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, many are curious to understand what will happen when the Queen dies? And following a tumultuous few years in the palace, people are still confused as to whether Prince Harry can 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 who will step in if the Queen abdicates and what the recent change to The Succession to the Crown Act (2013) means for future royal females.

    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.

    Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh on the day of their coronation, Buckingham Palace, 1953

    Anyone who does ascend the throne must also be a christian and proud Protestant. However, Roman Catholics are 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.

    His wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall – who has been married to Charles for 16 years – will become Queen Consort when he takes the throne. The title was confirmed by the Queen herself during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

    Welcoming the news, Charles said: “We are deeply conscious of the honour represented by my mother’s wish.

    “As we have sought together to serve and support Her Majesty and the people of our communities, my darling wife has been my own steadfast support throughout.”

    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)

    Though Prince Charles is ‘terrified’ of becoming king, he has already begun planning what the monarchy will look like when head of state.

    It’s reported that Charles wants to further reduce Prince Harry and Meghan’s royal roles, as part of a institutional shake-up.

    Richard Kay of the Daily Mail explains what this ‘slimmed down monarchy’ will look like:

    “Charles’s charitable portfolio is being streamlined for when he is king and this same forensic approach is being applied to how much and what the royal family does in his reign. As it will certainly downsize, it means fewer royals carrying out engagements,” he says.

    “So it is against a background of a slimmed down monarchy that the Prince has been developing ideas about working royals, their titles and how they fit in with his vision of a modern Britain.”

    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. He stepped down from the throne in 1936 and left his brother, the Queen’s father, to take his place.

    There’s been many dramatisations of this historic event, including the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech starring Colin Firth. It’s also featured in the award-winning Netflix series The Crown during the first series. The Crown season 5 is expected November 2022.

    Is Prince Harry still in the royal succession?

    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.

    Queen Elizabeth II speaks with Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

    Credit: Getty

    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?

    Yes, a royal female who is in line to the throne and is older than her male siblings can become Queen before them. Historically this was not always the case and it wasn’t until 2013 that this change to The Succession to the Crown Act took place. This is the official legislation regarding succession to the throne.

    Princess Charlotte is in the royal line of succession

    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

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

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