Two weeks ago, as I perused the Yahoo news banner, an interesting article caught my eye. A change in England’s sexist royal succession rules? I was struck by the title. How long have I been aware of the royal monarchy of England? I’d venture to say nearly my entire life, at least from the time I began choosing my own books and stories to read (full disclosure: I am a history nerd). Yet, in all of this time, it never once occurred to me that women were not allowed to inherit the throne. History, and royal throne, have long treated women as second-class citizens in comparison to their male counterparts, pawns to be controlled by and used by the world of men. Time and progressivity have overcome many of those transgressions but some continue to exist. Even today, first-born children of the English monarchy are treated differently as a result of their sex.
At the turn of 18th Century, the Glorious Revolution was fresh in the minds of the English and the Protestant majority sought to solidify its power and influence. In an effort to maintain stability in the country and preempt succession claims, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement barring Catholics or those married to Catholics from inheriting the throne and giving precedence to male heirs in succession of the throne. The existence of this law has continued into the present day and, until recently, had not yet faced a credible challenge. But, barring any political sparring by the UK’s Commonwealth states, it appears that Prime Minister David Cameron is about to change all of that.
Although the current rules prefer first-born males over their elder sisters, it does not prevent the daughter who is the first-born child from assuming the throne if no son is born. Queen Elizabeth is one such example. However, if she had had a younger brother, he would have become King of England. If the rules change, the first born will have claim to the throne regardless of his or her sex.
What strikes me about this article is that this enduring symbol of primogeniture continued to stand in our modern era despite the many advances that have been made in other areas of women’s rights. And how has it gone unnoticed so easily?
I am also sometimes struck by the influence of youth and popularity on politics (i.e., the excitement revolving around President Obama’s candidacy and inauguration). With the young, vibrant, and fashionable faces of the monarchy, William and Kate have reshaped the public view of succession in England. Suddenly, individuals are very conscious of the lack of gender equality in the country’s highest public office. What do you think? Would this movement have occurred but for the marriage of a popular, young couple? Or was this change inevitable?