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St. Edward’s Crown

Elizabeth II, Queen of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Frequently on social media I will see posts by people that think the Queen should give the throne to the Duke of Cambridge, bypassing the Prince of Wales. These people generally are not fans of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. The truth is the Queen has absolutely no power to give the crown to anyone.

She cannot legally bypass the Prince of Wales and give the crown to the Duke of Cambridge. The succession to the throne is regulated by Parliament through its laws and statutes and this authority to control the succession has been in the hands of Parliament for centuries. Therefore, it would take an Act of Parliament to remove the Prince of Wales from his rightful place in the order of the succession. There are no plans to do so, nor is there any reason or need to alter the succession.

Here is a brief history of the power to control the succession.

Even during the reigns of the Anglo-Saxon kings the power to regulate or name your successor was not in the hands of the monarch. That power was in the hands of the Witenagemot (Witan) a council of elders. At the time the English kingship was elective and semi-hereditary. The Witenagemot had the power to name and elect the king and they limited their choices to princes within the House of Wessex. The Witenagemot didn’t follow succession based on male primogeniture, they would often select a brother of the pervious King especially if the king left children too young to reign.

In 1066 when William I “the Conqueror” became king he abolished the Witenagemot and  became the first English king to hold the power and right to name his successor. Although at this time the king did hold this power, the will of the king was not always followed. Case in point was Henry I of England (1100-1134) who named his only surviving child, his daughter, the Empress Matilda, as his successor. Empress Matilda was the widow of Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich V. However, despite the Barons swearing an oath to uphold the succession of the Empress Matilda, this oath was ignored upon King Henry’s death allowing the King’s nephew, Count Stephen of Blois, to usurp the throne, plunging England into many years of civil war.

Eventually the crown evolved into the male preferred primogeniture that remained the law of the Kingdom up until recently. Also, concurrent with the settling into the tradition of male preferred primogeniture, came the rise of Parliament which also tried to influence the crown in matters of succession. When Henry IV (1399-1412) usurped the crown from Richard II (1377-1399) he had his kingship sanctioned by Parliament to give his reign legal status.

Even when monarchs such as Henry VIII (1509-1547) and his son Edward VI (1547-1553) tried to alter the succession they were unable to assert their will without Parliamentary approval. Henry VIII did succeed in making his daughters Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate and removing them from their place in the succession. However, Henry VIII’s last queen, Catherine Parr helped reconcile Henry with his daughters. In 1543, an Act of Parliament put them back in the line of succession after Edward. The same act allowed Henry to determine further succession to the throne in his will.

One of Henry’s desires was to exclude the descendants of the union of his sister Margaret and King James IV of Scotland. Henry VIII’s successor, Edward VI, tried to bypass his sisters Mary and Elizabeth and give the throne to his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, desiring to maintain the Protestant faith which Mary would certainly (and did) return the English Church to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Elizabeth I, Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Parliament did not sanction altering the succession that Edward VI attempted. This was another reason Lady Jane is considered a usurper. However, had the attempted usurpation by Lady Jane Grey, lead by her Father-in-Law John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, been successful and thereby solidifying Lady Jane’s position as the first Queen Regnant of England, it is very plausible Parliament would have sanctioned her reign by passing it’s own statute or legalizing the Will of King Edward VI.

James I-VI, King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) was the last monarch who had power to name her successor given the fact that she left no issue. This was a power she refused to use as she did not name her successor, although historians debate whether or not she did name her distant cousin, King James VI of Scotland, as her successor. However, during the reign of Elizabeth I concerns were once again raised about who would succeed the childless queen. Although Margaret’s (Henry VIII’s sister) line had been excluded from the English succession, in the last decade of her reign it was clear to all that James VI of Scotland, great-grandson of James IV and Margaret, was the only generally acceptable heir. In the end Henry VIII’s will was bipassed.

Another succession crisis, called the Exclusion Crisis, which ran from 1679 through 1681 in the reign of King Charles II when three Exclusion Bills sought to exclude the King’s brother and heir presumptive, James, Duke of York, from the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland because he was Roman Catholic. None became law. Two new parties, Tories and Whigs, formed as a result. The Tories were opposed to this exclusion while the “Country Party”, who were soon to be called the Whigs, supported it. The matter of James’s exclusion was not decided in Parliament during Charles’s reign, representing the last time a monarch asserted his power of controlling the succession.

After two failed attempts to pass the Bill, Charles succeeded in labelling the Whigs as subversives. Louis XIV of France offered financial support to Charles, allowing him to dissolve the 1681 Oxford Parliament. It was not called again during his reign, depriving the Whigs of their main goal. This crisis between Crown and Parliament almost caused another English Civil War.

James II-VII, King of England, Scotland and Ireland

The Duke of York became King James II-VII of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1685 and the tension between Crown and Parliament reached a head when he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It was the abandonment of the throne by James II-VII in 1688 which lead to the Convention Parliament calling William III of Orange and Princess Mary, daughter of the deposed king, to rule jointly as king and queen.

This act was legalized when William III called for the election of a new Parliament which passed the Crown and Parliament Recognition Act of 1689. Also, With the Passing of the Act of Settlement in 1701, which regulated the throne to the Protestant descendants of the Electress Sophia of Hanover. With this Act Parliament then held held the complete power to regulate the succession to the crown and it’s a power they’veThe most held ever since.

William II-III, King of England, Scotland, Ireland and Stadholder of the Netherlands.

Although France isn’t England, even the great powerful Louis XIV of France and Navarre (1643-1715), an absolute monarch, was unable to alter the succession to the French throne when he wanted to give succession rights to his legitimized children after the Princes of the Blood. This demonstrates how difficult it is for a monarch to alter the succession to the crown.

The most recent example of Parliament altering the succession was when Male preferred primogeniture ended when Parliament (and all members of the Commonwealth) passed the Crown Act of 2013 which left the succession to the Crown to the eldest child of the Sovereign regardless of gender.

I hope this short history lesson demonstrates why the Queen cannot alter the succession to the crown by giving the throne to the Duke of Cambridge bypassing the Prince of Wales.