Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Divine Right of Kings... and Queens?

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?

1 comment:

Ringo1985 said...

When Will and Kate fever swept across the globe, women everywhere were confronted with the realization of a lifelong dream. A "commoner" turned princess,who could eventually succeed to the throne of England, materialzed in the form of Kate Middleton. While Kate is in many ways a Renaissance women who has tailored some of the more traditional roles of Princess to fit modern day images of women, such as running her own errands and the like, Kate's overall image is still that of a refined and proper women, part of which has been procured by the British royal family to make Kate look the part.

For example, one doesn't have to look more then 7 years back to find a fuller-figured, youthful Kate. Although even in her college years Kate retained the same charisma and regal beauty that she holds today, her image was drastically different. Obviously, one can expect that a marriage to the Prince of England comes with certain traditional customs that a young bride such as Kate can expect, but Kate's entrance into the monarchy reminds us of the old-fashioned heteronormative expectations much of the world has when it comes to marriage.

Whenever Kate makes an appearance, the media focus is always on her exquisite apparel. Most of the time, Kate dresses in modest garb, never showing off much more then the lower half of her long legs. Conversely, there is hardly any media coverage about Prince William's attire, or the antics of his wild brother for that matter. While Prince Harry may be chastised for allegedly smoking marijuana, many a story has been circulated by tabloids about Kate's sister Pippa and sexual photos of her that surfaced from several years back. Juxtaposing the central focus placed on these public figures of relatively equal stature, one begins to see how subtle anachronistic ideas about women, sex, and the relation of these ideas towards our ideal conception of the monarchy come into play into contemporary times.

That being said, the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron wants to "update" the monarchy's succession rules sounds like a step in the right direction. It would seem entirely outdated to deny Kate and William's first born child, if female, access to the throne based upon antiquated ideas of inheritance. This is but one more step in dismantling the gender inequalities that exist in places that one wouldn't even think to look, and is surely a needed change in the royal family.