As Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne are marked, questions remain on who will succeed her.
With a mixture of respect from most and fawning adoration from some, Queen Elizabeth is preparing to mark 60 years on the throne next month.
The milestone will be celebrated by a four-day bank holiday beginning on June 2nd, the date of her coronation, in a land then still grimly recovering from war.
Even before the festivities, however, thoughts on the monarchy after her are already abroad, particularly given the doubts about the ability of her son, Prince Charles, to carry the baton.
Under the current rules of succession, Charles will be succeeded by his son, William, and he by his.
Last October in Australia, on the proposal of prime minister David Cameron, the Commonwealth heads of government conference unanimously agreed in principle to abolish the rule.
In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Conservative MP Helen Grant sought clarity on the succession that will come after both her son and grandson.
“If the birds and the bees of the romantic Isle of Anglesey,” she asked deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, “were to conspire and bless our future king of England and his wife with the patter of tiny feet before this law was enacted, and if that royal baby turned out to be a little girl, would she succeed to the throne?”
Replying, Clegg said the change agreed – one that requires legal amendments throughout the commonwealth – would apply if a daughter was born first to Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton.
“If the birds and the bees were to deliver that blessing to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – and, indeed, the nation as a whole – that little girl would be covered by these provisions.
“It is important to remember that the rules are de facto in place, even though de jure they still need to be implemented through legislation in the way I have described,” Clegg added.
Not all in the chamber looked so benignly on the royals, especially Labour MP Paul Flynn – a republican in the British meaning of the word.
In the interest of “dragging the monarchy and the office of head of state into the 21st century”, he asked if other candidates could stand as head of state “given the misgivings about King Charles III”.
Clegg, however, shooed the opinion away, telling Flynn not “to belittle the enormity” of the Australian agreement. “We are getting rid of some very long- standing, discriminatory anomalies.”
The changes will also allow a royal heir to marry a Catholic, but a monarch must continue to declare that he or she is “a faithful Protestant” and “in communion with the Church of England”.
In her coronation pledge, the queen promised to “maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law” and to “maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England”.
Like her predecessors, a day later the queen swore the Scottish oath before the Accession Privy Council, where she pledged to uphold the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian form of Church government in Scotland.
The law barring marriage to a Catholic dates back to the 1701 Act of Settlement when Protestant England fretted that the death of William of Orange could see a return of the Catholic Stuarts.
In a report last year, MPs noted that the decision to abolish the ban barring monarchs-to-be from marrying Catholics could have “one possible consequence”.
“The proposal thus raises the prospect of the children of a monarch being brought up in a faith which would not allow them to be in communion with the Church of England,” said the Commons Political and Constitutional Committee.
The rule under Catholic canon law can be put to one side through papal dispensation and, indeed, that has already been done in the past for the Windsors in the case of Prince Michael of Kent.
However, Dr Bob Morris of University College London has pointed out that much may have changed long before Prince William gets to the throne, let alone any of his offspring.
“It is well known that Prince Charles is interested in other faiths and wants to be regarded as ‘Defender of Faith’ rather than ‘the Faith’,” he told a Commons inquiry last year.
However, the monarchy is nothing if not flexible, even if its ability to change is hidden behind a panoply of tradition and pomp – as was shown in the days before the queen herself took the throne.
King George VI’s death in 1952, according to Prof Robert Blackburn, created a situation where for the first time in British history a monarch died leaving two daughters, but no sons.
Under the old, feudal law, the then Princess Elizabeth should not have ruled alone, since the crown should have been shared with her sister Margaret as “that is how mediaeval property law worked”.
Such a course, however, was deemed to be nonsense, leaving the Privy Council to declare the common-sense solution to be that the eldest daughter should reign alone. The last 60 years could well have turned out very differently.”
Mark Hennessy in the Irish Times. Full article at: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2012/0525/1224316662777.html