5 curious things about the line of succession to the British throne

30 July 2013 - 06:53pm
Edited by Martin
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Many changes are taking place in the line of succession to the British throne in the coming months. Not only did Prince George’s arrival make everyone below move down a place, but the Succession to the Crown Act will change many people’s place, and indeed in some people’s case their presence, in the line of succession.

Here are five things you may not know about the line of succession to the British throne.

1. ‘Where does it end?’

origin_6858125984The line of succession to the British throne is calculated from descendants of Electress Sophia of Hanover (this provision was set out in the 1701 Act of Settlement). This means the line of succession is limited (i.e. not everyone is in it), but because of the number of generations there have been since Electress Sophia’s time, there are over 5,750 people from all over the world in the line of succession to the British throne.

The full line of succession has been calculated by someone, but hasn’t been updated since 2011 and also doesn’t include Prince George. Click here to see that.

The last person in the line of succession is Karin Vogel from Germany, who is approximately 5,754th in line to the throne.

2. Regency

medium_5375098012In the United Kingdom, if the reigning Monarch is incapacitated or is too young to reign alone, then the first person in the line of succession (if they themselves are not incapacitated) is appointed regent.

Also, if the Monarch is temporarily absent from the country or temporarily incapacitated, the Monarch’s spouse and the first four adults in line to the throne form the Counsellors of State, who act collectively as Monarch. At the moment, these are The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, Prince William, Prince Harry and Prince Andrew.

Special provisions were made in a 1953 regency act that should The Queen die (at the time Prince Charles was a child), the Duke of Edinburgh would act as regent.

Should Elizabeth II become incapacitated, Prince Charles would become Prince Regent.

3. The Right to Marry

Wedding of Prince William and Catherine MiddletonAs it stands, the Royal Marriages Act 1772 states that no descendant of George II can marry without the reigning Monarch’s consent. If a descendant of George II does not seek or have the consent of the Monarch to marry, their marriage is void (i.e. it’s as if they never married).

Because there have since been many descendants of George II, there are estimated to be possibly hundreds of married couples in the United Kingdom whose marriages are actually void.


Fortunately, the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 will change this. When it is brought into effect, only the first six in line to the throne will need the Monarch’s permission to marry. If they marry without consent, they will be excluded from the line of succession, but won’t have their marriages voided.

The act is retrospective and states that marriages of descendants of George II are ‘unvoided’ if they were not one of the six in line to the throne who now are required to seek the Monarch’s consent to marry, in order to keep their place in line to the throne.

4. Male Preference

large_8754547707The British line of succession is one of the few in Europe which still operates a male preference line of succession. The system is called ‘male preference primogeniture’ and it means that females may only succeed to the throne if they have no brothers. The primogeniture part means that the eldest child succeeds.

Under the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, when the laws are effected, the British throne’s male preference will change to ‘absolute primogeniture’, which means that the eldest child succeeds, regardless of gender. This, however, only applies retrospectively to people born after 28th October 2011, so it won’t affect the current immediate line of succession.

The nearest people in proximity to the throne who will be affected by this are the 26th and 27th in line to the throne: Tāne Lewis (male) and Senna Lewis (female) respectively would have their places reversed because Tāne was born after 28 October 2011 and therefore loses his position of Male Preference over his older sister.

5. Renouncing the Right

EdwardVIII_1483627cThere is no way that one can ‘renounce’ their right in the line of succession. Theoretically, the only way this could be done prior to the Succession to the Crown Act being introduced is to convert to Catholicism or marry a Catholic.

Once the Succession to the Crown Act has been introduced, one could also marry without the Monarch’s consent if in the first 6 in line and become excluded.

Once reigning, a Monarch can, however, abdicate from the throne ‘renouncing’ their right to be King or Queen. This was the case with King Edward VIII who abdicated in 1936 to marry twice-divorced American lover Wallis Simpson (as head of the Church of England, the King wasn’t allowed to marry Simpson because she was divorced).

photo credits: Mikepaws, University Hospitals Birmingham, Defence Images & bobchin1941 via photopin cc

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  • Will_Bower

    Long ago, I created a Google Alert for any articles mentioning Sophia, Electress of Hanover. You might be surprised by how ~rarely~ I receive any alerts. Thank you, Royal Central, for being one of the few outlets that gives her her proper due!

  • Loopy

    Hi can you find a proper official website where I can find where I am in line to the throne.

    • Upharsin

      If you are a descendent of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, yes; follow the link in the article to the full List of Succession. If you’re not a descendent of Sophia, then no, because you’re not in the line to throne at all.

      • Ariadne

        What if someone is a descendant of Edward IV or one of the others?

        • Upharsin

          Nope – only those descendants of Sophia who are neither Roman Catholic nor married to RCs count in the List of Succession. Sorry!

  • David Dance

    Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the name of our country, The united kingdom is just the name of our political system we have.

