules laid down by the English Act of Settlement.

Hanoverians and Windsors[edit]

Title page, which is crowded with fonts of varying sizes and shapes, reads "The Protestant Tutor, Instructing YOUTH, and Others, In the Compleat Method of Spelling, Reading, and Writing True English; Also, Discovering to them the Notorious ERRORS, Damnable DOCTRINES, and Cruel MASSACRES, of the Bloddy Papists; Which England may Expect from a Popish Successor. With Instructions for Grounding them in the True Protestant Religion."
Benjamin Harris's Protestant Tutor, a primer popular for decades and the source for the New England Primer. Edition of 1713. Hanoverian propaganda extended to text books for young children

Anne was predeceased by Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and was therefore succeeded by the latter's son, who became George I in 1714.

Attempts were made in the risings of 1715 and 1745 to restore Stuart claimants to the Throne, supported by those who recognised the Jacobite succession. The House of Hanover nonetheless remained undeposed, and the Crown descended in accordance with the appointed rules. In 1801, following the Acts of Union 1800, the separate crowns of Great Britain and Ireland were merged into that of the United Kingdom. Between 1811 and 1820, when George III was deemed unfit to rule, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) acted as his regent. Some years later the Regency Act 1830 made provision for a change in the line of succession had a child been born to William IV after his death, but this event did not come about.

The succession was next called into doubt in 1936, when Edward VIII abdicated. (Edward VIII had desired to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee, but the Church of England, of which the British Sovereign is Supreme Governor, would not authorise the marriage of divorcees.) Consequently Parliament passed His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936, by which Edward VIII ceased to be Sovereign. The Act provided that he and his descendants, if any, were not to have any "right, title or interest in or to the succession to the Throne". (In fact Edward died childless in 1972.) On his abdication Edward was succeeded by his brother George VI, who in turn was succeeded in 1952 by his own elder daughter, Elizabeth II. By this time the monarch of the United Kingdom no longer reigned in the greater part of Ireland (which had become a republic in 1949), but was the monarch of a number of independent sovereign states (Commonwealth realms).

Current rules[edit]

The Act of Settlement 1701 (restated by the Acts of Union) still governs succession to the Throne. (The Act does not abrogate several provisions of the Bill of Rights, which, therefore, still remain in effect.)

Anyone ineligible to succeed is deemed "naturally dead". That individual's descendants are not also disqualified, unless they are personally ineligible.


Protestant "heirs of the body" (i.e., legitimate descendants) of Sophia, Electress of Hanover are eligible to succeed to the throne, (per Act of Settlement 1701) unless otherwise disqualified. The meaning of heir of the body is determined by common law. Essentially, descent is by the rules of male preference primogeniture, a mechanism whereby a male child takes precedence over a female sibling. Children born out of wedlock and adopted children, however, are not eligible to succeed. Illegitimate children whose parents subsequently marry are legitimated, but remain ineligible to inherit the Crown.[8]

The Royal Marriages Act 1772 further required descendants of George II to obtain the consent of the reigning monarch to marry. (The requirement did not apply to descendants of princesses who married into foreign royal families, as well as, from 1936, any descendants of Edward VIII,[9] of which there are none.) The Act provided, however, that if an individual older than twenty-five years notified the Privy Council of his or her intention to marry without the consent of the Sovereign, then he or she may have lawfully done so after one year, unless both houses of Parliament expressly disapproved of the marriage. A marriage that contravened the Royal Marriages Act was void, and the resulting offspring illegitimate and thus ineligible to succeed, though the succession of the royal who failed to obtain consent was not itself affected. This also had the consequence that marriage to a Roman Catholic without permission was void, so that the royal was not disqualified from succeeding on account of being married to a Roman Catholic. Thus when the future George IV attempted to marry the Roman Catholic Maria Fitzherbert in 1785 without seeking permission from George III he did not disqualify himself from inheriting the throne in due course.[2] The Act was repealed by legislation in 2013–15.

The constitutional crisis arising from Edward VIII's decision to marry a divorcee in 1936 led to His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936, which provided that Edward VIII and his descendants would have no claim to the throne. The Act is no longer applicable, because Edward died in 1972 without issue.

Under current legislation, the first 6 people in the line of succession are required to obtain the monarch's permission to marry. Failure to procure permission does not invalidate the marriage, but does disqualify that person and any descendants from the succession.


