SUPPORT OUR JOURNALISM: Please consider donating to keep our website running and free for all - thank you!

European Royals

The heirs of 1952 – what happened to the princes and princesses who were first in line in a year of history

In 1952, a certain young prince called Charles took on a role that would turn him into a record breaker. He became heir to the throne of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and would hold the position of first in line longer than anyone else in history. He was, at that point, the newest member of a select club of princes and princesses who were heir to a throne. But not all of them ended up with a crown. Here, we trace the stories of those who waited in line when Charles III first became heir to the throne.

Prince Albert, Prince of Liège (later King Albert II)

Just months before Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, a young king took the crown of another country but under much more political circumstances. King Baudouin began his reign on 17 July 1951 following the abdication of his father, Leopold III, whose reputation and conduct during the Second World War never recovered in peacetime. Baudouin’s heir was his younger brother, Albert, who was never expected to succeed. Baudouin later married but he and his wife, Queen Fabiola, never had the family they so longed for. In 1993, Baudouin died unexpectedly and Albert succeeded him after holding the post of heir for 42 years.

Prince Knud of Denmark (later Prince Knud, Hereditary Prince of Denmark)

At the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession, there was another Danish heir—and the young princess who would eventually become the first modern queen regnant of Denmark wasn’t even in the line of succession to the throne!

Frederik IX reigned in Denmark in 1952 and he and his wife, Queen Ingrid, had welcomed three children between 1940 and 1946, however they were all daughters: Princesses Margrethe, Benedikte, and Anne-Marie.

The Danish Act of Succession at the time of King Frederik’s 1947 accession was one that followed agnatic primogeniture, meaning that only males could be in the line of succession. And so heir to the throne was the king’s younger brother, Prince Knud.

However, by 1953, the Danish Act of Succession was updated when it became apparent that the king would not have a son, and male-preference primogeniture was enacted. This meant that women could be in the line of succession (though they’d still be displaced by the birth of younger brothers—as was the case with Princess Anne in the United Kingdom after her younger brothers were born in 1960 and 1964), and it meant that Princess Margrethe became the heiress presumptive to her father.

To say Prince Knud took this change well would be a lie. He reportedly let rip abut the people who voted for the change and relations between his family and Frederik’s was strained afterwards. He took on the title of Hereditary Prince of Denmark and died in 1976, four years after his older brother whose throne had passed to the princess who supplanted him as heir.

Crown Prince Olav of Norway (later King Olav V)

The heir to the throne in Norway in 1952 was a close friend and relation of the new Queen Elizabeth II. Crown Prince Olav had been heir for almost 47 years and was already a hugely popular figure in Norway but his life had started far closer to London.

He had been born Prince Alexander of Denmark at the turn of the 20th century in Appleton House on the Sandringham estate. His mother, Maud, was a daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. In 1905, her husband, Prince Carl, was asked to become King of Norway, a role he accepted after an overwhelming vote of support in a referendum, becoming King Haakon VII.

Prince Alexander, still a toddler, arrived in Oslo as a ready made heir and was given the Norwegian name of Olav. He was a first cousin of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II called his father ”Uncle Charles”. In fact, it’s reported she named her first child in his honour.

Crown Prince Olav would succeed as King in 1957 and rule until his death in 1991. He was named the Greatest Norwegian of the 20th century in a TV poll.

Crown Prince Carl Gustaf of Sweden (later King Carl XVI Gustaf)

The line of succession to the throne of Sweden was in a precarious state in 1952. As in Denmark, princesses were banned from succeeding, as were their children, and the heir was a four year old prince called Carl Gustaf who had been pushed up the line of succession by the tragic death of his father, Gustaf Adolf, in a plane crash in 1948.

Carl Gustaf had four older sisters but none of them had any chance of taking the throne. His uncle, Bertil, would remain his only real companion in the line of succession for over two decades.

On September 15th 1973, Carl Gustaf succeeded as King of Sweden on the death of his grandfather, King Gustaf VI Adolf. One of the first acts of his new reign was to change the rules allowing women to succeed. His heir is his eldest child, Crown Princess Victoria. On September 15th 2023, he became the only King of Sweden ever to celebrate a Golden Jubilee.

Prince Hans-Adam (later Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein)

The current Prince of Liechtenstein was still heir to the throne at the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession.

Prince Hans-Adam was the eldest child of Prince Franz-Joseph and Princess Georgina, born on 14 February 1945. From birth, he was the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein, and was educated within the principality to prepare him for his eventual role. He later received a degree in business and economic studies from the Swiss University of St. Gallen.

