My column in this week’s Kingston Whig Standard discusses Prince William and the history of royal fatherhood. With the birth of the royal baby less than a month away, there has been a lot of speculation about the choices the Duchess of Cambridge will make as a mother with less attention paid to Prince William’s planned approach to fatherhood. In this week’s column, I look at how Prince William will fit into a new generation of royal fathers who balance their royal duties with plenty of family time.
My column in this weekend’s Kingston Whig-Standard discusses the potential for Prince Charles to receive a Canadian coronation when he succeeds Queen Elizabeth II. In May, 2013, the Church of Scotland approved a separate Scottish coronation for the next monarch in the event that Scotland votes for devolution from the United Kingdom in 2014. I argue that the revival of the 17th century practice of different English and Scottish coronations in the 21st century may prompt the introduction of investiture ceremonies for the monarch throughout the commonwealth. A distinct Canadian ceremony would increase support for the monarchy as a national institution.
Beginning June 1, 2013, my regular column on the monarchy will appear alternating Saturdays in the Kingston Whig-Standard.
June 2 marks the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. Click here for my interview with Janet Davison at CBC.ca about the significance of the coronation to Canada.
With the Duchess of Cambridge – better known as Kate Middleton – in her third trimester, there is intense speculation about the arrangements for the birth of the royal baby and the choices the royal couple will make as parents. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are known for combining their own innovations with royal traditions. For example, they were married in Westminster Abbey, where the weddings of the future Elizabeth II and George VI took place, but they introduced a charity gift registry and English field maple trees to decorate the aisle.
There is every reason to assume that the royal couple will adopt a similar blend of tradition and modernity in their approach to parenting. Nevertheless, a number of recent articles about royal parenting have assumed that since William and Catherine are a modern, twenty-first century royal couple, every single decision they plan to make as parents is either their own innovation or was introduced into the royal family by Princess Diana. These assumptions ignore the long history of royal parenting . I explained in a previous post that a number of royal parenting innovations attributed to Princess Diana are actually revivals of nineteenth century practices.
Despite clear evidence of nurturing royal parenting before Princess Diana, there a number of royal commentators who credit the late Princess of Wales with introducing “modern” royal parenting trends that were supposedly unknown to previous royal mothers.
A recent article by Rob Wallace of ABC news incorrectly claimed that Princess Diana was the first royal mother to breastfeed, allow her children to socialize with non-royalty and take her infant on an overseas tour. Another article published this month erroneously states that Prince William plans to “break with tradition” and become the first royal father in the delivery room.
There are numerous supposedly “modern” royal parenting trends that are actually centuries old and certainly long predate either the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge or Princess Diana. Here are 5 examples:
1) Breastfeeding The stereotype about royal mothers before Diana is that they handed their infants over to a wet nurse at birth. Royal commentators often cite Queen Victoria’s distaste for breastfeeding as evidence that royal mothers before Diana did not nurse their own children. The reason we know so much about Victoria’s views on breastfeeding, however, is because her daughters ignored her advice on this matter and nursed their own children.
When Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, known as “Vicky” to her family, began nursing her own children, the Queen wrote a disapproving letter on the subject to her own half-sister, Princess Feodora of Leningen. The reply demonstrated that Queen Victoria’s distaste for breastfeeding was far from universal in royal circles, even in the nineteenth century. Feodora wrote, “I am sorry to find that Vicky’s determination to nurse makes you so angry…the Queen of Prussia feels the same as you. I have no opinion…as I have always felt it a duty for a mother to nurse a child if she can and if the doctors approve (See Hannah Pakula, An Uncommon Woman, p. 215).”
2) Royal Fathers in the Delivery Room Queen Victoria may have disapproved of breastfeeding but she was more than willing to break with tradition by having her husband, Prince Albert by her side for the births of her children. Childbirth unsettled the Queen, who owed her crown to the death of her cousin, Princess Charlotte, following the birth of a stillborn son.
