How the British Royal Family’s line of succession is regulated

A little-known rule spelled out on the Royal Family's official website shows succession to the throne is actually regulated by the British Parliament. Source: Getty Images

Unbeknownst to many, the regulation of the British Royal Family’s line of succession stands as a meticulous blend of tradition, legal statutes, and constitutional principles.

While many presume the British throne’s line of succession follows a simple pattern, with the eldest child of the reigning Monarch being next in line, this assumption overlooks a lesser-known regulation detailed on the official website of the British Royal Family.

As per the website, the British Parliament, along with the Act of Settlement, governs the succession to the throne, allowing for the possibility of denying ascension based on “misgovernment”.

The website explains that the framework for succession was established in the 17th century, formalised through the Bill of Rights (1689) and the Act of Settlement (1701).

This historical development followed the flight of James II from the country in 1688, leading Parliament to declare his abdication and the throne’s vacancy.

Consequently, James’ son was denied succession, with Parliament favouring his daughter, Mary and her husband, William of Orange, as joint rulers.

This period solidified the understanding that the Monarch not only governs through Parliament but also that Parliament has the authority to regulate succession to the throne, enabling the potential deprivation of a sovereign’s title due to misgovernment.

Furthermore, the website says the Act of Settlement outlines several rules about who exactly can inherit the throne.

“A Roman Catholic is specifically excluded from succession to the throne,” the website read.

“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.”

Speaking to Australian historian Cindy McCreery unpacked the Monarchy’s intricate line of succession.

McCreery commented that while it would be highly unlikely, the British Parliament could indeed change the line of succession.

“It’s definitely possible,” she said.

“It would really only be in a case of a dire or extreme circumstance, such as that someone had committed a criminal act or was about to commit a criminal act.

“It would have to be some sort of emergency.”

In the end, the British Royal Family’s line of succession reveals itself as a fascinating mix of tradition, law, and the resilience of constitutional principles, reminding us that even the throne is bound by the rules of the game.

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