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Succession to the British throne

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Succession to the British throne

Succession to the British throne is determined by descent, gender (for people born before October 2011), legitimacy, and religion. Under common law, the crown is inherited by an individual's children and by a childless individual's nearest collateral line. The Bill of Rights 1689 and the Act of Settlement 1701, both of them as amended in March 2015, restrict the succession to the legitimate Protestant descendants of Sophia of Hanover that are in "communion with the Church of England" (while marrying to Roman Catholics no longer disqualifies). Protestant descendants of those excluded for being Catholics are eligible to succeed.


Queen Elizabeth II is the present sovereign and her heir apparent is her eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales. Next in line after him is Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, the Prince of Wales's elder son. Third in line is Prince George of Cambridge, the son of the Duke of Cambridge, followed by his sister, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge. Fifth in line is Prince Harry (formally Prince Henry of Wales), the younger son of the Prince of Wales. Sixth in line is Prince Andrew, Duke of York, the Queen's second-eldest son.

The first four individuals in the line of succession who are twenty-one years or older, and the sovereign's consort, may be appointed Counsellors of State. Counsellors of State perform some of the sovereign's duties in the United Kingdom while he or she is out of the country or temporarily incapacitated. Otherwise, individuals in the line of succession need not have specific legal or official roles.

The United Kingdom is one of the 16 Commonwealth realms. Each of those countries has the same person as monarch and the same order of succession. In 2011, the prime ministers of the realms agreed unanimously to adopt a common approach to amending the rules on the succession to their respective Crowns so that absolute primogeniture would apply for persons born after the date of the agreement, instead of male-preference primogeniture, and the ban on marriages to Roman Catholics would be lifted, but the monarch would still need to be in communion with the Church of England. After the necessary legislation had been enacted in accordance with each realm's constitution, the changes took effect on 26 March 2015.

Current line of succession

The annotated list below of persons in line of succession to the present Queen is limited to her descendants and others in the nearest collateral lines, namely, the other eligible descendants of the sons of George V. Persons named in italics are known not to be in line to the throne (birth year not italicised if living). Numbers 1 to 16 in the list are the position in the line of the persons named, as shown by the official website of the British Monarchy. Other list numbers are subject to the annotations (Notes and sources) and Notes.

Notes and sources:

XC Excluded as Roman Catholics. This exclusion is not affected by changes subsequent to the Perth Agreement.MC These people were excluded through marriage to a Roman Catholic. This exclusion was repealed on 26 March 2015, restoring them to the line of succession, when the Perth Agreement came into effect.B listed by the official website of the British Monarchy, "Succession", retrieved 13 May 2015.D listed on Debrett's website (as of 20 June 2015): "The Line of Succession"W listed by Whitaker's Almanack 2015, London: Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1-4729-0929-9, p. 221952 Succession as published on the accession of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952

No official, complete version of the line of succession is currently maintained. The exact number, in remoter collateral lines, of the persons who would be eligible is uncertain. In 2001 genealogist William Addams Reitwiesner compiled a list of 4,973 living descendants of the Electress Sophia in order of succession, but disregarding Roman Catholic status. When updated in January 2011, the number was more than five thousand.


The current succession law in the United Kingdom evolved from succession law in both England and Scotland. Originally in both countries, there were no fixed rules governing succession to the throne. The individual could have relied on inheritance, statute, election (by Parliament or by another body), nomination (by a reigning sovereign in his or her will), conquest or prescription (de facto possession of the Crown). It was often unclear which of these bases should take precedence; often, the outcome depended not on the legal strength of the claims, but on the political or military power of the claimants.

However, over time, the default rule became male primogeniture: later monarchs coming to the throne by exception to this rule went to great lengths to explain and justify going against these rules, and to prove their rivals illegitimate. Eventually, Parliament asserted control of succession.


In 1485, Henry Tudor, a female-line descendant of a legitimated branch of the royal house of Lancaster, the House of Beaufort, assumed the English crown as Henry VII, after defeating Richard III, who was killed at the battle of Bosworth when leading a charge against Henry's standard. Richard was the last king of the House of York, and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. Henry declared himself king retroactively from 21 August 1485, the day before his victory over Richard at Bosworth Field, and caused Richard's Titulus Regius to be repealed and expunged from the Rolls of Parliament. After Henry's coronation in London in October that year, his first parliament, summoned to meet at Westminster in November, enacted that "the inheritance of the crown should be, rest, remain and abide in the most royal person of the then sovereign lord, King Henry VII, and the heirs of his body lawfully coming."