The Queen described Albert’s presence at the birth of her eldest daughter, Vicky, in her 1840 journal, The Queen recorded, “Just before the early hours of the morning of the 21st I felt again very uncomfortable & with difficulty aroused Albert . . .Tried to get to sleep again, but by 4, I got very bad & both the Doctors arrived. My beloved Albert was so dear and kind. . . Dearest Albert hardly left me at all, & was the greatest support and comfort (Reprinted in Hannah Pakula, An Uncommon Woman, p. 27-28).” When William was born in 1982, Charles followed Albert’s example and was present for Diana’s entire 16 hour labour.
3) Royal Babies on Tour Long before Diana insisted that the infant William accompany his parents on a tour of Australia in 1983, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, the Empress Alexandra of Russia and her husband, Czar Nicholas II traveled with their ten month old daughter, Grand Duchess Olga, on their 1896 coronation tour of Europe. Nicholas II wrote to his brother, Grand Duke Georgy, after his coronation, “This year seems to be a year of hard labour with Alix and me as the martyrs: Moscow in the Spring, and now soon all these intolerable foreign visits. First of all we are going to Austria, then Kiev, Germany, Denmark, England, France and finally Darmstadt . . .On top of it, we shall have to drag our poor little daughter with us, as all the relatives want to see her. I can imagine what the French will get up to in Paris – maybe they really will rename her Napoleondra, or something like it! (Translated and Reprinted in Maylunas and Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion, p. 151).” Like Nicholas II, Diana discovered that a royal tour with an infant was difficult and William remained in the United Kingdom when the Prince and Princess of Wales visited Canada later in 1983.
4) Involvement of Non-Royal Grandparents in a Royal Baby’s Upbringing The Duchess of Cambridge’s mother, Carole Middleton, has received extensive scrutiny from the British press for her rumoured plan to live with her daughter for the weeks following the royal baby’s birth. In past centuries, British royalty often married foreign royalty, circumstances that frequently prevented royal children from having a close relationship with their maternal grandparents. When monarchs of England or Scotland married members of the nobility, however, the queen consort’s family were closely involved in the upbringing of the royal children.
For example, when King Edward IV’s consort, Elizabeth Woodville, went into labour with her first child, Elizabeth of York, in 1466, the new baby’s maternal grandmother, Jacquetta Woodville, and maternal aunts were present. One of the reasons Richard III seized the throne from Edward IV’s and Elizabeth Woodville’s son Edward V in 1483 was to protect his own interests because he feared young Edward was too much under the influence of his Woodville relatives. For more information about the role of the Woodvilles in the upbringing of Edward IV’s children, see Amy Licence’s biography of Elizabeth of York.
5) Royal Children Experiencing Life Outside Palace Walls
Richard III’s own upbringing was a classic example of a royal child living and learning alongside non-royal peers centuries before Diana sent William to kindergarten. During the Middle Ages, children of English, Welsh and Scottish royalty often spent part of their childhood in a noble household, socializing with young people outside the royal family and receiving their education in a group setting.
The future King Richard III spent part of his childhood in the household of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, where he met his lifelong friend, Francis Lovell, and future wife, Anne Neville. In Warwick’s household, young Richard learned the techniques of medieval warfare alongside other boys from the English nobility. The pressure to match the abilities of his peers may have helped the future King to master horseback riding and the heavy medieval broadsword in spite of his scoliosis. For more information about the childhood of Richard III, see David Baldwin’s biography of the controversial King.
Buckingham Palace announced this week that the Prince of Wales will represent his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this fall in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Queen is committed to her role as Head of the Commonwealth and has attended every one of these biennial meetings since 1971. The decision to send the Prince of Wales to Sri Lanka as the Queen’s representative in 2013 demonstrates that the 87 year old monarch is gradually reducing her overseas travel. In 2012, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh toured the United Kingdom in honour of the Diamond Jubilee while their children and grandchildren visited all the commonwealth realms to mark the occasion. The Prince of Wales’s representation of the Queen at the 2013 CHOGM is part of the broader pattern. Click here for my interview with Janet Davison of CBC about the significance of the Prince of Wales attending CHOGM on the Queen’s behalf.
