Had the proposed changes to the rules governing succession to the Crown had been in place in the late 18th century, would David Cameron now stand in line to the throne? The answer, I think, is yes, maybe.
The Prime Minister has written to the heads of government of the 15 states aside from the UK of which the Queen is monarch, proposing various changes to the rules. This letter is not in the public domain, although a number of comments have been made publicly at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Australia, where the matter is to be discussed. According to the BBC, Mr Cameron’s proposals include a change from male-preference primogeniture, so that a woman could succeed ahead of her brothers if she were older than them, and an end to the ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic. In addition, amendments would be made to the legislation which, broadly speaking, requires descendants of George II to obtain the monarch’s permission to marry. This is the Royal Marriages Act 1772, the same instrument that led Mr Cameron’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, the Duke of Clarence, later William IV, to cohabit with the Irish actress Dorothea Bland, and thereby to render their offspring illegitimate, rather than to marry her. Their relationship began around 20 years after the 1772 Act.
David Cameron is the great, great, great grandson of Elizabeth Fitzclarence (Jan 17, 1801 – Jan 16, 1856) who was an illegitimate daughter of William IV and Dorothea Bland who was known by her stage name as ‘Mrs Jordan’. They lived together for 20 years when he was Duke of Clarence and had 5 sons and 5 daughters. When he became heir to the throne William married Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen but they had no surviving children so when he died having no legitimate children his niece Victoria became Queen.
According to the BBC, the proposed change is to limit the application of the Act to the first six people in line to the throne. William was the third son of George III, and his older brothers produced only one legitimate child, Princess Charlotte, who died before succeeding. William was therefore within the first six in line throughout his life, so he would still have been covered had the proposed new arrangements applied at the time. Assuming he had made the same decision not to seek approval to marry an actress, then his daughter and Mr Cameron’s ancestor, Elizabeth FitzClarence, would still have been illegitimate. But Dorothea was a Catholic. If this was the reason that William chose not to marry his loved one of 20 years then the proposed rules may have changed the situation at the time. He may have married Dorethea and made his kids ‘legit’ heirs to throne. Who knows what the quirks of fate might have applied to the Royal bloodline. Anyway, it’s an interesting talking point.
For interest, and since it is very short, this is the text of the 1772 Act:
1: No descendant of his late Majesty, Geo. 2. (other than the issue of princesses married, or who may marry into foreign families) shall be capable of contracting matrimony without the previous consent of his Majesty, his heirs, &c. signified under the great seal, declared in council, and entered in the Privy Council books.Every Marriage of any such descendant, without such consent, shall be null and void.
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.
2: In case any descendant of Geo. 2. being above 25 years old, shall persist to contract a marriage disapproved of by his Majesty, such descendant, after giving 12 months notice to the Privy Council, may contract such marriage; and the same may be duly solemnized, without the previous consent of his Majesty; and shall be good; except both Houses of Parliament shall declare their disapproval thereof.
Provided always that in case any such descendant of the body of his late Majesty King George the Second, being above the age of twenty-five years, shall persist in his or her resolution to contract a marriage disapproved of, or dissented from, by the King, his heirs or successors; that then such descendant, upon giving notice to the King’s Privy Council, which notice is hereby directed to be entered in the books thereof, may, at any time from the expiration of twelve calendar months after such notice given to the Privy Council as aforesaid, contract such marriage; and his or her marriage with the person before proposed and rejected, may be duly soleminized, without the previous consent of his Majesty, his heirs or successors; and such marriage shall be good, as if this Act had never been made, unless both Houses of Parliament shall, before the expiration of the said twelve months, expressly declare their disapprobation of such intended marriage.
I understand that we are unlikely to see a formal detailed statement on any changes after CHOGM, but that the outlines of an agreed way forward may be given in the next few weeks.