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Monaco twins raise questions over country’s succession laws

The Princess of Monaco gave birth to twins today at Princess Grace Hospital within the city-state. The birth, which was reported by media around the world, was quite unique by royal standards. Cases of twins being born to royals is rare, but occasions where those twins also happen to then be the heir and the spare to the throne are unheard of, certainly in recent history.

The Prince of Monaco

The Prince of Monaco

The announcement that Princess Charlene was carrying twins was made several months ago and ever since, there have been many questions as to how the line of succession would work in this situation and in what circumstances each of the twins might be heir.

Crucially, Monaco still uses the system of male preference primogeniture in its line of succession. This means that all male children take precedence over any sisters in the line of succession, regardless of age, the same system still used by a vast number of the world’s Monarchies – including, for the moment at least, the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms.

Monaco’s rules for succession gave three possible combinations for what would happen for the twins in terms of their place in succession. If both had been male, it would simply be the eldest of the pair (i.e. the ‘first one out’) that would be first in line and thus, one day succeed as Prince. If both had been female, similarly, the eldest of the pair would eventually succeed (providing Albert and Charlene didn’t later have another child which was male). However, if one child had been male and the other female then, even if the female child had been born first, the male child would be first in line and one day succeed. This is exactly what happened.

The two new princely children, Princess Gabriella and Prince Jacques, were born two minutes apart. Princess Gabriella first. It was a distinction that would never had made any difference to the twins’ future as Jacques, being male, was always due to inherit.

Curiously, the situation playing out in Monaco now – which, so far, has gone largely without comment in the media – is exactly the kind that was feared with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the UK. Royal watchers will remember that following the announcement that the Duchess was expecting, senior politicians began frantically introducing the succession laws, agreed in Perth back in 2011, that would change the UK’s succession from male preference to absolute (or “equal”) primogeniture because of fears that the first-born child, if female, could later be displaced by any male child William and Kate could have had. Almost 4 years on from the original agreement and the changes, while not yet in force, are now firmly on the statute books and set to become active sometime early in the New Year.

Back in Monaco, meanwhile, the situation feared by British courtiers and politicians is happening for real. With no plans for changes to the Monegasque succession rules any time soon, it’s not too difficult to see how the current set of rules could one day become a cause for strife. With many monarchies having undergone the transition from male preference to equal primogeniture, and the general push for Monarchy to conform to modern sensibilities around equality, could this point of contention – as a result of being swept under the carpet or otherwise forgotten in Monaco before the birth – now cause even greater hassle in the future?

Of course, many would argue that the succession has now been “settled” through the births and it would be wrong to tamper with it now. They might be right. It is however, not an issue which will go away. Monaco, being in the arrangement it is, is unlikely to undergo any great push from its citizens to update the laws, least of all now. Though the potential for some form of legal challenge in the future is one remote possibility.

You might think that now the births have occurred, there’d be no chance of doing anything. You’d be wrong. There’s even precedent for it.

In 1980, Sweden updated its succession laws, after two royal births caused controversy over the parity of male-preference. Princess Victoria, born in 1977 was Crown Princess (heir) to the Swedish throne from her birth until the birth of her brother Prince Carl Philip in 1979. He displaced her as heir. While the pair were still infants, the law was changed, resulting in Princess Victoria being restored to first-in-line.

Whether such a change is needed, or will be needed, in Monaco remains to be seen. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Monaco may wish to follow some of its European counterparts down this road of its own volition. There is of course a uniqueness about Monaco itself and its Monarchy that could mean it doesn’t undergo the type of drive for gender equality in its ranks that demands action, as we’ve seen with some European Monarchies.

The result and response to this monarchial curiosity remains yet to be seen, but I’m willing to make a prediction that this won’t be the last you read on the matter.

photo credit: TylerIngram via photopin cc

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