U.K. Eyes Modification Of Succession Rules British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is attempting to lift a centuries-long ban on Catholics marrying into the royal family. Simon Hoggart, a columnist for The Guardian newspaper in London, offers his insight.

U.K. Eyes Modification Of Succession Rules

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/102448031/102447996" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Ever since 1701, when the Brits put their religious wars behind them, there has been an ironclad rule - the monarch of England is of the Church of England. If a royal wants to convert to Catholicism that would mean stepping out of the line of succession. Well now, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he's looking to reform that restriction as well as another one - the preference given to princes over princesses. Joining us to talk about this from London is Simon Hoggart of The Guardian newspaper, welcome back.

Mr. SIMON HOGGART (Guardian newspaper): Hello.

SIEGEL: The prime minister is talking about revising the 1701 Act of Settlement. Is it really time yet to do that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOGGART: To 1701, it might just be yes. It all dates back - and like all things involving the British constitution it becomes completely wild and crazy at the very early stage - but it dates back to Henry the VIII more than hundred years before. He had a fight with the Pope about getting divorced from one of his wives. Therefore he decided to set up his own church called the Church of England and bizarrely ever since that time the monarch of England, or Britain as it now is, is the head of the church. So of course you couldn't have them being involved in a rival church. At any moment, you could have Queen joining the church of scientology or the Mormons or anything else.

So it does seem a little bit odd but these are such fast changing times that having decided that it would make a rather nice gesture to the very many Roman Catholics who live in Britain - it would be like saying you're fully inclusive, you're part of the family like having, I might say, a black president just to take an example at random.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: I see. So what you're saying is that there could be someone sitting on the throne who is a Roman Catholic and would that person then still be the titular head of the Church of England.

Mr. HOGGART: Well, that's what not been sorted out and that's what's going to take a lot of time and you can bet there will be a lot of conservative old traditionalists who say, no, no, we can't possibly do that. The monarch is the head of the Church of England, nothing will ever change that, there can't possibly a Roman Catholic. So Gordon Brown can say well that's completely irrelevant, we haven't had a Catholic in the family for a very long time. But interestingly, one of the Queen's grandsons, Peter Phillips, did marry a Roman Catholic woman and she did indeed change her faith - nominally I suppose - when she got married a year or so back.

So it actually does have some slight effect. She was a very, very nice Canadian girl who I knew very slightly. She was the PA to one of our more popular TV stars as you can see the royal family has been steadily moving down market.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Now on to the other issue - the gender preference. Let's say that there were no automatic preference in favor of a male heir. How would that, say, upset the current line of succession to the throne?

Mr. HOGGART: Oh, it wouldn't affect it at all because even if Prince Charles has to die before his mother, which is perfectly possible I suppose given that he's now 60, then his eldest son would be the next in line to the throne - the eldest child of the eldest child. But if he had not been born, or if he had been born after his sister, Anne, she would be next in line for the throne if they were to change the law. But that's again a long way off having any meeting at all since we're looking down a line of males for sometime.

Don't you think that it is bizarre that it has not been changed before? When you think about the - almost certainly - the three most popular and successful monarchs we've ever had in this country are Queen Elizabeth followed by Queen Victoria followed by Queen Elizabeth II, who hasn't had quite so much work to do but has been a sort of loyal, faithful servant of the people for more than 50 years now. They've got a pretty good track record, the women who've had that job, and does seem rather absurd that they should be overlooked for the sake of some of the men who've been pretty, pretty hopeless when you look at them.

SIEGEL: Simon Hoggart of the Guardian. Thank you very much for talking with us once again.

Mr. HOGGART: Thank you

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.