The Prince of Wales’s visit to Sri Lanka is also an example of the Queen carefully preparing her heir, and public opinion in both the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms, for a seamless transition between this reign and the next one. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother lived to age of 101 and there is no reason to believe that the current Queen will not continue to reign for years to come but there is evidence that the Prince of Wales’s public role will continue to expand in the coming years in anticipation of his eventual ascension to the throne.
Prince Charles has participated in a number of high profile public engagements and commonwealth tours in 2012 and 2013. The role of Head of the Commonwealth is not hereditary. The Prince’s successful Diamond Jubilee tours of Canada, Australia and New Zealand in 2012 and attendance at CHOGM in 2013 affirm his commitment to eventually assuming this role and increase the likelihood that the Commonwealth Heads of Government will choose him as Elizabeth II’s successor as Head of the Commonwealth
Today, May 8, the Prince of Wales accompanied the Queen to the State Opening of Parliament at Westminster with the Duchess of Cornwall, the first time he has attended this event in 17 years. While the attendance of the Prince and Princess of Wales at State Openings of Parliament in the 1980s received public attention because of Diana’s fashions, the 2013 event showcases Charles in his role as future King.
Although Prince Charles’s reputation has improved considerably in recent years with greater public interest in his philanthropic and environment initiatives, successive opinion polls demonstrate that his mother, the Queen, and his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry remain more popular with the general public in both the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. The Prince of Wales’s second marriage to the former Camilla Parker-Bowles, his willingness to express his political opinions publicly and his increasing age have all prompted concerns about his suitability to become King. Prince Charles’s presence at high profile events such as the 2013 CHOGM and the State Opening of Parliament are all opportunities to demonstrate to the public that he has the experience and stature to serve as Head of State for sixteen nations in the twenty-first century.
As a young Princess, the current Queen experienced a similar “apprenticeship” from her father, King George VI that showcased her ability to effectively reign as a constitutional monarch through public engagements, wartime service and commonwealth tours. As Prince William explained to Robert Hardman in the 2011 book, Our Queen, “Back then there was a different attitude toward women. Being a young lady at twenty-five – and stepping into a job which many men thought they could probably do better – it must have been very daunting. And I think there was extra pressure for her to perform.”
George VI ensured that his elder daughter had the necessary training to overcome any skepticism about her ability to fulfill her constitutional role. Beginning in 1939, the thirteen year old Princess studied the history and structure of the British political system with Henry Marten, the Vice Provost of Eton College. During the final year of the Second World War, Elizabeth served at the Mechanical Transport Training Centre run by the Auxiliary Transport Service.
Princess Elizabeth completed her first commonwealth tour with the King and Queen in South Africa in 1947 then represented her father in Canada in 1951 and Kenya in 1952. If King George VI had not died in 1952 at the comparatively young age of fifty-six, this period of apprenticeship would have continued for decades in the manner of the current Prince of Wales’s preparation for his eventual ascension.
The Prince of Wales’s attendance at the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting as the Queen’s representative is part of a broader program of public events that present him to the public in his role as future King. Charles’s recent Diamond Jubilee Commonwealth Tours and presence at the 2013 State Opening of Parliament all demonstrate that he has been carefully prepared for the role of future monarch and that the Queen is planning for a seamless transition between her reign and that of her eldest son.
As the Duchess of Cambridge’s due date nears, there is intense popular interest in what names William and Kate will give the future King or Queen. Click here to read my interview with Janet Davision at CBC.ca about the history of royal baby names and the choices the royal couple may make for the first child’s name.
My op-ed in today’s Ottawa Citizen compares the Royal Succession Bills of 2013 to the 1701 Act of Settlement. On Thursday January 31, the Canadian federal government bill introduced “An Act to Assent to Alterations in the Law Touching the Succession to the Throne” in the House of Commons. The wording and background of the bill has created political controversy because it implies that Canada is simply “assenting” to British legislation rather than crafting its own succession bill for an independent Canadian Crown. The precedent set by the Act of Settlement of 1701 demonstrates the difficulty of succession reform when the monarch is the Head of State of multiple countries. Click here to read the full article in the Ottawa Citizen
On January 22, 2013, Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Lord President of the Council introduced the debate on the Second Reading of the Succession to the Crown Bill in the House of Commons at Westminster. If the bill is passed, it will change the rules governing the succession, legislating that the the first born child of the monarch, male or female, will ultimately succeed to the throne.
