Thursday, March 31, 2011

Question: Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester as king?

Why didn't Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester become king when George VI died? By everything that I know, as the next male in succession, George V's third son should have become king after the first abdicated and the second died.

The type of succession that you are referring to is called agnatic primogeniture. Inheritance according to the seniority of birth amongst the of sons of a monarch.

King George V had five sons. Prince Edward (future King Edward VIII), Prince Albert (future King George VI), Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, Prince George, Duke of Kent and Prince John, who died as a child. After King George V's death, in 1936 and King Edward VIII's abdication in 1937, the next son came to the throne as King George VI. In 1937, at the start of King George VI's reign, the first four places in the line of succession were occupied by Princess Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Prince George, Duke of Kent.

The succession to the British throne is by male preference primogeniture. Males have precedence over females, however if there is a female she is not excluded. Because of this, King George VI's elder daughter, Princess Elizabeth became the sovereign and not Prince Henry. If the King died without children, then Prince Henry would have become king in 1952 because he was next in line. If this had occurred then after King Henry IX's death in 1974, his son, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester would be king, possibly reigning as King Richard IV.

It is interesting to note that had King Edward VIII not abdicated and not had children, the succession would likely look as it does today. The only difference is that the present Queen would have come to the throne upon the death of her uncle in 1972 instead of 1952 when her father died.

© Marilyn Braun 2011


my9cats said...

If Edward remained king (d 1972),
why wouldn't Richard become king as George never became king?
Why would Elizabeth be queen since she was never the daughter of the king?

Marilyn Braun said...

The next in line after Edward VIII was his brother Prince Albert (King George VI) father of the present Queen).

Albert died in 1952 therefore when Edward died in 1972, Albert's daughter, as next in line, inherited the throne.

If the system operated under agnatic succession then Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, would have inherited the throne, followed by his son Prince Richard.

kirsty said...

Thanks for this - found it via Google. I was also wondering, as I'd assumed that males always took precedence no matter what. Has this been the case in the past? Or has the British Monarchy always had "angatic primogentiure"?

Marilyn Braun said...

Hi Kirsty,

The British Monarchy has never had agnatic primogeniture.

Males do take precedence. For instance, the Earl of Wessex has two children, a daughter and a son. Despite the daughter being older than her brother, he takes precedence because he is male.

Females are not excluded from the line of succession though. They can succeed, but only in the absence of not having a younger brother. The Queen is one example. If she had a brother, she would not have become Queen.As she had a sister, nothing stood in her way of becoming Queen.

Though there was always the risk of losing her place - her parents could have had a son at any point between her birth and her accession. Therefore she was only ever heiress presumptive and not heir apparent, as her son, Prince Charles is.

SJG said...

Thank you for clarifying the rules of succession as they applied to the House of Windsor previously. Now that birth order, not gender, is the sole determinate, what will this mode of inheritance be called?
Also, could you please explain why the Duchess of Cambridge is not, apparently, officially a princess, even though she is married to a prince?
Lastly, why are the grandsons of George V, the present Dukes of Kent and Gloucester, styled "prince"?

Marilyn Braun said...


I've written a post about the Duchess of Cambridge's title that should answer your question about it. :)

To answer your other questions, the present Duke of Kent and Duke of Gloucester are princes because they are male line grandchildren of a sovereign.

In contrast, King George V's daughter Princess Mary had two sons - also grandchildren of a sovereign - and neither bore royal titles because they do not carry through the female line. Much like Princess Anne's children today.

The inheritance rules will now be called absolute primogeniture, I've also heard it called gender-equal primogeniture. This will mean oldest surviving child inherits regardless of gender.

Hope this helps!