Prince Hans-Adam’s personal fortune has been estimated to be around £6.22 billion, which makes him one of Europe’s richest monarchs. In 1967, he married Countess Marie Kinsky of Wchinitz and Tettau—later Princess Marie of Liechtenstein—and they had four children together, including Alois, Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein.

In 1984, Hans-Adams’s father handed over his powers to his son while retaining the position as head of state. This allowed Hans-Adam to make decisions and begin the process of starting a new reign. Prince Franz-Joseph passed away in November 1989, and Hans-Adam officially became the Prince of Liechtenstein from that date.

In 2003, Hans-Adam followed the tradition set by his father and turned over the decision-making powers over to Alois, Hereditary Prince, who also serves as regent, however, Hans-Adam remains the head of state.

Hereditary Grand Duke Jean (later Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg)

Only a few years older than Queen Elizabeth II, at the time of her accession, Hereditary Grand Duke Jean was already familiar with the United Kingdom, having attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and served with the Irish Guards in 1942.

Hereditary Grand Duke Jean was born in 1921 as the eldest son of Grand Duchess Charlotte. Though he began his education in Luxembourg, he later attended boarding school in the UK. He saw active service during the Second World War even as the rest of his family were forced to leave Luxembourg to set up a government-in-exile.

Following the war, Jean retained his links to the British Army, and was often seen riding at Trooping the Colour behind The Queen from 1984 onward as Colonel of the Irish Guards (a position he held until his abdication).

Jean married Joséphine-Charlotte in 1953 and together they had five children, including the current Grand Duke Henri. On 12 November 1964, he inherited his throne upon the abdication of his mother, and became the General of the Armed Forces of Luxembourg from that date.

During his reign, he focused on European unity, leading to one world leader to theorise that if Europe could choose an overall president, it would have certainly been Grand Duke Jean. The principality also saw periods of great prosperity during his reign in all aspects of life, from the political to the social and economic.

On 7 October 2000, Jean abdicated in favour of his son, Henri, and died at the age of 98 on 23 April 2019.

Princess Antoinette of Monaco, Baroness of Massy

Princess Antoinette’s life has about as many twists and turns as a soap opera—reportedly hatching a scheme with her husband to have her brother declared unfit to rule and, since he lacked an heir at the time, to install her young son on the throne with herself as his regent.

Princess Antoinette was born on 28 December 1920, the oldest child of Princess Charlotte and Prince Pierre of Monaco; she was later displaced in the line of succession by her younger brother, Prince Rainier, who was born in 1923.

After a relationship with Alexandre-Athenase Noghès resulted in the birth of three children out of wedlock—and therefore not in the line of succession to the Monegasque throne—Antoinette married Alexandre-Athenase in 1951, which legitimised her children. The couple were married until 1954.

With her next partner, Jean-Charles Rey (who she eventually married in 1961 and divorced in 1974), she schemed to have her brother replaced by her son Christian-Louis, and spread rumours that Rainier’s then-girlfriend was infertile, leading to the breakdown of the relationship. However, when Rainier married the American actress Grace Kelly in 1956 and later had three children, it was assured that no plan to have him removed would work.

Antoinette would marry once more, with her final husband dying six weeks after the wedding. She was devoted to animals and supported many animal charities. In 2005, upon the accession of Prince Albert II, her nephew, she and her descendants lost their places in the line of succession, as Monaco limits the throne to the sovereign’s descendants, siblings, and siblings’ children.

Princess Antoinette died at the age of 90 on 18 March 2011.

Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands (later Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands)

The last queen of the Netherlands was a teenager when Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne and still heir. She would go on to be the third in a string of queen regnants.

Born on 31 January 1938 as the eldest daughter of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard, Beatrix was the heiress presumptive from 1947. Her early years were spent in Canada, as Juliana and her children were evacuated to North America following the outbreak of war. By the time she returned, her grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina was in the final years of her reign, ultimately abdicating in 19478due to poor health.

"; n.innerHTML = "window._taboola = window._taboola || [];_taboola.push({mode:'thumbnails-a', container:'taboola-below-article-thumbnails', placement:'Below Article Thumbnails', target_type: 'mix'});"; insertAfter(t, e); insertAfter(n, t) }injectWidgetByMarker('tbmarker');

About author

Jess Ilse is the Assistant Editor at Royal Central. She specialises in the British, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Royal Families and has been following royalty since Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. Jess has provided commentary for media outlets in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Jess works in communications and her debut novel THE MAJESTIC SISTERS will publish in Fall 2024.