The current practice favours the succession rights of younger brothers over their elder sisters. As Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest child, Prince Charles, and his eldest child, Prince William are male, the first generation of the royal family to be affected by the Bill will be the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The Bill dictates that their firstborn child, due in July of 2013, will suceed to the throne regardless of the gender of any younger siblings born. The Succession to the Crown Bill would also lift the provision in the 1701 Act of Settlement preventing anyone in the line of succession who is married to a Roman Catholic from becoming the sovereign.
Clegg argues that the Bill reflects twenty-first century attitudes toward gender and religious equality, stating, “Today we don’t support laws which discriminate on either religious or gender grounds. They have no place in modern Britain and certainly not in our monarchy, an an institution central to our constitution, to the Commonwealth and to our national identity too.”
Although the provisions in the Bill favouring absolute primogeniture and relaxing the religious restrictions on the succession have the support of most members of parliament and all of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, a number of influential people have expressed concerns that the Bill does not address all the implications of succession change. For example, the Succession to the Crown Bill does not address the inheritance of the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides the monarch with his or her personal income.
The Prince of Wales has reportedly expressed private concerns that the religious provisions of the Bill would place his grandchild in a difficult position if he or she were to marry a Roman Catholic. Any children of the union would not be permitted to be both Catholic and in the line of succession because the monarch must still be a member of the Church of England. The House of Lords Constitution Committee has warned that more time is needed to identify constitutional issues that may have been previously overlooked, an implicit critique of any attempt to rush succession reform to precede the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child.
The current debate in the United Kingdom concerning succession reform follows a long tradition of changes to the royal succession having unexpected consequences. The first debate in English history regarding female succession occurred during the reign of King Henry I (1100-1135). After his only legitimate son, William, died in a shipwreck in 1120, Henry ordered his barons to swear allegiance to his daughter Matilda, widow of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, in 1127.
The eleventh and twelfth centuries were a period when the English royal succession was in a state of transition. Henry I’s father, William I gained the English crown through conquest and ruled both England and Normandy despite being born out of wedlock. William the Conqueror’s three surviving sons fought for control of their father’s lands with the youngest, Henry I, emerging as the ultimate victor.
Despite the flexibility of the Norman succession, the potential of a female ruler raised serious concerns for Henry I’s courtiers. Henry’s barons wondered what the status of Matilda’s unpopular second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, would be during her reign and who would serve as a military leader on behalf of a female sovereign. Henry I never addressed these issues during his lifetime, leading some historians to speculate that he hoped to live long enough to proclaim an adult grandson his eventual heir. When Henry died in 1135, his nephew Stephen seized power, leading to a Civil War that would not be settled until Stephen proclaimed Matilda’s son, the future Henry II, heir to the throne in 1153.
The question of female succession became an issue again during the reign of King Henry VIII (1509-1547). The King married six times hoping to secure the succession in the male line. When he died in 1547, his nine year old son Edward was one of few living male descendants of King Henry VII. The King therefore allowed for the possibility of female succession in his will, declaring that his daughters Mary and Elizabeth would succeed if Edward was childless, followed by the descendants of his sister Mary.
As in the twelfth century, the King’s introduction of female succession raised unexpected questions. Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were officially illegitimate at the time of their father’s death. Their inclusion in the King’s will therefore appeared to grant inheritence rights to royal children born out of wedlock. Henry VIII’s will also suggested that the sovereign had the power to unilaterally change the succession.
King Edward VI would attempt to follow his father’s example on his own deathbed in 1553 by altering the succession once more to make his Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey heir to the throne. Decisive action by Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Mary I, stabilized the Tudor succession and set a precedent for future royal women to rule in their own right including the ascension of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558.
