Royal Succession

I know everyone’s probably pretty sick of royal this and royal that, but I have a question.

I have a pretty good handle on how the succession works, with one minor hole. Consider the following scenario:

The monarch has no heir (eg if William were king, Charles and Elizabeth having passed on and he has no kids yet), and he dies while his wife is pregnant. Who is the next monarch? Taking the example of William, would it be Harry or the baby? Would Harry be an interim king until the birth? If the monarchy passed to Harry, would it pass back to the baby (and decendants of the baby) when Harry died (even if Harry had kids)? If it is the baby, what do they do until it is born? If it’s not the baby, what title does the baby get? Would it be a prince/princess? Where in the line of succession would it fit (especially if Harry had kids)?

Now, I know if the baby was born even 1 minute before William died, the baby would be king or queen (an presumably Harry, or the mother would do the duties of monarch until the child was old enough). But the case of an unborn heir has me baffled.

I hope this makes sense.

The Monarchy doesn’t autmoatically pass to Harry in the circumstances you describe, though he might be appointed Regent, i.e. a temporary ruler while the current monarch is ill, or underage (or, I assume, in utero).

Harry is the heir presumptive and will be coronated only if the heir apparant (in this case, William, because Charles’ succession is inevitable unless he dies before his mother) dies without having children of his own. If the fetus is ruled a person for the purposes of royal succession, I can well imagine a number of troubling legal challenges to England’s abortion laws.

A casual internet search doesn’t find any cases of a Regency while the heir apparant is a fetus, but in times past the late King’s brother probably would have just had his pregnant sister-in-law killed, exiled (and then killed), or convicted of adultery (and then killed).

In general, under English law, property, titles etc will be inherited by a child who is in utero at the time of the father’s death, provided he is subsequently born alive. So if this rule does not apply to the crown, it is an exception to the general rule.

Having said that, you can see a case for such an exception. There is also a rule that the crown can never be vacant. My guess would be that, if the situation ever arose, the courts would rule that the crown would pass to the heir presumptive, and that a child not born could not inherit the crown.

Wouldn’t the appointment of a Regent (presumably the heir presumptive) get around the problem of the Crown being vacant? It’s certainly been a device used in the past when the heir apparent has been unable to reign due to youth or infirmity.

Presumably in this day and age there’d also be a case for establishing the right of succession through DNA testing to ensure that the heir apparent is, indeed, the offspring of the Monarch.

Nope. The crown cannot be vacant. A regent is not a king or queen and, whether or not there is a regent, there must be a king or queen. I do not think that a person who has not been born (and of course may never be born) can be king or queen.

Your point about DNA testing is a bit of a red herring in this context. Whether before or after a child’s birth there may be questions about his or her true parentage, and these can be resolved by DNA testing. But these questions are no more acute before birth than after it, and even if the heir is already an adult when the king dies, his parentage could be called into question. The fact that the unborn heir’s parentage could be conclusively prooved does not get around the fact that he hasn’t been born, and so cannot yet be king.

[slight hijack]Just out of interest, does anyone step into the Queen Mother’s role as one of the Counsellors of State in order to maintain the number at six, or does the Monarchy now function with five Counsellors of State?[/slight hijack]

I believe this did happen in the Spanish sucession-King Alfonso XII died while his wife was pregnant. The Queen was regent, for her unborn child. If the child had been a girl, their older daughter would have become Queen. But the child was a boy, and he became King Alfonso XIII on his birth-so he was born a king.

As it happens, and it’s quite pertinent in view of what has brought the Royals into the news lately, it was reported in one of the books on the Royal family that at the time of George VI’s death, the Queen Mother had not yet reached menopause, and that, while Elizabeth II acceded to the throne on his death, the official announcement of her Accession was delayed forty-eight hours to ensure that the Queen Mother was not pregnant. Since Elizabeth II was the elder daughter of the sonless George VI, she was his heir presumptive – and if the Queen Mother had been pregnant and given birth to a son, he would have been King, à la Alfonso XIII, from his birth.

Although it is true that this could, in theory, have been an issue in 1952, the idea that this was the reason for the delay is clearly bogus. The more immediate problem was that Princess Elizabeth was abroad. Even so, the Accession Council met on 6 February, the same day George VI died, and approved the accession proclamation. Of course, if you believe some less reliable books on the subject, George VI had required artificial assistance to father any children at all.

The only other occasion since the thirteen century (when the rules of succession had become fixed) on which this could have been an issue was in 1685 on the death of Charles II, but I’m fairly sure that no one at the time even considered the possibility, no doubt because everyone had long taken it for granted that Catherine of Braganza was incapable of producing children.

The crown has to rest on a living head. So on william’s death (as outlined above) Harry (actually Henry) becomes king and the bloodline flows from him.

On Harry’s death (if there are no heirs) the crown goes to his closest male relative, ie the unborn child (assuming it has now been born)