  • Harrison Thomas LaTour

    Terra salica was a legal term used in the Salian code. It referred to land that could be passed on to male heirs alone, and could not be sold or otherwise disposed. In other words, it was not alienable. This tradition was practiced by other peoples, and was done to give prolonged stability to the family.

    Patrilineality (or agnatic kinship) is a system in which one belongs to one’s father’s lineage.[1] It generally involves the inheritance of property, names or titles.

  • Harrison Thomas LaTour

    Legal History of the Holy Roman Empire: Germanic Legal Codes, Salic Law, Vehmic Court, Early Germanic Law, Law of Thelberht, Danish Code

  • http://thesassycountess.blogspot.com/ Sassy Countess

    Interesting how a monarch cannot marry a divorce because of being the head of the British Church, but Henry VIII, the man who created it, divorced many times and remarried. Also, Camilla is divorced, and Charles (also a divorce) married her. Does that mean that he cannot rule?

    • @RoyalCenEditor

      Royals who are divorced or marry divorcees do not lose their position in the line of succession.

      • http://thesassycountess.blogspot.com/ Sassy Countess

        Thank you, then what does this mean, please? “as head of the Church of England, the King wasn’t allowed to marry Simpson because she was divorced” Can you tell me the correlation?

        • DuchessJewels

          Yes, I don’t understand. If King Edward VIII had to step down, how can Prince Charles rule?

          • Tom

            The rules were different in 1936.

            Since 2002, the Church of England has allowed divorced people to remarry in certain situations. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury was willing to bless the marriage of Charles to Camilla.

        • Will Green

          Edward VIII was king,therefore head of the Church. Charles is still heir apparent, so since he married a divorcee before becoming king, it won’t matter, as he wasn’t head of the Church when the marriage occurred.

      • Greenman

        Also for those who do not accept Charles’ divorce remember his first wife, Diana, is dead making him a widower. Also Henry VIII waited until each previous wife was dead before remarrying.
        Supposedly Camilla won’t reign as Queen, she will remain Duchess of Cornwall.

        • Arianne

          I thought Henry wed Anne while Catherine of Aragon was still alive?

        • jovan66102

          Not true of Henry. He married Anne Boleyn on 25 January 1533. Queen Catharine did not die until 7 January 1536. He married Anne of Cleves in 1540 and divorced her the same year. He married Catherine Howard later that same year and Anne of Cleves lived until 1557, outliving Henry and King Edward.

          • Tom

            Henry did not divorce either Catherine of Aragon or Anne of Cleves. Both were annulments.

            An annulment is different from a divorce, because the marriage is cancelled retroactively. It’s as if the marriage had never taken place. Legally speaking, Catherine of Aragon became Henry VIII’s mistress for 24 years, and Mary was a bastard born out of wedlock.

            Anne Boleyn suffered the same fate, in addition to being executed. Elizabeth then became a bastard as well. It was only in 1543 that Parliament passed legislation restoring Mary and Elizabeth to the succession.

          • Joshua Gonzales

            So I guess it should be “Annulled, Beheaded, Died, Annulled, Beheaded, Survived” 😛

        • Andrew

          Camilla will be queen, simply because she will be married to the king. No laws have been passed to prevent her from being queen. She is also the current Princess of Wales, though she decided to use her title of Duchess of Cornwall over Princess of Wales.

          • Bill

            I had read Camilla will be known as the Princess Consort…. don’t know if that is true… we will have to wait and see….

        • Hairball

          Catherine of Aragon wasn’t dead. Anne of Cleves either. And hopefully Camilla will be Queen but they said, when they got married, that she would be Princess Consort when Charles became King.

    • Barbara Delprete

      The funny things is that Harry VIII created the Anglican Church just because he wanted to divorce. And now the head of this church cannot marry a divorced person????

      • Hamilton Jones

        Henry VIII did niot create the Anglican Church.

    • Hamilton Jones

      Henry VIII did not create the British Church.

  • robert

    They should also emphasize that the Succession is an Act of Parliament and that the Queen herself cannot change it. I get tired of responding to ninnies saying that they wish the Queen would bypass Charles and give the throne to William. She can’t! (Besides, it would be a bad idea, and the Queen does not have bad ideas.)

    • Nancy

      LOL…I get a big kick out of reading some of the questions on another site. If they would do a little research instead of clogging up the board with the repetitive questions, it would be better.

    • David Higgins

      She could if she outlives Charles.

      • YoKasta Martinez

        She wouldn’t have to if she outlives Charles. Prince William automatically moves up to become heir apparent.

    • Nicholas Roach


  • Leo of London

    I really love all your stuff on here. thank you for the time and effort it takes to make such great web site

  • George Knighton

    The last paragraph of the article seems to leave it to the reader to assume that a sovereign an abdicate, personally and more or less unilaterally. This is, of course, not true.

    It takes all three parts of the legislature, Commons, Lords and Sovereign, to pass an Act declaring that there has been a Demise of the Crown, or otherwise somehow altering the succession.

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