Henry VII was followed by his son, Henry VIII. Though his father descended from the Lancastrians, Henry VIII could also claim the throne through the Yorkist line, as his mother Elizabeth was the sister and heiress of Edward V. In 1542 Henry also assumed the title King of Ireland; this would pass down with the monarchs of England, and later Great Britain, until the Acts of Union 1800 merged the separate crowns into that of the United Kingdom.

Henry VIII's numerous marriages led to several complications over succession. Henry VIII was first married to Catherine of Aragon, by whom he had a daughter named Mary. His second marriage, to Anne Boleyn, resulted in a daughter named Elizabeth. Henry VIII had a son, Edward, by his third wife, Jane Seymour. An Act of Parliament passed in 1533 declared Mary illegitimate; another passed in 1536 did the same for Elizabeth. Though the two remained illegitimate, an Act of Parliament passed in 1544 allowed reinserting them, providing further "that the King should and might give, will, limit, assign, appoint or dispose the said imperial Crown and the other premises … by letters patent or last will in writing." Mary and Elizabeth, under Henry VIII's will, were to be followed by descendants of the King's deceased sister Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk (he however excluded his niece Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk). This will also excluded from the succession the descendants of Henry's eldest sister Margaret Tudor, who were the rulers of Scotland.

When Henry VIII died in 1547, the young Edward succeeded him, becoming Edward VI. Edward VI was the first Protestant Sovereign to succeed to the rule of England; he strongly opposed having the Catholic Mary be his heir. Therefore, he attempted to divert the course of succession in his will. He excluded Mary and Elizabeth, settling on the Duchess of Suffolk's daughter, the Lady Jane Grey. The Lady Jane was also originally excluded on the premise that no woman could reign over England. Nonetheless, the will, which originally referred to the Lady Jane's heirs-male, was amended to refer to the Lady Jane and her heirs-male. Upon Edward VI's death in 1553, Jane was proclaimed reigning Queen of England; however, she was not universally recognised and after nine days overthrown by the popular Mary. As Henry VIII's will had been passed by an Act of Parliament in 1544, Edward's contravening will was unlawful and ignored.

Mary was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth, who broke with the precedents of many of her predecessors, and refused to name an heir. Whilst previous monarchs (including Henry VIII) had specifically been granted authority to settle uncertain successions in their wills, the Treasons Act 1571 asserted that Parliament had the right to settle disputes, and made it treason to deny Parliamentary authority. Wary of threats from other possible heirs, Parliament further passed the Act of Association 1584, which provided that any individual involved in attempts to murder the Sovereign would be disqualified from succeeding (The Act was repealed in 1863).


The House of Stewart (later Stuart) had ruled in Scotland since 1371. It had followed strict rules of primogeniture until the deposition and exile of Mary I in 1567; even then she was succeeded by her son, James VI.


Elizabeth I of England was succeeded by King James VI of Scotland, her first cousin twice removed, even though his succession violated Henry VIII's will, under which Lady Anne Stanley, heiress of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk, was supposed to succeed. James asserted that hereditary right was superior to statutory provision, and as King in Scotland was powerful enough to deter any rival. He reigned as James I of England, thus effecting the Union of the Crowns, although England and Scotland remained separate sovereign states until 1707. His succession was rapidly ratified by Parliament.

James's eldest surviving son and successor, Charles I, was overthrown and beheaded in 1649. The monarchy itself was abolished. A few years later, it was replaced by the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell, effectively a monarch with the title of Lord Protector rather than King. Cromwell had the right to name his own successor, which he exercised on his deathbed by choosing his son, Richard Cromwell. Richard was ineffective, and was quickly forced from office. Shortly afterward, the monarchy was restored, with Charles I's son Charles II as King.

James II and VII, a Catholic, followed his brother Charles II, despite efforts in the late 1670s to exclude him in favour of Charles's illegitimate Protestant son, the Duke of Monmouth. James was deposed when his Protestant opponents forced him to flee from England in 1688. Parliament then deemed that James had, by fleeing the realms, abdicated the thrones and offered the Crowns not to the King's infant son James but to his Protestant daughter Mary and to her husband William, who as James's nephew was the first person in the succession not descended from him. The two became joint Sovereigns (a unique circumstance in British history) as William III of England and Ireland (and II of Scotland) and Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland. William had insisted on this unique provision as a condition of his military leadership against James.

