Of Kings and Consequence

One of my signature courses is British Literature.  So I don’t mind deviating from the normal focus of this blog to dabble in a little Anglophilia.

The British monarch’s first-born child, whether a girl or a boy, will ascend the throne under new succession rules approved Friday by Commonwealth nations, reversing centuries of tradition.

Commonwealth national leaders also agreed […] to lift a ban on monarchs marrying Roman Catholics, British Prime Minister David Cameron said.


“Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some of the outdated rules — like some of the rules of succession — just don’t make sense to us any more,” Cameron told reporters in Perth.

“The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic — this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become,” he added.

Commonwealth Nations Change Royal Succession Rules – NYTimes.com

For those of us that pay attention to these matters, the historical significance is rather shocking!  Generations upon generations of warfare and political intrigue have impacted British history – and world history! – because of the rules of succession in England.  The three big restrictions – divorces, women, and Catholics – have all now been lifted!

Just think about how different things could have been in the reign of King Henry VIII if even ONE of those three weren’t at issue!  The entire course of human history has pivoted on hairpin turns related to these issues, and in one understated swoop, Queen Elizabeth II has finally turned the page of the Commonwealth to the modern era.  Her namesake would have ascended to the throne earlier under these new rules, avoiding Bloody Mary and heaven only knows how much violence.  Charles I might never have been executed, avoiding the Interregnum and the excess of Oliver Cromwell.  Indeed, Elizabeth II might not even be the monarch, since her uncle Edward VII could have remained king alongside Queen Wallis Simpson!

But then we never would have been able to watch The King’s Speech, and where’s the fun in all that?

Certainly we are long past time as a human society where certain institutions, even largely ceremonial ones like the British monarchy, need to be updated for the modern age.  It’s just amazing to me that these monumental shifts take place with such little fanfare.  What resulted in an abdication crisis a generation or two ago has now yielded first to Charles & Camilla (divorcées) and now Wills & Kate (commoner).

Winston Churchill said “It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead.  The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.”  He lived in interesting times.  I believe that we still do.


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