Rules relating to eligibility established by the Bill of Rights are retained under the Act of Settlement. The preamble to the Act of Settlement notes that the Bill of Rights provides "that all and every person and persons that then [at the time of the Bill of Right's passage] were, or afterwards should be reconciled to, or shall hold communion with the see or Church of Rome, or should profess the popish religion, or marry a papist, should be excluded." The Act of Settlement continues, providing "that all and every Person and Persons who shall … is, are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome or shall profess the Popish religion or shall marry a papist shall be subject to such Incapacities" as the Bill of Rights established.

The precise meaning of the aforementioned clauses is subject to contention. Under one interpretation, the religion of an individual at the precise moment of succession is relevant. Under another interpretation, anyone who has been a Roman Catholic at any time since 1689 ("then … or afterwards") is forever ineligible to succeed. The former interpretation allows a Roman Catholic to convert to Protestantism and succeed to the Throne just before his predecessor dies; the latter does not. In either case, however, other religions are not affected; it is clear that any non-Catholic may convert to Protestantism and succeed to the Throne. It is a requirement that the monarch must be a Protestant.[1]

The Act of Settlement further provided that anyone who married a Roman Catholic was ineligible to succeed. The Act did not require that the spouse be Protestant; it only barred those who marry Roman Catholics. Since the passage of the Act it has been determined (in the case of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent) that an individual is not barred because his or her spouse later converts to Roman Catholicism after their marriage. The Succession to the Crown Act 2013 removed the bar on individuals married to Roman Catholics, though not on Roman Catholics themselves.


Under the Treason Act 1702 and the Treason (Ireland) Act 1703, it is treason to "endeavour to deprive or hinder any person who shall be the next in succession to the crown ... from succeeding ... to the imperial crown of this realm". Since 1998 the maximum penalty has been life imprisonment.

Perth Agreement reforms[edit]

Main article: Perth Agreement


On 28 October 2011, proposed reforms to the succession were announced during the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia. The heads of government of the 16 Commonwealth realms agreed to change the rules of succession by replacing male preference primogeniture with absolute primogeniture, in which the first-born child of a monarch would be heir apparent regardless of gender. The change would only apply for persons born after 28 October 2011. The reforms will not therefore cause Princess Anne and her issue to be promoted over her younger brothers, the Princes Andrew and Edward and their children.

It was also proposed to end the ban on marriage to Catholics and to restrict the requirement for those in line to the throne to gain the permission of the sovereign to marry to the first six in line only. However the requirement for the sovereign to be in communion with the Church of England was proposed to remain, as well as the specific ban on Catholics sitting on the throne.[3] The Queen was understood to support the changes.[10]

Following the changes, the positions of the first six in line remained unchanged. These were, first, Prince Charles as the heir apparent, and after him:

At that time the Duchess of Cambridge was expecting a second child, and when born this child will be fourth in line, after Prince George and ahead of Prince Harry.


Depending on individual constitutional arrangements, the proposed reforms needed to be approved by the parliaments of most of the realms,[3][11] however, in some realms such as Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu, the reforms did not require direct legislation and became automatic when the changes were implemented in the United Kingdom.[10] In a number of realms, the reforms required amendments to numerous pieces of legislation, including the Bill of Rights 1689, the Act of Settlement 1701, the Act of Union 1707, and the Coronation Oath Act 1688, Princess Sophia's Precedence Act 1711, the Royal Marriages Act 1772, the Act of Union 1800, the Accession Declaration Act 1910, and the Regency Act 1937.[10]

The legislation in those Commonwealth realms requiring it was not brought into force until the equivalent legislation (where necessary) was approved in the other realms.[12] The laws came into force in all realms on 26 March 2015.[13][4][14][15] The earliest people in the line of succession to be affected by the changes on that date were the children of Lady Davina Lewis, her son Tāne (born 2012) and her daughter Senna (born 2010), who were reversed in the order of succession, becoming 29th and 28th in line respectively.[16]



In October 2011 the changes were announced by British prime minister David Cameron, saying "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."[3] On the question of continued requirements that the sovereign be a Protestant, Cameron added, "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."[19]

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was critical, saying: "It is deeply disappointing that the reform has stopped short of removing the unjustifiable barrier on a Catholic becoming monarch."[19]

While welcoming the gender equality reforms, The Guardian also criticized the failure to remove the ban on Catholics sitting on the throne as "fanning a religious hostility the rest of Europe was already growing beyond."[20]

A representative of the campaigning group Republic said: "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."[3]


Accession Councils normally meet in St James's Palace.

