The British Line of Succession

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The British Crown is unquestionably the best-known monarchy in the world. As with all monarchies, there is a strict line of succession featuring many names you’ve probably heard of: Prince Charles, Prince William, and little Prince George. 

However, the rules regarding succession are more elaborate than most people realize, and the number of people in the line of succession now goes into the thousands. 

Moreover, the current line of succession isn’t the only one out there. If history had gone down a different path, the current British Monarch might very well be someone else entirely.

Learn more about how they determine who becomes the King or Queen of the United Kingdom on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

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The current British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II,  can trace her roots back over 1,200 years to the reign of Alfred the Great who’s reign began in the year 871. Alfred was the first true King of England.

Since then, over 32 generations have passed, and the crown has managed, mostly, to be handed down from one successive generation to the next.

I’d guess most of the people listening to this, regardless of where they reside, probably are aware of the next in line to the British Throne: Prince Charles is the heir apparent, Prince William, his son, is next in line, and Prince George, great-grandson of the Queen, is third in line. 

The list beyond those three is very long but, to be totally honest, nothing else really matters. The person who is 19th in line will statistically never come anywhere close to the crown unless there is some improbable event that happens and plot of the movie King Ralph happens to play out. 

Nonetheless, while the rest of the list is pretty much irreverent for actual succession to the crown, it is a pretty fascinating list, and the rules for the list deserve some diving into. 

There are several laws that dictate the rules of succession. The Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Act of Settlement of 1701 restrict succession to the throne to the legitimate descendants of Sophia of Hanover who are in “communion with the Church of England”.

So, who is Sophia of Hanover and why is the entire British monarchy set up around her? 

Sophia of Hanover was born in 1658 and was the daughter of Elizabeth Stuart and the granddaughter of James VI of England and James I of Scotland. (That’s the same person, by the way, it was just that they had a different number of James’ in England and Scotland, so he got two numbers).  She was also, notably, the mother of King George I of Great Britain. 

King James was the person who unified the kingdoms of Scotland and England by birth, after the death of Queen Elizabeth the first. 

After the death of James, they had a whole bunch of problems in Britain. He was succeeded by King Charles I who was overthrown in the English Revolution and beheaded. Charles was Protestant but had married a Catholic wife. 

After 11 years of benign a republic, the restored the monarchy with Charle’s son, and heir to the crown, Charles II. Charles II was well-liked by the people, but unfortunately, he had no legitimate children. He had a lot of children, at least 11 of them, but none of whom were born in wedlock. 

After his death, the crown passed to his brother James II/VII (again with the two numbers).  James, unfortunately, was Catholic, and unlike his father, was not at all popular, especially with the Parliament. He was especially unpopular after the birth of his son James in 1688, who was baptized as a Catholic. 

He was basically pushed out of office by the parliament in what was known as the Glorious Revolution and replaced with his much older sister Mary, who was a protestant. Please remember James, as we will be coming back to him soon. 

The crown was given to Mary and her protestant husband William of Orange from the Netherlands, who ruled jointly. Mary died in 1694 and William in 1702. The problem was, they didn’t have any children.

The crown then passed on to her sister Anne, who ruled as Queen Monarch until 1714. She also had no surviving descendants when she died.

The British had a problem. They have run out of children from James II/VII, so they had to go back up the family tree and they went down the line from James II sister, Elizabeth, who was married off and became the Queen of Bohemia. 

Elizabeth had a daughter, Sophia, who was the highest-ranking protestant in the succession line at the time of the Act of Settlement was passed in 1701 which codified all these rules, Sophia was the Heir Presumptive to the crown, that is why she was picked as the legal starting point for the line of succession to the crow.

Unfortunately, Sophia died about 2 months before Queen Anne, so when Anne died, they selected Sophia’s son, George, to be the King of Great Britain. 

George, it should be noted, didn’t speak any English and was the Elector of Hanover in the Holy Roman Empire. Hence, all the monarchs from Geroge I to Queen Victoria were in the House of Hanover. 

Since it has been 290 years since Sophia of Hannover was born, she has had a lot of descendants, and the number grows every year. With royal marriages all over Europe and various branches of the family tree,  there are currently over 5,000 people on the list for succession to the British Crown. 

The highest-ranking non-British person is King Harald V of Norway who is currently 80th in line.

Actress Catherine Oxenberg, who was on the TV Dynasty in the 80s is somewhere around 4,000th in line for the throne. She is probably the biggest non-royal celebrity on the list.

The best claim, however, is one Karin Vogel, a therapist who lives in the town Rostok, Germany who is dead last on the list of succession. She’s on the list, but she’s the last one. Someone has to be the youngest, of the youngest, of the youngest, and she’s it. 

The rules of succession recently changed in 2013. Prior to that, the practice was male-preference primogeniture. That means any son of a monarch would take precedent over a daughter, regardless of age. As it turns out, Britain had a lot of queens in the last 500 years, including 3 of the 5 longest-serving monarchs in Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II. 

The new act changed the rule to absolute primogeniture for anyone in the line of succession born after October 28, 2011. That means, whoever is the oldest child from now on will get preference, regardless of sex. The new law was applied for the first time with the birth of Prince Williams’s first child in 2013. Regardless if it was a boy or a girl, the child was going to be next in line after William.

The 2013 act also removed the prohibition against someone being in the line of succession from marrying a catholic. 

Now I have to get back to King James II/VII that I told you to remember. 

When he was removed from office, he didn’t just disappear. There were many people in the country who still recognized him as the rightful king and were none too pleased with parliament just giving him the boot. Those who were loyal to James became known as Jacobites. 

James II fled to France where he eventually died, but his children kept on as claimants to the British throne.

There were several unsuccessful attempts at trying to retake the throne, but none of them were successful, and by the mid-1700s the Jacobite cause was mostly dead, save for the Scottish Highlands. 


James’ line kept on going in Europe and is still going today. 

The current Jacobite heir to the British Crown is Franz, Duke of Bavaria. Franz is 87, and the next in line is his brother Max who is 83.

This is where it starts to get interesting. Max only had daughters, and his oldest daughter is Sophie, Hereditary Princess of Liechtenstein. She’s the wife of the heir apparent to Liechtenstein.

That means the Jacobite claim to the British throne will soon be merged with the rules of Liechtenstein! I think Jacobite cause should be renewed, just to see a takeover of the United Kingdom by Liechtenstein.

There are also some other claimants to the throne with date back even further than James II. 

One such claim is that Edward IV, born in 1442, was not actually the son of Richard of York. If this was the case, then the entire line of succession would have gone down a different branch of the family tree almost 600 years ago.

One documentary filmmaker actually set out to determine who the Monarch of the United Kingdom would be if this were the case. Through extensive genealogy, they actually found the person. The current King according to this line would be Simon Abney-Hastings, 15th Earl of Loudoun.

While that sounds impressive, Simon is really just a middle-class guy, the son of a farmer, who works in a fabric company in Wangaratta, Australia.