The Women Who “Should” be Queen
In 2011 the prime ministers of the 16 Commonwealth nations agreed to change the laws of royal succession. No longer would girls be overlooked in the line of succession to the British throne by their younger brothers. In 2013, Parliament passed The Succession to the Crown Act eliminating male primogeniture to the Crown.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II heartily approved of the change and gave her Royal Assent in 2013. The law was brought into effect on March 26, 2015.
So now, males born after October 28, 2011 will have to yield their position in the line of succession to their elder sisters. The Act, however, is not retroactive, meaning Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, will not leapfrog over her younger brothers, The Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex, in the order of succession. (Not that I believe she minds one bit.)
At the time of this writing, the Duchess of Cambridge has not had her second child. But if a girl, she would remain 4th in line to the throne regardless of any younger brothers born.
We at e-Royalty give a hearty cheer for this change. In the modern world, where monarchy is merely constitutional and holds no real political power, we say about time. Although, a girl in England ascending to the throne ahead of her younger brothers may not happen for three more generations, if and when Prince George expects his first child.
But looking back through history – especially Plantagenet and Tudor history – how would England have been affected if older girls could have succeeded ahead of their younger brothers, or succeeded if there were no males. Would there have been the battles, invasions and murders, if it was simply recognized that girls were equal to boys in their right to succeed?
Let’s take a flight of fancy for a moment and imagine how England and history may have been different if The Succession of the Crown Act of 2013 had been passed in 1113 instead.
Who were the women that should have been queen?
Let’s start with the Mother of the Plantagenet Dynasty – Matilda. She was the daughter of Henry I, the grandson of William the Conqueror. She had an older brother, William the Atheling, but sadly he died in the wreck of the White Ship in 1120. Henry rushed to name his daughter heir and married her off to Geoffrey of Anjou (aka Plantagenet). The nobles sort of went along with the idea when Henry was alive, but never followed through after he died. Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, claimed the throne which touched off a brutal Civil War that lasted 18 years. Matilda basically lost, but when her son Henry was old enough, he threatened Stephen with more war. Stephen knew he couldn’t win and declared Henry his heir. And so began the Plantagenet Dynasty that lasted for over 300 years.
But if Matilda had been recognized as queen under The Act of Succession of 1113, no bloody 18-year Civil War would have occurred. She would have still been the mother of a dynasty, but also queen.
Matilda, Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria
Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s oldest daughter was Matilda, born in 1156. She was their third child and had two older brothers, William and Henry, who died before her father. In our brave new world of succession equality, Matilda would have been next in line to the throne.
She married the Duke of Saxony and Bavaria in 1168 and had 10 children. She, too, died before her father in 1189, so she never would have sat on the throne of England. Her eldest child, a daughter named Richenza, who was married to the Count of Perche would have succeeded her grandfather Henry II. This means there would have been no King Richard, although he still would have been the powerful Duke of Aquitaine. And, more importantly, there would have been no King John … and perhaps no Magna Carta.
Eleanor, Countess of Barr
Eleanor was the eldest child and eldest daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. She married Henry III, Count of Bar. Her eldest child was Edward I, Count of Bar. While Eleanor died before her father, her son, Edward would have inherited the English throne.
While we know that Edward II came to the throne after his father’s death, Edward was the 14th child of Edward and Eleanor. His three older brothers died as children, but he had two more older sisters that married and had children. Under the modern Act of Succession, Edward II never would have been King of England.
Elizabeth of York
Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She had two younger brothers, Edward and Richard. They were 10 and 13 at the time of their father’s death. Elizabeth was a much older 17 and would have become queen in her own right if we were living in our alternate succession universe.
Richard III still may have become king if the allegations of Elizabeth’s parents’ marriage being illegal were ever proven. But it would have been much harder for all ten of Edward IV’s children to disappear in order for Richard to succeed to the throne. The idea of male primogeniture was so ingrained that at the time of the disappearance of her brothers, no one was making a case for Elizabeth to be queen. Instead they were looking at Henry Tudor, a man with a very slim claim to the throne and certainly not greater than Elizabeth’s. Elizabeth became Henry’s wife and Queen of England, but as Consort and not by succession.
Margaret was the second child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Her older brother was Arthur and her younger brother was Henry. Sadly, Arthur died at age 15 and it would have been Margaret who would have become queen in 1509 at the death of her father, not Henry VIII. She had been married to the King of Scotland in 1503, perhaps uniting the two kingdoms 100 years before it actually occurred when her great-grandson, James VI became James I of England in 1603.
Margaret had a son James who became James V of Scotland. But if his mother had become Queen of England, she would have reigned 32 years until her death in 1541. Then her son James would have become King of England until his death in 1542, where his infant daughter Mary would have become Queen of England, followed by the aforementioned James VI of Scotland, who in this alternate reality would be James II, instead of the first.
Then we wouldn’t have had to worry about Henry VIII’s desperate attempts at a son. Henry most likely would have become a Cardinal and perhaps Pope. England would have stayed Catholic. Instead of the glorious reign of Elizabeth I, we would have had the who-knows-what reign of Mary, Queen of Scotland and England in her own right, which is how she styled herself in the real universe and what led to her execution.
And finally, there is Mary Tudor, eldest daughter of King Henry VIII, and the first Queen of England to rule in her own right. But, her rule came after the untimely death of her younger brother, Edward VI. She was already 21 years old when her younger brother was born and 31 when her father died. By the time, she came to the throne after Edward VI died, she was a 37-year-old spinster. She quickly married Philip I of Spain, but died childless (and a little bit mad?) just 5 years later.
But what if… she had been celebrated from birth as the lawful heir to the throne with no need to worry about younger brothers? Would Henry have turned his kingdom upside down, divorced and banished his first wife and murdered his second wife in his ill-fated quest for a son. Would England have remained Catholic? Would Mary have married a Dauphin of France at an early age (as initially promised before the nasty divorce business), uniting the two countries into one? Would they have had lots of Catholic children to rule England and France? If so, Elizabeth would never have come to the throne, neither would James VI of Scotland. Would Scotland have remained an independent monarchy and country?
It’s all fascinating and fun to ponder the great what ifs of history – what we would have lost or gained if male primogeniture had been done away with a thousand years ago.
But today, let’s congratulate Great Britain and the Commonwealth for finally recognizing the equality of women as monarchs. After all, their most glorious and long-serving monarchs have all been women, Elizabeth I, Victoria and Elizabeth II. God Save the Queen!