By the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714), female succession in the absence of direct male heirs had become an established aspect of English political culture. The introduction of the 1701 Act of Settlement ensuring that the childless Queen’s death would be followed by a Protestant succession, however, created additional political turmoil. In common with the current Succession to the Crown Bill, the Act of Settlement was discussed in parliament, presided over by a constitutional monarch.
While the Whig government argued for parliament’s right to exclude dozens of Roman Catholic dynasts to bestow the crown on the Queen’s Protestant cousin, Sophia of Hanover, a granddaughter of King James I, a number of Tory members of Parliament favoured traditional hereditary succession. Queen Anne herself appeared unenthusiastic about the Act of Settlement and did not invite Sophia or her son, the future George I, to England during her reign.
Once the controversial Act was passed and received royal assent, the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland affirmed that all of Great Britain would acclaim the same monarch when Queen Anne died. England and Scotland had shared a monarch since 1603 but there were concerns that Scotland might follow the Stuart hereditary succession instead of the terms of the Act of Settlement unless a formal union was in place Even with these provisions in place, Sophia questioned whether or not her family would ultimately succeed to the throne, stating “What Parliament does one day, it undoes the next.” George I became King in 1714 but both he and his son George II would face challenges from alternate Stuart heirs until 1745.
During the reigns of King Henry I, King Henry VIII and Queen Anne, attempts to introduce female rule or an exclusively Protestant succession introduced additional political questions that had to be resolved before the crown could pass uncontested to a new monarch. The 2012-2013 Succession to the Crown Bill is following in this long tradition, revealing the complex implications of absolute primogeniture and Roman Catholic royal consorts. Although the third reading and passage of the Bill is currently set for January 28, 2013, these initial changes will undoubtedly precipitate future legislation that addresses the full implications of a new law of succession.
Bringing Them Up Royal: How the Royals Raised Their Children from 1066 to the Present Day is a topical book considering the current circumstances within the royal family. With the announcement in December, 2012 that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will become parents in 2013, there is intense interest how they will raise their child. Potential answers to questions regarding the baby’s name, the influence of parents vs. nannies over the child’s early years and the eventual education of a future monarch may be found in the precedents set by previous members of the royal family. There are centuries of well documented examples of royal parenting that had a profound influence on the characters of successive monarchs.
David Cohen, a psychologist and the author of Diana: Death of a Goddess combines his interests in royalty and child psychology to assess the impact of generations of royal parenting on the monarchy. He places the parenting decisions of successive Kings and Queens in context, discussing changing parenting trends to discern whether a monarch was the product of his or her times or influenced by the unique conditions of a royal upbringing. The majority of the book is devoted to the Hanover dynasty, which was notorious for its quarrels between monarchs and their heirs, and the modern royal family, which has slowly changed its approach to royal child rearing.
Cohen concludes that Queen Victoria’s upbringing was particularly different from the parenting norms of the early nineteenth century as eighteenth century enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau encouraged greater freedom for children. In contrast, the “Kensington system” devised by Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent and her comptroller, John Conroy, strictly regulated all aspects of the princess’s life, refusing to allow her any time alone. Cohen’s psychological approach to royal history informs some interesting insights about past royal parents. Cohen speculates that Prince Albert’s difficulty assimilating into British court society may have contributed to his strictness with his son, the future Edward VII. The Prince Consort may have wanted to ensure his son’s success in an environment that he himself did not entirely understand.
Cohen’s original approach to the material and unique insights, however, are undermined by a number of factual inaccuracies in the text. For example. the Gloucester affair of 1654, when the exiled Queen Henrietta Maria attempted to convert one of her sons to Catholicism concerned her youngest son, Henry, Duke of Gloucester not her second son, the future James II as Cohen states in the text (p. 78-79). Inaccuracies of this kind should be corrected for future editions of the text and the inclusion of genealogical tables would clarify the birth order of large groups of royal siblings for general readers. There are also a number of surprising omissions from the bibliography. Cohen does not appear to have consulted Charles I: Personal Monarch, Charles Carlton’s psychological biography of the ill fated Stuart monarch, which includes in depth analysis of King James I and Anna of Denmark as parents, and their influence over the future King.