The English Bill of Rights passed in 1689 determined succession to the English, Scottish and Irish Thrones. First in the line were the descendants of Mary II. Next came Mary's sister Princess Anne and her descendants. Finally, the descendants of William III & II by any future marriage were added to the line of succession. Only Protestants were allowed to succeed to the Thrones, and those who married Roman Catholics were excluded.

After Mary II died in 1694, her husband continued to reign alone until his own death in 1702. The line of succession provided for by the Bill of Rights was almost at an end; William and Mary never had any children, and Princess Anne's children had all died. Therefore, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement. The Act maintained the provision of the Bill of Rights whereby William III & II would be succeeded by Princess Anne and her descendants, and thereafter by his own descendants from future marriages. The Act, however, declared that they would be followed by James I & VI's granddaughter Sophia, Electress and Dowager Duchess of Hanover (the daughter of James's daughter Elizabeth Stuart), and her heirs. As under the Bill of Rights, non-Protestants and those who married Roman Catholics were excluded.

Upon William III's death, Anne became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. Because the Parliament of England settled on Sophia, Electress of Hanover as Anne's heir-presumptive without consulting Scottish leaders, the Estates of Scotland retaliated by passing the Scottish Act of Security. The Act provided that, upon the death of Anne, the Estates would meet to select an heir to the throne of Scotland, who could not be the same person as the English Sovereign unless numerous political and economic conditions were met. Anne originally withheld the Royal Assent, but was forced to grant it when the Estates refused to raise taxes and sought to withdraw troops from the Queen's army. England's Parliament responded by passing the Alien Act 1705, which threatened to cripple Scotland's economy by cutting off trade with them. Thus, Scotland had little choice but to unite with England to form the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707; the Crown of the new nation (along with the Crown of Ireland) was subject to the rules laid down by the English Act of Settlement.

Hanoverians and Windsors

Anne was predeceased by Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and was therefore succeeded by the latter's son, who became George I in 1714.

Attempts were made in the risings of 1715 and 1745 to restore Stuart claimants to the Throne, supported by those who recognised the Jacobite succession. The House of Hanover nonetheless remained undeposed, and the Crown descended in accordance with the appointed rules. In 1801, following the Acts of Union 1800, the separate crowns of Great Britain and Ireland were merged and became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Between 1811 and 1820, when George III was deemed unfit to rule, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) acted as his regent. Some years later the Regency Act 1830 made provision for a change in the line of succession had a child been born to William IV after his death, but this event did not come about.

The succession was next called into doubt in 1936, when Edward VIII abdicated. (Edward VIII had desired to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee, but the Church of England, of which the British Sovereign is Supreme Governor, would not authorise the marriage of divorcees.) Consequently, Parliament passed His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936, by which Edward VIII ceased to be Sovereign. The Act provided that he and his descendants, if any, were not to have any "right, title or interest in or to the succession to the Throne". (In fact Edward died childless in 1972.) On his abdication Edward was succeeded by his brother George VI, who in turn was succeeded in 1952 by his own elder daughter, Elizabeth II. By this time the monarch of the United Kingdom no longer reigned in the greater part of Ireland (which had become a republic in 1949), but was the monarch of a number of independent sovereign states (Commonwealth realms).

Commonwealth realms, 20c. and after

Each of the Commonwealth realms has the same person as monarch and, to maintain that arrangement, they have agreed to continue the same line of succession; some realms do so through domestic succession laws, while others stipulate whomever is monarch of the United Kingdom will also be monarch of that realm. In February 1952, on her accession, Elizabeth II was proclaimed as sovereign separately throughout her realms. In October 2011, the heads of government of all 16 realms agreed unanimously at a meeting held in Perth, Australia, to proposed changes to the royal succession laws that would see the order of succession for people born after 28 October 2011 governed by absolute primogeniture—wherein succession passes to an individual's children according to birth order, regardless of gender—instead of male-preference primogeniture. They also agreed to lift a ban on those who marry Roman Catholics. The ban on Catholics themselves was retained to ensure that the monarch would be in communion with the Church of England. The changes came into effect across the Commonwealth realms on 26 March 2015, after legislation was made according to each realm's constitution.

