Sons and daughters of any future UK monarch will have equal right to the throne, after Commonwealth leaders agreed to change succession laws.
It means a first-born daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would
take precedence over younger brothers.
The ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic was also lifted.
Under the old succession laws, dating back more than 300 years, the heir to
the throne is the first-born son of the monarch. Only when there are no sons, as
in the case of the Queen’s father George VI, does the crown pass to the eldest
The change to the Royal Marriages Act will end a position where every descendant of George II is legally required to seek the consent of the monarch before marrying.
In future, the requirement is expected to be limited to a small number of the
sovereign’s close relatives.
Duncan Kennedy BBC News, Perth
Equal rights for women in the British Monarchy? It’s quite a change. The new
rules will reverse 300 years of tradition, custom and law, so it’s a big royal
There have been at least 11 attempts to change the passage of succession down
the years, but they’ve never got anywhere. Now, with the arrival of Kate and
William on the public stage, a sense of urgency has overtaken the drag of
The leaders of the Commonwealth have, like David Cameron, recognised this and
so decided to act, using Perth to give birth to these royal reforms.
The other modification, allowing future monarchs to marry Catholics, is just
as radical, removing an anti-Catholic bias at the heart of the monarchy.
Will these changes make a difference? Potentially, yes, particularly the
daughter/son succession one,
especially if William and Kate’s first-born is a
girl. She could become queen and thereby alter the course of British
Announcing the succession changes, Prime Minister David
Cameron said they would apply to descendents of the Prince of Wales. They will
not be applied retrospectively.
“Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl,
that girl would one day be our queen,” he said.
“The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder
daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone
of any faith except a Catholic – this way of thinking is at odds with the modern
countries that we have become.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it was an extraordinary moment:
“I’m very enthusiastic about it. You would expect the first Australian woman
prime minister to be very enthusiastic about a change which equals equality for
women in a new area.”
She said the changes appeared to be straightforward. “But just because they
seem straightforward to our modern minds doesn’t mean that we should
underestimate their historical significance, changing as they will for all time
the way in which the monarchy works and changing its history.”
But the campaign group Republic – which wants an elected head of state in
Britain – said “nothing of substance” had been changed.
“The monarchy discriminates against every man, woman and child who isn’t born
into the Windsor family. To suggest that this has anything to do with equality
is utterly absurd,” spokesman Graham Smith said.
On scrapping the ban on future monarchs marrying Roman Catholics, Mr Cameron
said: “Let me be clear, the monarch must be in communion with the Church of
England because he or she is the head of that Church. But it is simply wrong
they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so.
After all, they are already quite free to marry someone of any other faith.”
David Cameron: ”The idea a younger son should become monarch
instead of an elder daughter simply because he’s a man… is at odds with the
modern countries we have become”
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, said the
elimination of the “unjust discrimination” against Catholics would be widely
“At the same time I fully recognise the importance of the position of the
established church [the Church of England] in protecting and fostering the role
of faith in our society today,” he said.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond also welcomed the lifting of the ban
but said it was “deeply disappointing” that Roman Catholics were still unable to
ascend to the throne.
“It surely would have been possible to find a mechanism which would have
protected the status of the Church of England without keeping in place an
unjustifiable barrier on the grounds of religion in terms of the monarchy,” he
“It is a missed opportunity not to ensure equality of all faiths when it
comes to the issue of who can be head of state.”
In her opening speech to the summit, the Queen did not directly mention the
royal succession laws, but said women should have a greater role in society.
“It encourages us to find ways to show girls and women to play their full
part,” she said.
The BBC’s royal correspondent, Nicholas Witchell, said this was a hint that
the Queen herself backed the change.
The Queen will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee next year and there are already
two generations of kings-in-waiting – Prince Charles and his son Prince
In January 2011, Labour MP Keith Vaz tabled a Succession to the Crown Bill in
the Commons to end gender discrimination in the succession to the throne.
He said his bill – due for its second reading on 25 November – could be used
to introduce the reforms announced in Perth.
“As a society that values gender equality so highly, this is a long overdue,”
he said. “We will now have modern laws that fit our modern monarchy.”
The royal author Robert Hardman said there had been 11 attempts in recent
years by individual MPs and peers to change the succession laws.
The laws are not a matter for the 54-nation Commonwealth as a whole, only for
the 16 countries which have the Queen as their head of state, known as
These are Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Antigua and
Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Vincent and the
Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, Solomon Islands, St Lucia and the
Mr Cameron said the realms would work to implement the changes but that for
historic reasons the UK would have to publish its legislation first.
The necessary changes to laws will be introduced in the next session of
Parliament and New Zealand will lead a working group co-ordinating the measures
across the other nations.
In his speech, the prime minister also praised the Queen’s 60 years of public
service and announced the creation of a Diamond Jubilee Trust to help those in
need across the Commonwealth. The trust will be chaired by former Prime Minister
Sir John Major.
Mr Cameron said Britain would make a multi-million pound donation to the
grant-making body and encouraged other commonwealth nations to do the same.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (Chogm) are held every two
years, and present an opportunity for the 54 nations with current or former ties
to Britain to discuss a range of issues.
The Chogm summit will also discuss economic growth, climate change and human
rights at this year’s meeting.
- Kate, William’s first-born daughter could rule over younger brother under new succession rules (news.nationalpost.com)
- Royal succession gender equality approved by Commonwealth (guardian.co.uk)
- Royal women to get equal rights (independent.co.uk)
- UK royal succession laws changed (bbc.co.uk)
- Royal rule change means heir majesty can now be a Her Majesty (calgaryherald.com)
- British royal succession rules to favour girls (vanguardngr.com)
- UK royal succession laws changed – BBC News (news.google.com)
- Royal women to get equal rights in succession to the throne (mirror.co.uk)
- The UK Rules Of Royal Succession Have Been Amended (pinkisthenewblog.com)
- First girl can now succeed British throne! (elspethlodge.com)
- ‘Outdated’ royal succession rules to change (msnbc.msn.com)
- New Royal Rules: Women Given Equal Right to Throne (newsfeed.time.com)
- Under Historic New Law, Women Given Equal Right to British Throne (newsfeed.time.com)