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

We've mapped out the royal line of succession and revealed who is next in line for the throne

Left to right: Camilla Queen Consort, King Charles III, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince George, Prince William, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis, Kate Middleton standing on the balcony at Buckingham Palace
(Image credit: Getty Images)

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

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III has ascended to the throne. But many want to understand more about what happens when the Queen dies (opens in new tab), including whether Prince Harry can still be king (opens in new tab) despite stepping down from royal duties and what Camilla's new title of Queen Consort means (opens in new tab).

We've put together this helpful guide on how the royal line of succession works in the UK, answering questions such as who will step in if the King abdicates and what the recent change to The Succession to the Crown Act (2013) means for future royal females.

What is the current royal line of succession?

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

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 (opens in new tab) 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. This means that Princess Charlotte - who was born in 2015 - is currently third in line to the throne, before her younger brother Prince Louis.

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 (opens in new tab). "The Sovereign must also promise to uphold the Protestant succession."

Who is next in line for the throne?

The Prince of Wales, Prince William, is currently next in line for the throne. This is because he is the first-born child of King Charles III. He will become king when his father gives up the throne or dies.

His wife Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales - will likely take on the title of Queen Consort when he takes the throne. The title is currently held by King Charles' wife Camilla, and was confirmed by the Queen herself during the Platinum Jubilee (opens in new tab) celebrations.

She said it was her "sincere wish" that Camilla would have that title, where it had been previously thought that she would be known as Princess Consort instead.

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Prince William has made it clear that he is devoted to his role as a monarch and his future as king. In a Channel 4 docuseries called The Real Windsors: A Very Modern Prince?, s former royal aide said of Prince William: “He has made a conscious decision that duty comes first. [He] is very analytical and asks all the questions. And makes sure that he’s clear what you’re asking him to do. His sort of moral compass is set absolutely rigidly due north. He has the clearest understanding of almost anybody I know of what is right and what is wrong, and he won’t waiver from it, even if it means he’s going to take a hit.”

They added, “There are many examples of when I worked for him where it would have been very easy to take one route,” he says. “But it wouldn’t have been the honourable or the right thing to do, so he took the more difficult route.”

Prince William has three children, all of whom are also in the line of succession.

What happens if Prince William dies before King Charles?

In the event that Prince William dies before the King, his eldest son Prince George will become next in line to the throne. 

As Prince George does not have children, if something were to happen to him as well  his younger sister Princess Charlotte would be next in line, followed by their youngest sibling Prince Louis (opens in new tab).

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

If someone abdicates the throne or the King 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 Elizabeth's father, to take his place. The official document declaring King Edward's intention to step down had to be signed by Parliament before he could be officially removed as head of state.

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 (opens in new tab) is expected November 2022.

Is Prince Harry still in the royal succession?

Yes, Prince Harry is still in the royal line of succession. Whilst Prince Harry now lives in LA (opens in new tab) and has stepped back from royal duties, he remains fifth 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 (opens in new tab) and Lilibet Diana (opens in new tab) - 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 as the siblings are seventh and eighth in line to the throne respectively. 

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.

This means that after Prince George (opens in new tab), Princess Charlotte will become queen before her younger brother, Prince Louis. However, the Duchess of Cornwall won't become Queen (opens in new tab) 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.

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