Current rules

The Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement (restated by the Acts of Union) still govern succession to the throne. They were amended in the United Kingdom by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which was passed mainly "to make succession to the Crown not depend on gender" and "to make provision about Royal Marriages" (according to its long title), thereby implementing the Perth Agreement in the UK and in those realms that, by their laws, have as their monarch automatically whoever is monarch of the UK. Other realms passed their own legislation.

Anyone ineligible to succeed is treated as if they were "naturally dead". That individual's descendants are not also disqualified, unless they are personally ineligible.


The Act of Settlement 1701 provides that Protestant "heirs of the body" (that is, legitimate descendants) of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, are eligible to succeed to the throne, unless otherwise disqualified. The meaning of heir of the body is determined by the common law rules of male preference primogeniture (the "male-preference" criterion is no longer applicable, in respect of succession to the throne, to persons born after 28 October 2011), whereby older children and their descendants inherit before younger children, and a male child takes precedence over a female sibling. Children born out of wedlock and adopted children are not eligible to succeed. Illegitimate children whose parents subsequently marry are legitimated, but remain ineligible to inherit the Crown.

The Royal Marriages Act 1772 (repealed by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013) further required descendants of George II to obtain the consent of the reigning monarch to marry. (The requirement did not apply to descendants of princesses who married into foreign families, as well as, from 1936, any descendants of Edward VIII, of which there are none.) The Act provided, however, that if a dynast older than twenty-five years notified the Privy Council of his or her intention to marry without the consent of the Sovereign, then he or she may have lawfully done so after one year, unless both houses of Parliament expressly disapproved of the marriage. A marriage that contravened the Royal Marriages Act was void, and the resulting offspring illegitimate and thus ineligible to succeed, though the succession of the dynast who failed to obtain consent was not itself affected. This also had the consequence that marriage to a Roman Catholic without permission was void, so that the dynast was not disqualified from succeeding on account of being married to a Roman Catholic. Thus when the future George IV attempted to marry the Roman Catholic Maria Fitzherbert in 1785 without obtaining permission from George III he did not disqualify himself from inheriting the throne in due course. A marriage voided by the 1772 act prior to its repeal remains void "for all purposes relating to the succession to the Crown" under the 2013 act.

The constitutional crisis arising from Edward VIII's decision to marry a divorcee in 1936 led to His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936, which provided that Edward VIII and his descendants would have no claim to the throne. The Act is no longer applicable, because Edward died in 1972 without issue.

Under the 2013 Succession to the Crown Act, the first six persons in line to the throne must obtain the sovereign's approval before marrying. Marriage without the Sovereign's consent disqualifies the person and the person's descendants from the marriage from succeeding to the Crown, but the marriage is still legally valid.


Rules relating to eligibility established by the Bill of Rights are retained under the Act of Settlement. The preamble to the Act of Settlement notes that the Bill of Rights provides "that all and every person and persons that then [at the time of the Bill of Right's passage] were, or afterwards should be reconciled to, or shall hold communion with the see or Church of Rome, or should profess the popish religion, or marry a papist, should be excluded." The Act of Settlement continues, providing "that all and every Person and Persons who shall … is, are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome or shall profess the Popish religion or shall marry a papist shall be subject to such Incapacities" as the Bill of Rights established.

The precise meaning of the aforementioned clauses is subject to contention. Under one interpretation, the religion of an individual at the precise moment of succession is relevant. Under another interpretation, anyone who has been a Roman Catholic at any time since 1689 ("then … or afterwards") is forever ineligible to succeed. The former interpretation allows a Roman Catholic to convert to Protestantism and succeed to the Throne just before a vacancy on the throne occurs devolving the crown on the first dynast in the line of succession; the latter does not. In either case, however, other denominations of faith are not affected; it is clear that any non-Catholic may convert to Protestantism and succeed to the Throne. It is a requirement that the monarch must be a Protestant.

The Act of Settlement further provided that anyone who married a Roman Catholic was ineligible to succeed. The Act did not require that the spouse be Protestant; it only barred those who marry Roman Catholics. Since the passage of the Act it has been determined (in the case of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent) that an individual is not barred because his or her spouse later converts to Roman Catholicism after their marriage. The Succession to the Crown Act 2013 removed the bar on individuals married to Roman Catholics, though not on Roman Catholics themselves.