There are no footnotes in Bringing Them Up Royal: How the Royals Raised Their Children from 1066 to the Present Day and Cohen comes to some conclusions that do not match existing data and historical analysis. In his discussion of King George V’s place in the extended European royal family, Cohen states, “The irony is that Lenin was a pragmatist and would probably have been quite prepared to let the Tsar sail out of St. Petersburg on a British warship (p. 220).” This statement contradicts evidence, including recent analysis by Helen Rappaport in The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg, that Lenin was directly involved in the decision to murder the entire Imperial family. Cohen also appears to still support conspiracy theories regarding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, which have been firmly refuted by numerous investigations and inquests into the circumstances surrounding the Paris car accident.
Bringing Them Up Royal: How the Royals Raised Their Children from 1066 to the Present Day is an excellent subject for a royal history book during a time of intense interest in how a new generation of royal children will be raised. Cohen places the upbringing of successive royal children within the context of their times, analysing royal parenting trends over the past thousand years. The author’s credibility, however, is undermined by factual inaccuracies, surprising omissions from the bibliography and certain conclusions that are not supported by reliable evidence. Hopefully, a second edition will address these issues and expand on the centuries of precedents for the parenting of royal children.
St. James’s Palace announced today that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their first child. According to the announcement,”The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry and members of both families are delighted with the news.”
The early announcement of the royal pregnancy may have been prompted by the Duchess of Cambridge’s hospitalization for Hyperemesis Gravidarum or acute morning sickness at King Edward VII Hospital in Central London. The palace spokesperson stated, “As the pregnancy is in its very early stages, Her Royal Highness is expected to stay in hospital for several days and will require a period of rest thereafter.”
The new baby, which is expected in 2013 will be Queen Elizabeth II’s third great-grandchild. The Queen’s grandson, Peter Phillips and his wife Autumn have two daughters, Savannah and Isla Phillips. The arrival of the Duchess of Cambridge’s firstborn child, however, will mark the first time since 1894-1901 that there have been four generations of the direct line of the royal family alive at the same time.
On June 23, 1894, the future King Edward VIII was born at White Lodge in Richmond Park, the residence of his parents, the Duke and Duchess of York, future King George V and Queen Mary. A family photograph taken on the occasion of the royal baby’s christening on July 16 marked the momentous occasion. Queen Victoria holds her newborn great-grandson, the fourth in line to the throne, flanked by her eldest son, the future King Edward VII and her grandson, the future King George V. A similar historic photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Prince William and the new baby will undoubtedly be taken at the christening of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first born child.
The new Prince’s godfather, the Duke of York’s cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia, who would become Emperor Nicholas II at the end of that year described the christening and photograph in his journal, writing, “At 5 o’clock, the infant son of Georgie and May was christened at White Lodge in the presence of the whole family. Granny gave him seven names [Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David]. I was one of the godfathers. . . Then we had tea in a marquee in the garden. Four generations had their photograph taken together. There was no rain on the way back,” (Reprinted in Maylunas and Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion, p. 79) Nicholas was newly engaged to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt and Queen Victoria encouraged the future Tsar to call her “Granny.”
The British public was equally interested in the birth of a future monarch. The House of Commons tabled a motion to congratulate Queen Victoria on the birth of the new Prince. The only objection was lodged by the first socialist member of parliament, Kier Hardie, who opposed the motion, stating, “From his childhood onward, this boy will be surrounded by sycophants and flatterers by the score . . .A line will be drawn between him and the people he is called upon to some day reign over. In due course . . .he will be sent on a tour round the world, a probably rumours of a morganatic alliance will follow, and at the end of it the country will be called upon to pay the bill! (Reprinted in Philip Ziegler, King Edward VIII, p. 5-6). In light of Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936 and the generous settlement paid to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor by King George VI, Hardie’s prediction of the young prince’s future seems strangely prescient.
The circumstances surrounding the birth of the future King Edward VIII in 1894 provide a precedent for the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s firstborn child. In 2013, there will once again be four generations in the direct line of succession as there was during the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign.
