Things are looking up for future females born into the British royal family. After centuries during which first-born males succeeded to the throne ahead of their elder sisters, the British Commonwealth countries that recognize the monarch as head of state agreed Friday to abolish the practice of primogeniture.
When it comes to inheriting the throne, birth order will now trump gender. Girls rule (when they’re older than their brothers).
For the rest of the Western world this development may not seem to be on the cutting edge of equal rights. But for a nation where royal women have historically been valued for their fecundity or married off to create alliances, it is revolutionary.
The British monarchy clings tenaciously to its traditions — which is part of what makes it appealing to tourists and history buffs and part of what marginalizes it in an era when its purpose is overwhelmingly symbolic. No one seems to know that better than the sitting monarch, Queen Elizabeth, who has gone to some lengths over the past couple of decades to rejuvenate the family’s image, cutting stipends of royal family members and paying taxes herself. The change in succession comes in the wake of the wedding of Prince William (second in line to the throne behind his father, Charles) and Catherine Middleton, who are seen as bringing a spark of modernity to the royal family.
If William and Catherine’s first child is a girl, she will be next in line to the throne after her father by birthright. No accidentally getting the job through some fluke of history, like all the siblings were girls and your father’s brother abdicated — as was the case with Elizabeth. Unfortunately, no current female member in the line of royal succession will be grandmothered in. So Princess Anne, who is the second-oldest child of Queen Elizabeth after her brother, Prince Charles, doesn’t move up the ladder. She will still rank below her younger brothers.
Queen Elizabeth is said to be pleased with the change in the rules. And why shouldn’t she be? It’s worked out pretty well for her. Next year, the 85-year-old monarch celebrates the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. It’s nice to know that maybe a great-granddaughter will follow in her footsteps.