Under the Treason Act 1702 and the Treason (Ireland) Act 1703, it is treason to "endeavour to deprive or hinder any person who shall be the next in succession to the crown ... from succeeding ... to the imperial crown of this realm". Since the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the maximum penalty has been life imprisonment.

Perth Agreement reforms, 26 March 2015

Following the Perth Agreement, changes to the line of succession came into effect on 26 March 2015. The positions of the first 27 in line remained unchanged, including Princess Anne and her children and grandchildren, until the birth of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge on 2 May 2015. The first to be affected by the changes, on the day they came into effect in March, were the children of Lady Davina Lewis—her son Tāne (born 2012) and her daughter Senna (born 2010)—who were reversed in the order of succession, becoming 29th and 28th in line respectively.

List of changes in the line on and after 26 March 2015

  • 26 March 2015: Legislation changing the succession from male-preference primogeniture to absolute primogeniture came into effect for all persons born after 28 October 2011. Change: The places in the order of succession of the two children of Lady Davina Lewis and the two children of her younger sister, Lady Rose Gilman, were reversed: Senna Lewis (born 2010) became 28th and her younger brother, Tāne (born 2012) 29th; Lyla Gilman (born 2010) became 31st and her younger brother, Rufus (born 2012) 32nd.
  • 26 March 2015: The legislation removed the disqualification of an eligible person on marriage to a Roman Catholic. Change: Reinstatement made George Windsor, Earl of St Andrews 34th, and Prince Michael of Kent 44th in the line of succession.
  • 2 May 2015: Princess Charlotte of Cambridge was born fourth in line. Change: The next in the order of succession (Prince Henry of Wales) and all after him moved down one place.
  • 16 January 2016: Isabella Windsor was born 48th in line. Change: The next in the order of succession (Lady Gabriella Windsor) and all after her moved down one place.
  • Accession

    In the Commonwealth realms, upon the death of a sovereign, the heir apparent or heir presumptive succeeds to the throne immediately, with no need for confirmation or further ceremony. Nevertheless, the Accession Council meets and decides upon the making of the accession proclamation, which by custom has for centuries been ceremonially proclaimed in public places, in London, York, Edinburgh and other cities. The anniversary is observed throughout the sovereign's reign as Accession Day, including royal gun salutes in the United Kingdom.

    Formerly, a new sovereign proclaimed his or her own accession. But on the death of Elizabeth I an Accession Council met to proclaim the accession of James I to the throne of England. James was then in Scotland and reigning as King James VI of Scotland. This precedent has been followed since. Now, the Accession Council normally meets in St James's Palace. Proclamations since James I's have usually been made in the name of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, the Privy Council, the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and citizens of the City of London and "other principal Gentlemen of quality", though there have been variations in some proclamations. The proclamation of accession of Elizabeth II was the first to make mention of representatives of members of the Commonwealth.

    Upon his or her accession, a new sovereign is required by law to make and subscribe several oaths. The Bill of Rights of 1689 first required the sovereign to make a public declaration of non-belief in Roman Catholicism. This declaration, known as the Accession Declaration, is required to be taken at either the first meeting of parliament of his or her reign (i.e. during the State Opening of Parliament) or at his or her coronation, whichever occurs first. The current wording of this declaration was adopted in 1910 as the previous wording was deemed to be controversial and overtly anti-Catholic. Rather than denouncing Roman Catholicism, the sovereign now declares him or herself to be a Protestant and that he or she will "uphold and maintain" the Protestant succession. In addition to the Accession Declaration, the new sovereign is required by the Acts of Union 1707 to make an oath to "maintain and preserve" the Church of Scotland. This oath is normally made at the sovereign's first meeting of the Privy Council following his or her accession. According to the Regency Act 1937, should the sovereign be under the age of 18, such oaths and declarations required to be taken by the sovereign shall be made upon his attainment of that age.

    After a period of mourning, the new sovereign is usually consecrated and crowned in Westminster Abbey. Normally, the Archbishop of Canterbury officiates, though the sovereign may designate any other bishop of the Church of England. A coronation is not necessary for a sovereign to reign; for example, Edward VIII was never crowned, yet during his short reign was the undoubted king.


    Succession to the British throne Wikipedia

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