When the BBC filmed the documentary A Year with the Queen or The Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work chronicling the activities of the royal family over the course of 2007, the filmakers captured a moment of the monarch fulfilling her responsibilities under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. The Queen received a request from her distant cousin, Amelia Beaumont, for permission to marry Simon Murray. The Queen granted her assent in writing, ensuring that their marriage would be legal in the United Kingdom. Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed that this royal permission only be necessary for the first six people in the line of succession, as part of a broader reform of royal succession and marriage law in this year’s session of parliament.
Amelia Beaumont is the great-great granddaughter of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, Queen Victoria’s fourth and youngest son. Her great-grandparents, the Earl and Countess of Athlone served as the Vice-Regal couple in Canada during the Second World War, presiding over the 1943 and 1944 Quebec Conferences where Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King of Canada planned the Allied strategies for victory over Germany and Japan. Beaumont’s grandmother, Lady May Abel Smith (nee Cambridge) was a bridesmaid to the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Despite this illustrious lineage, it is highly unlikely that Amelia Beaumont will ever succeed to the throne. A list of the descendants of Sophia of Hanover compiled on January 1, 2011 estimated that Beaumont was 432nd in the line of succession at that time, below the King of Norway (a descendant of King Edward VII), and senior members of the exiled Russian Imperial Family and exiled Romanian and Yugoslavian royal families (descendants of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh).
Despite Beaumont’s remote claim the throne, her marriage to Murray would not be legal without the sovereign’s express permission. According to the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, ”No descendant of the body of his late Majesty King George the Second, male or female, (other than the issue of princesses who have married, or may hereafter marry into foreign families,) shall be capable of contracting matrimony without the previous consent of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, signified under the great seal, and declared in council (which consent, to preserve the memory thereof, is hereby directed to be set out in the licence and register of marriage, and to be entered in the books of the Privy Council); and that every marriage, or matrimonial contract, of any such descendant, without such consent first had and obtained, shall be null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.” An exception was granted to members of the royal family over the age of twenty-five who could marry the person of their choice after giving a year’s notice to the Privy Council, provided both Houses of Parliament did not express disapproval.
The Royal Marriages Act reflected both the eighteenth century perception of suitable royal matches and King George III’s attempts to exert control over his fractious extended family. Royalty of the period were expected to marry other royalty. George III had dutifully given up hope of marrying his first love, Lady Sarah Lennox, sister of the Duke of Richmond for a dynastic marriage to Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Lennox served as one of the ten bridesmaids at the royal wedding.
King George proposed the Act in 1771 when his two surviving brothers contracted marriages to commoners. The legislation affected generations of royal couples, most notably the future King George IV, whose first wedding to a Roman Catholic widow, Maria Fitzherbert, took place in 1785 without King George III’s consent and was therefore not legally valid. (George IV went on to have a spectacularly unhappy legal marriage to Princess Caroline of Brunswick.) While the Act was originally drafted to control the actions of King George III’s siblings and children, its provisions now apply to hundreds of people.
In his recent work, Our Queen, Robert Hardman researched how the Royal Marriages Act is currently received by the sovereign’s distant relatives. He writes, “Most couples with a royal ancestor are, of course, thrilled, to get their union personally blessed by the Monarch but the Privy Council Office is aware of some exceptions. They need not fear a knock on the door from the royal wedding police, however. ‘We don’t go looking for them,’ says one of the team. ‘We take a pragmatic view. It’s a case of don’t ask, don’t tell (157).” This interview indicates that the Royal Marriages Act is no longer being enforced for more remote cousins of the royal family.
Prime Minister Cameron’s proposal that only the first six people in the line of succession should require the sovereign’s consent to marry reflects the current circumstances of the monarchy. George III’s concerns about the narrow suitability of royal marriage partners appears antiquated in the twenty-first century, when the Duchess of Cornwall is a divorcee, the Duchess of Cambridge comes from a middle class family, and both their weddings took place with the Queen’s permission. The changes to the Royal Marriages Act will deny thousands of people a souvenir of their royal ancestry but reflect the reality of the present day monarchy.