Who's In Line For The Throne Of England? What The Perth Agreement Changed, And Why Canada Is Mad About It
On Saturday, May 2, the second royal baby was born, and it's a girl. So where will the new princess be in line for the throne? Do we have a queen in the making? Turns out she sits lot closer than she would have, had some rules not changed a couple years back.
Back in 2012, a major feminist victory happened... and basically nobody outside of Commonwealth countries and royalty experts knows about it. The issue? The Duchess of Cambridge was due to have a baby in 2013 — and the sex was unknown. If it was a girl, the law of the land dictated that she'd be placed in line for the throne after any boys Will and Kate had afterwards. Boys before girls for the crown, in other words; a policy known as "male-preference cognatic primogeniture," if you want to get technical about it.
It had been that way for hundreds of years. If Prince George had been a Georgina, she would have just had to sit on her hands while any younger brothers took center stage — and only received a shot if her parents had no boys at all.
This, obviously, seemed blatantly unfair to anybody who isn't from the 14th century, so the Commonwealth countries got together and created something called the Perth Agreement, which changed it to a much simpler system: whoever's born first rules, simple as that.
The new rules, which came into play on March 26, 2015, were seriously groundbreaking, and looked like modernity triumphing over archaic sexism — but it's a bit more complicated than it seems. The implications are still rippling through the British royal system as they wait for Wills and Kate's next child (gender unknown, and now five days overdue) — and through Commonwealth countries around the world.
So why is this so important, who actually inherits what, and why is Canada fighting over the succession law in court in June? Here's a primer to get you through the latest blizzard of Royal Baby Madness.
What Do The New Laws Actually Mean?
Right now the line goes like this: Prince Charles, then William, George, The Overdue Royal Baby, Famed Ginger Prince Harry, Charles's brother Decidedly Dodgy Andrew, and then Andrew's daughter Princess Beatrice. (Yay! A girl!)
Prince Fat-Cheeks George will definitely come to the throne after his dad, William, (provided that the monarchy still exists by then) — but the new gender-blind laws mean that if, say, they have a girl and then another boy, that's the line it'll go down. Unlike, for example, the queen's daughter Princess Anne, who had to watch her older and younger brothers stampede past her for the throne (hard luck on Anne), any girl will be directly in line after her elder siblings.
Not only does this new law basically dictate the royal family of 16 countries around the world (every nation in the Commonwealth had the British Crown as their symbolic head of government, from Australia to Vanuatu), it has some interesting side-effects about religion and marriage permission. One bit that's roiled some people up is the fact that the changes now allow kings or queens of England to marry Roman Catholics (a big no-no for a long time) — but not to become one themselves. Prince George can't convert. Sorry. Nope.
Another interesting tidbit: did you know that before this law came in, any member of the British royals, no matter how distant, had to ask the Queen for permission to marry? It's been that way since 1772 and must have gotten seriously tiring. Now, only the top six in line have to ask — which is still weird, but at least less insane than everybody needing to do it.
Wait, you say, I'm confused. Queen Elizabeth is on the throne, and she is definitely a lady! Damn straight — but Liz, like Beatrice, was the eldest of two girls. There were no boys to spoil her fun. (And, if you've seen The King's Speech , you'll know that her father George VI wasn't exactly planning to be king anyway; his gawping, Nazi-sympathizing brother abdicated to marry an American divorcee, so poor George and his eldest daughter were suddenly stuck with the royal duties.)
What Took So Damn Long?
The Brits are pretty behind in this whole making-royalty-good-for-ladies business. The Danes made absolute primogeniture (which basically translates as "whoever's born first wins") a thing in 2008, and Sweden's had it in place since 1980. (Though, to be fair, they're not as behind as Japan's royal family, who keep delaying the idea.)
But there have been a few factors in the way. Figuring out who's in line for the throne (i.e., next up if somebody dies or abdicates) in the British royal family has been pretty easy for a while, because the future heirs have all been dudes. William and Harry, by virtue of both having boy-parts, delayed any discussion about changing the primogeniture rules, because hey, all boys meant no probs.
Plus, as the British government pointed out when the laws were first brought up in 2012, maybe it's a good idea it was delayed until now — because otherwise England would have been on the side of the Germans during World War I. See, if they had been in place back when Queen Victoria died, her eldest daughter would have inherited — and, as young Princess Victoria died less than a year after her mother, chances are good that Britain would have been snapped up by Germany's Kaiser and become a German property. Your head spinning yet?
So... Why's Canada Fighting This?
This is where things get interesting, and a bit weird: Canada, which is still part of the Commonwealth and technically has the Queen as head of state, has been arguing over the new law since 2012. A Roman Catholic man, Bryan Teskey, went to the Canadian Court Of Appeal to argue that the primogeniture laws don't go far enough, because they still don't allow a Roman Catholic monarch. The Court threw out the lawsuit in August 2014, but that's not the end of the problems for it.
The royal succession act was crafted by all 16 countries in the realm (countries where the Queen is recognized as Sovereign), but while it's been enshrined in law in Canada, a challenge has been brought: the Quebec government's joined in a fight by two Quebec law professors who argue that nobody consulted Canada's provinces about the law. No, Canada doesn't hate feminism or the idea of a princess getting a throne: Quebec's basically throwing a fit because they don't like the idea of the government setting a precedent for making big changes without asking.
Canada also has a hilarious sense of timing: it announced it would bring the challenge while the Duchess was in labor with Prince George. Who says lawyers don't have a sense of humor? The case will be heard in Quebec in 2015 — and if the challenge is successful, it might make it a bit difficult for Canada to keep the Queen as their head of state. It's all getting pretty messy. Would you like the Queen to be mad at you for messing with her grandkids? Didn't think so.
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