The Succession to the Crown bill is due to become law within the next few days once it goes off to Her Majesty to give her Royal Assent to. The changes in the act will be the most radical for around 300 years and yet the changes, important though they are, don’t go any further than the Crown.
The bill will install Absolute Primogeniture in succession to the throne, meaning the eldest child, regardless of gender, will succeed to the crown and a daughter cannot be overtaken in the line of succession by a younger brother.
One of the things that was noted when this bill entered parliament is how far behind it would leave the peerage and other hereditary titles and honours.
Currently, with most hereditary titles, females cannot inherit at all and in a lot of instances, the title ends up going to some distant cousin or more commonly, becoming extinct. Many holders of Earldoms, Viscounties, Marquessates and even Dukedoms fear that their titles may simply die out without a change to British law to allow females to succeed.
Also, although some hereditary titles do allow women to succeed they are even further behind than male-preference, the title may only be inherited by a female (in some instances) if she has no brothers or no sisters as the law in the UK states there is ‘no primogeniture among women’. In other words, regardless of how old one daughter is, if she has a sister, of any age, the title goes into abeyance until one of the daughters dies and there remains just one.
The system for inheritance of titles is decided by the Letters Patent and is usually male heirs of the body, meaning females are excluded altogether.
There have been calls to update this system through an act of Parliament, this is the only way this could be possible (amending Letters Patent) and even The Queen cannot edit the letters patent once they have been issued and signed.
In this century, there have only been three instances of women succeeding to hereditary titles. They are the Countess of Dysart in 2003, Baroness Fauconberg & Conyers in 2012 and Lady Kinloss in 2012.
Should these laws not be changed soon, thousands of families’ peerages will simply become extinct.