Sunday, April 20, 2008

Royal Tradition Attacked

The BBC, Times, and Telegraph report that Britain's professional egalitarians, who by definition are incapable of ever leaving anything alone, are preparing an assault on male primogeniture, hoping to change the law so that in the future the monarch's eldest child, regardless of sex, will inherit the throne. This has already been done in Sweden, Belgium, Norway, and the Netherlands (where queens regnant have been the norm for over a century anyway), and is also periodically under discussion in Denmark and Spain. (There doesn't seem to be much agitation for change in the three smaller monarchies; Liechtenstein continues to exclude females from the succession entirely.) The media inaccurately link male primogeniture to the 1701 Act of Settlement that excludes Roman Catholics; actually, the tradition is much older, and England never had a queen regnant at all until 1553. Since then, princes have always taken precedence over their older sisters. (The only legitimate brother of Mary I and Elizabeth I predeceased them, leaving no heirs; the Roman Catholic only legitimate brother of Mary II and Anne was excluded by the "Glorious Revolution" and the Act of Settlement; Victoria was her father's only child; Elizabeth II had only a younger sister.)

Now obviously as an admirer of the present Queens of Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands, and of past female rulers such as Isabel I of Spain, Maria Theresa of Austria, and (sorry, Catholic friends) Elizabeth I of England, I have no problem with a woman inheriting the throne when she has no living brothers, in accordance with the laws and traditions of her particular country. Indeed, it could be observed that historically female monarchs have tended to be rather more successful and popular than many of their male counterparts. (I would argue that when female leadership is exceptional, it is exceptional women who are likely to come to the fore; if it is made the norm, any such advantage is likely to disappear.) But even if it were not for the complications involved in changing a law which affects not only the United Kingdom but also the fifteen Commonwealth Realms, the idea of discarding ancient tradition in order to conform to modern notions of equality and non-discrimination ought to be offensive to all serious monarchists. For republicans will argue, and unfortunately they will have a point, that it is illogical to abolish only the "anachronism" of male-preference succession, while leaving intact the rather more substantial "discrimination" inherent in any hereditary monarchy. Should admirers of Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II really hope to open this can of worms? Has the law as it is prevented Britain from having outstanding female sovereigns?

Meanwhile, a government summit on Australia's future conveniently designed to exclude any representatives of those who actually won the referendum in 1999, is predictably attempting to resuscitate flagging enthusiasm for republicanism.

No comments: