What is the royal line of succession, how does it work and who is next in line for the throne?

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  • The British royal line of succession is a unique and complicated system that dates back to the 17th century.

    While it’s common knowledge that Prince Charles is heir to the throne, what would happen if the Queen outlived him? Where do Princess Anne and Princess Charlotte fit into the royal line of succession? And, can Prince Harry still be king, despite stepping down from royal duties?

    If you want to know more about how the royal line of succession works in the UK, then read on. We answer all your royal succession questions below. Such as, if the Queen abdicates or dies, who will take her place? And what happens if the person after the Queen isn’t able to take her place?

    How does the royal line of succession work?

    To be considered in line to the throne, you must be a member of the royal family or The Royal Firm as they’re known. Other factors such as legitimacy, religion and sex are also elements than can affect the line of succession.

    The original law stated that younger male heirs would be considered for the throne before their older, female siblings. However, in 2013 this changed and now any older female sibling born after 28 October 2011 can be considered first for the throne.

    Anyone who does ascend the throne must also be a christian and proud Protestant, with Roman Catholics banned from taking the throne by law.

    “The Sovereign must, in addition, be in communion with the Church of England and must swear to preserve the established Church of England and the established Church of Scotland,” states the Royal Family website. “The Sovereign must also promise to uphold the Protestant succession.”

    Who is next in line for the throne?

    The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, is currently next in line for the throne. This is because he is the first-born child of Queen Elizabeth II.

    He will become king when his mother, the Queen gives up the throne or dies.

    Queen Elizabeth II with her son and heir to the throne Prince Charles

    Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles at the State Opening of Parliament in October 2019. (Credit: Paul Edwards – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

    What happens if Prince Charles dies before the Queen?

    In the event that Prince Charles dies before the Queen, his son Prince William will take the throne as he is next in line. The same process would then happen again if something happened to Prince William, and so on.

    What happens if someone from the royal family were to abdicate?

    If someone abdicates the throne or the Queen retires, a similar process occurs as if they had died. However, there is more involvement from Parliament in the succession.

    The last person to abdicate from the throne was King Edward VIII, who stepped down from the throne in 1936 and left his brother, the Queen’s father, to take his place.

    Is Prince Harry still in the royal succession?

    Queen Elizabeth II speaks with Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

    Even though Prince Harry now lives in LA and has stepped back from royal duties, he remains sixth in line to the throne.

    This is because he was born into the royal family and only an Act of Parliament can remove a royal from the Succession of the Throne Act.

    However, the chances of him becoming monarch are pretty low as Prince William’s three children are all before him in the pecking order.

    As for Prince Harry’s children – Archie Harrison and Lilibet Diana – they too remain in the line of succession, having being born royal. Though it would take a constitutional crisis for Archie or Lilibet to take the throne, with the two respectively seventh and eighth in line to the throne.

    If the eldest heir is female, will she be Queen?

    Since The Succession to the Crown Act (2013), which changed the law around succession to the throne, regardless of gender, the oldest female heirs are allowed to become monarch before their younger male siblings.

    Princess Charlotte

    Credit: Getty

    This means that after Prince George, Princess Charlotte will become queen before her younger brother, Prince Louis. However, the Duchess of Cornwall won’t become Queen and neither will the Duchess of Cambridge – as they are only married to a future king, rather than an direct heir in the royal line of succession themselves.

    The current royal line of succession

    Following the Queen, the royal line of succession goes as follows…

    1. Prince Charles – Prince of Wales
    2. Prince William – The Duke of Cambridge
    3. Prince George of Cambridge
    4. Princess Charlotte of Cambridge
    5. Prince Louis of Cambridge
    6. Prince Harry – The Duke of Sussex
    7. Master Archie Mountbatten-Windsor
    8. Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor
    9. Prince Andrew, The Duke of York
    10. Princess Beatrice of York
    11. Princess Eugenie of York
    12. Prince Edward, The Earl of Wessex
    13. James, Viscount Severn
    14. Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor
    15. Princess Anne, The Princess Royal
    16. Peter Phillips
    17. Savannah Phillips
    18. Isla Phillips
    19. Zara Tindall

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