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Royal Reality: Law, Not Just Order Of Birth, Determines Succession

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, last September in Scotland.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, last September in Scotland.

As Friday's big wedding in London has drawn near, we (and perhaps you) have been refreshing our memories about how things are done when it comes to royalty.

For instance, what is the line of succession and how does it work?

It's certainly well known that Prince Charles, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth, is next in line to the throne.

After Charles, it's this week's groom — Prince William — who would be king. He's followed by his brother, Prince Henry (or Harry, as he's better known).

NPR.org has an animated "family tree" that takes you all the way down to No. 19 — Arthur Chatto, the 12-year-old son of Lady Sarah Chatto, who is the daughter of the queen's late sister, Princess Margaret.

The "line of succession" list on the "Official Website of the British Monarchy," meanwhile, goes to No. 38. That would be Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy, who is a 74-year-old cousin of the queen. (The official site doesn't seem to have quite caught up with the times, however. It doesn't include nearly 4-month-old Savannah Phillips, the queen's first great-grandchild and now No. 12 in the line of succession — which would bump Princess Alexandra to No. 39, we presume.)

The order certainly isn't politically correct. Male descendants and their male children are favored. Queen Elizabeth succeeded her father, King George VI, only because he had no male heirs. As the BBC says, "put simply, a woman can only become Britain's head of state as a last resort; in effect, after every other male option has been exhausted."

And, sticking with the subject of not being politically correct, as the official website says:

"Only Protestant descendants of Princess Sophia — the Electress of Hanover and granddaughter of James I — are eligible to succeed. ...

"Parliament, under the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement, also laid down various conditions which the Sovereign must meet. A Roman Catholic is specifically excluded from succession to the throne; nor may the Sovereign marry a Roman Catholic.

"The Sovereign must, in addition, be in communion with the Church of England and must swear to preserve the established Church of England and the established Church of Scotland. The Sovereign must also promise to uphold the Protestant succession."

It's also not possible to marry into the family and be eligible for the crown. Yes, Kate Middleton would be a queen if someday her husband becomes king. But she would be a queen consort, with no powers — not a queen regnant, who could reign.

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