Queens and Kings

It has been agreed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that the laws governing the succession of the British Monarchy will be changed to give older sisters priority over their younger brothers.

There are pros and cons to this decision, but on balance I think it is probably for the best.

The drawbacks: first, making any change at all weakens the authority of tradition. If this can be changed because fashion requires it, what will be changed next? I'm not too disturbed by this argument, because a couple of hundred years at least of tradition will have to be upended when we restore the monarchy as the government and get rid of parliament and elections and the rest of it.

Second, I would prefer to have a King than a Queen. I worry that a woman is more likely to be dominated by an outside establishment than a man is. Note that the considerations are quite different than when drawing up requirements for a job. When appointing someone to a position, the reasonable thing is to evaluate their qualities as an individual. If the best man for the job happens to be a woman, that's perfectly fine. But a monarch is a different matter: nobody is making the appointment, the whole point is that we get who we get, and individual qualities don't come into it. Given that, we want the best odds of getting a sufficiently strong personality, and the odds seem better with a law that disproportionately selects males. A restoration is likely to need exceptionally strong characters for at least a couple of reigns.

The conventional wisdom is that of the last four ruling queens, three at least were very successful. In the cases of Victoria and Elizabeth II, I have my doubts: I think their reputations rest more on their acquiescence towards the ruling establishment than anything else. Elizabeth I kicked serious arse, though, which goes a long way towards alleviating my worries on this score.

So much for the disadvantages. The advantages are clear. The monarch must have as strong a claim to his title as possible. If this step is not taken now, it will always be floating around as a possibility, and can be used as a weapon against any King with an older sister. If we are going to have the potential uncertainty settled for good, it can only be settled in this direction.

And, as a more minor point, it is satisfying that this is being treated as significant. We are talking about which of the Queen's great-grandchildren will become monarch; the implication is that that monarchy will be with us for another three generations. A lot will happen in that time, and through all of it, the option will be there in the background to write off the demagogues and the apparatchiks and take another path.

It is also satsfying that this has not, so far, been a matter for public consultation or debate. I'm expressing an opinion here, but I don't want the decision to be based on popular opinion — much better that it be announced by a ruling clique, even if that be our current shower of politicians.

Into the bargain, they're allowing a monarch to marry a Catholic. Again, I'm unsure. I can think of no direct problem with having a monarch who is married to a Catholic. But have I thought of everything?