Upon the death of a sovereign, the heir apparent or heir presumptive immediately and automatically succeeds, with no need for confirmation or further ceremony.[21] Nevertheless, the Accession Council meets and decides upon the making of the accession proclamation, which by custom is ceremonially proclaimed in public places, in London, York, Edinburgh and other cities. The anniversary of this is observed throughout the sovereign's reign as Accession Day.

Formerly, a new sovereign proclaimed his or her own succession. But on the death of Elizabeth I an Accession Council met to proclaim the succession of James I to the throne of England. James was then in Scotland and reigning as King James VI of Scotland. This precedent has been followed since. Now, the Accession Council normally meets in St James's Palace. Proclamations since James I's have usually been made in the name of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, the Privy Council, the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and citizens of the City of London and "other principal Gentlemen of quality", though there have been variations in some proclamations. The Proclamation of accession of Elizabeth II was the first to make mention of representatives of members of the Commonwealth.

After a period of mourning,[22] the sovereign is crowned. Coronations are held in Westminster Abbey. Normally, the Archbishop of Canterbury officiates, though the sovereign may designate any other bishop of the Church of England. A coronation is not necessary for a sovereign to reign; for example, Edward VIII was never crowned, yet during his short reign was the undoubted king.

Members of European dynasties in remoter lines of succession[edit]

Reigning monarchs in other countries who are eligible to succeed include:

Several other reigning monarchs of Europe are barred from succession because they are Catholic:

Living ex-kings and princes of other European dynasties potentially eligible include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Official website of the British Monarchy (retrieved 30 March 2015): "The Act laid down that only Protestant descendants of Princess Sophia - the Electress of Hanover and granddaughter of James I - are eligible to succeed. Subsequent Acts have confirmed this."
  2. ^ a b Bogdanor (1995), p. 55
  3. ^ a b c d e "Girls equal in British throne succession". BBC News. 28 October 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Statement by Nick Clegg MP, UK parliament website, 26 March 2015 (retrieved on same date).
  5. ^ Official website of the British Monarchy, "Succession"; Debrett's, "The Line of Succession to the British Throne"
  6. ^
  7. ^ 1 Jac. 1 c.1. See Succession to the Crown Act 1603
  8. ^ Neither the Legitimacy Act 1926 nor the Legitimacy Act 1959 changed the Law of Succession.
  9. ^ per the His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936.
  10. ^ a b c Watt, Nicholas (28 October 2011). "Royal succession gender equality approved by Commonwealth". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  11. ^ Vinograd, Cassandra (28 October 2011). "Change in Succession Rule May Help Girls to Throne". The Associated Press. Retrieved 28 October 2011. 
  12. ^ "Baby destined to become a monarch". ITV News. 22 July 2013. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  13. ^ Governor General of New Zealand-in-Council (25 March 2015), Royal Succession Act Commencement Order 2015, Wellington: Queen's Printer, retrieved 26 March 2015 
  14. ^ Cosgrove, Peter (24 March 2015), Succession to the Crown Commencement Proclamation 2015, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, retrieved 26 March 2015 
  15. ^ UK commencement order[1]
  16. ^ "What do the new royal succession changes mean?" at Royal Central website, 26 March 2015 (retrieved 30 March 2015).[unreliable source?]
  17. ^ to the Throne Act, 2013 "Succession%20to%20the%20Throne%20Act,%202013". The Barbados Parliament. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  18. ^ "New rules on royal succession come into force". BBC News. 26 March 2015. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  19. ^ a b "Catholics still barred from throne despite law change". The Scotsman. 28 October 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  20. ^ Editorial (28 October 2011). "Royal succession: Queen and country". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  21. ^ Letter from Tony Newton as Lord President of the Council to Tony Benn indicated this was the effect of the Act of Settlement after Benn had indicated he intended to block the next accession at the Privy Council. Quoted by Peter Hennessy, and by Vernon Bogdanor in The Monarchy and the Constitution. p. 45.
  22. ^ Royal Household. "Coronation". Royal events and ceremonies. Retrieved 14 May 2013.