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State & Ceremonial

What do the new royal succession changes mean?

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Today, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that – following the much-awaited enacting of the necessary laws in Australia – the changes to royal succession have finally been implemented. It’s taken four years since the Perth Agreement in 2011 to make these changes, but what actually are they, and who do they affect?

There are three main components to the act which have now come into force…

Removal of ‘male bias’

For centuries, the succession to the British throne has been governed by a system known as male preference primogeniture. In essence this means that a daughter may only succeed where she has no brothers. In a bid to modernise the succession, it was agreed between the Commonwealth realms (those countries with Her Majesty as head of state) that the succession would now adopt the more egalitarian ‘equal’ (or ‘absolute’) primogeniture which simply holds that the eldest child, regardless of gender, would succeed.

This new rule, however, will not have any significant consequences on the immediate line of succession. Chiefly because the rule is only retrospective to those born after 28th October 2011 (the date of the Perth agreement). At the time, this was a measure said to have been taken so as not to alter “anyone’s realistic chances of inheriting the throne”.

The highest ranking person in the line of succession this affects are the children of Lady Davina Lewis (the daughter of the Duke of Gloucester). Her son T?ne Lewis (born 2012) and elder daughter Senna Lewis (born 2010) will now swap places – formerly T?ne was 28th in line by virtue of being male. Senna will now replace him by virtue of being older. T?ne will now rank 29th in line.

Further up, it now means that should Zara Tindall have a second child which is male, it will not displace her elder daughter in the line of succession as would previously have happened.

Bar on marrying Catholics removed

The act also abolishes the law which causes royals who marry Catholics to be excluded from the line of succession. This law does not affect anyone in the immediate line of succession and nor does it remove the law which forbids Catholics themselves from succeeding to the Crown whereas also the requirement for the Monarch to be in communion with the Church of England still stands.

Two individuals are affected by this in the closer line of succession. The most senior being George, Earl of St Andrews who married his Catholic wife in 1988. He will now be restored at 34th in line to the throne.

Meanwhile, Prince Michael of Kent – who married Marie Christine in 1978 – is restored to the line of succession at 44th in line to the throne.

Permission to Marry

The final key change the act brings in is to remove the requirement of the Royal Marriages Act 1772 for all descendants of George II to seek and obtain the permission of the Sovereign to marry. With around 6,000 descendants of George II alive, many of those unknowingly contracted unlawful marriages because they didn’t know they needed The Queen’s permission to marry and so as a consequence their marriage would have been voided.

This change remedies that by firstly repealing the act and changing so that now, only the first six people in the line of succession will need the Sovereign’s permission to marry.

Additionally, those who contracted marriages and were under the jurisdiction of the Royal Marriages act unknowingly now have their marriages validated.

This change now means that – of the royals who are currently unmarried – Prince Harry, Prince George, Prince Andrew and Princess Beatrice are legally the only royals who will need the Sovereign’s permission as things stand.

Like with the Royal Marriages act, The Queen’s consent for any marriage would be given in a meeting of the Privy Council.

What is different though is that, instead of voiding the marriage as with the 1772 act, the new Succession to the Crown act will remove the person from their place in succession if they fail to obtain the Sovereign’s consent.