display | more...

For centuries, a group of closely related families have occupied the thrones of Europe. The well-known saying 'The King is dead; long live the King!' illustrates a key point about the mechanism of this rule. When a monarch dies, there is (usually) a fresh monarch who automatically inherits the title. How is this person selected? In some kingdoms, such as Poland, and Saxon England, the king was elected by a council of nobles. But in most cases, the crown is subject to a law, known as a law of succession, which determines who the heir is in each case, usually from among the dead monarch's children and siblings. These laws, of which there are four principal types, are characterised by their degree of sex discrimination. The extreme conservative case is known as the Salic Law, and states that no woman may inherit or transmit the crown. A variation, known as semi-Salic, states that a woman may inherit the crown in the absence of any male heirs. (The precise definition of 'any male heirs' isn't clear, and was a problem in the run-up to the Wars of the Spanish and Austrian Successions.) Male primogeniture states that male children in a given generation inherit before any sisters, but that a monarch's or heir's daughters come before his or her brothers. A recent innovation is strict primogeniture, in which the eldest child is always the heir.

Additionally, different countries have various additional rules which may disqualify an heir. In many countries, the royalty is treated as a race apart, and any royal who marries a non-royal (referred to as a 'commoner', even if noble) forfeits the rights of any children from the marriage. This is called a morganatic marriage, and the royal partner retains his or her personal rights of succession. British law has never recognised such a distinction. However, under the Act of Settlement 1701, any British royal who marries a Roman Catholic, or who becomes one, forfeits his or her own rights. Another law which is quite common is that members of the royal house (however defined) must have the consent either of the monarch, or of parliament, to marry, and will be demoted to the nobility if they marry without the appropriate consent.

To illustrate these various laws, let's have a look at the royal family of Ruritania. King Adalbert is the ruling monarch, and his wife, Queen Yolanda, is a former Princess of Hochherzbrech. Their children are thus all considered royal. Prince Max, Princess Lucia, and Princess Maria are all royal, too. Julia Schmidt, on the other hand, comes from a long line of merchant bankers, and is a Roman Catholic. (The religion of the rest of the Ruritanians doesn't matter, except for a special case below that assumes they're not Roman Catholics.) At present, these are all Adalbert's descendants. None of his children is likely to re-marry or to have any more children, and no-one can predict which of his grandchildren will have heirs. Once these lines of succession are exhausted, siblings, and then cousins, of Adalbert will stand to inherit under the same rules.


                 King Adalbert = Queen Yolanda
                               |
     /-------------------------+----------------+------------------------\
     |                         |                |                        |
Princess    Prince Max of    Prince   Julia   Prince  Princess Lucia  Prince  Princess Maria
Beatrice = Holstein-Pilsen    Carl = Schmidt  Denis = of Trabant      Emich = of Glauber-Salz
         |                         |                |                       |
 Prince Friedrich                Gustaf       Princess Hermione         Prince Ingolf

If Ruritania follows the Salic Law, and behaves like most of the other countries that do, then the order of succession is as follows:

  • Adalbert
  • Carl
  • Denis
  • Emich
  • Ingolf
    • Ingolf's male heirs
Beatrice is passed over because she's female, as is Hermione. Carl can inherit, but because Julia is a commoner, Gustaf can't. In fact, Gustaf won't even be counted as royal, and will have to put up with being Count of Pitzburg. Prince Friedrich will be regarded as a Prince of Holstein-Pilsen, and ignored.

If Ruritania follows the semi-Salic tradition, and behaves like Austria, where the tradition was developed, the order of succession is like this:

  • Adalbert
  • Carl
  • Denis
  • Emich
  • Ingolf
    • Ingolf's heirs
  • Hermione
    • Hermione's heirs
Beatrice still gets passed over, and so does Friedrich. Hermione gets passed over initially, but if Ingolf fails to have children, she'll inherit. If Ingolf only has daughters, the case is a little ambiguous. If Adalbert or Denis outlived Emich, and was sure Ingolf had no sons, he could probably fix the succession on her. But if Emich survives Denis and Adalbert, he could ensure that his own granddaughters came before his older niece. A brother of Adalbert would have a better claim than any of Adalbert's female descendants.

If Ruritania follows male primogeniture, and behaves like the United Kingdom, where this rule applies, the order of succession is like this:

  • Adalbert
  • Carl
  • Gustaf
    • Gustaf's heirs
  • Denis
  • Hermione
    • Hermione's heirs
  • Emich
  • Ingolf
    • Ingolf's heirs
  • Beatrice
  • Friedrich
    • Friedrich's heirs
Beatrice still gets passed over, as she has brothers. Gustaf will be Prince Gustaf of Ruritania, and second in line to the throne, as long as Ruritania doesn't have morganatic marriages. If it does, Gustaf and his heirs will be skipped, as before. On the other hand, if Ruritania were governed by the Act of Settlement (1700 or 1701 version), Gustaf was not Roman Catholic, Gustaf would be in line, but not Carl. Because Denis is before both Beatrice and Emich in the succession, so are Hermione and her heirs. Beatrice can inherit now, but only if all her brothers, nieces, and nephews predecease her.

If Ruritania follows strict primogeniture, the order of succession is as follows:

  • Adalbert
  • Beatrice
  • Friedrich
    • Friedrich's heirs
  • Carl
  • Gustaf
    • Gustaf's heirs
  • Denis
  • Hermione
    • Hermione's heirs
  • Emich
  • Ingolf
    • Ingolf's heirs
This may not make a lot of difference to Ingolf (although he may wish Ruritania had the Salic Law after all), but Beatrice is now heir to the throne! Friedrich will be a Prince of Ruritania, too. As before, Gustaf's inheritance is forfeit if Ruritania has morganatic marriages.


The following thrones are or were governed by the Salic Law or its equivalent:

The following thrones use (or last used) semi-Salic inheritance:

The following thrones are or were subject to male-first primogeniture:

The following thrones are all subject to strict primogeniture:

Data on the thrones affected by these laws is adapted from the alt.talk.royalty FAQ at http://www.heraldica.org/faqs/atrfaq.htm

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.