The Daily Mail reports today that Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, intends to unpick the 1701 Act of Settlement (with the permission of the heads of government of the Commonwealth Realms, of course) to enable – horror! – female offspring of the reigning Monarch to have equal “rights” to the throne with their male siblings. In addition, he wants the Monarch or an heir to the throne to be able to marry a Roman Catholic (as they will insist on calling us) without renouncing his right to be king. Such a move is, naturally, supported by the Catholic Bishops.
Now, doesn’t all that sound terribly pretty and nice? So why do I have to make a problem, where clearly a little positive thinking and being happy that “Roman” Catholics have once again been accepted into the great and the good of British society, would make me much happier? I simply cannot help myself. I am pressing my imagination to come up with a situation in which it would be a good thing for an English Monarch to be married to a Catholic (yet without being a Catholic him or herself – remember he is Supreme Governor of the Church of England), and having children who in turn, as potential Monarchs themselves, dare not be brought up in the Catholic faith since should they ever come to the throne they would potentially have to renounce their faith. In other words, a Catholic married to a King or Queen could not bring his or her children up in the Faith, and if they did, they would be placed in the unenviable position of choosing between one crown and another on coming to adulthood. I am aware that this, and its diametrical, is a question faced occasionally by Kings historically, but how is this the answer to enshrine such difficulties in revision of the law intended to produce greater equality, in 2009? No, only a really thorough revision of the situation of the Church of England and the Monarch’s relationship to it would achieve anything near a resolution to the question of Catholicism and Princes which has simmered away in Britain for hundreds of years.
The other part, the getting rid of primogeniture, is not really terribly controversial I don’t think. However, I really don’t think it necessary in Britain, certainly not in order to make things “fairer”. The fact is we have never struggled, ever, in our history for magnificent Queens even despite the law of succession favouring male heirs.