The more things change, the more they stay the same. With the birth (and upcoming christening) of Prince George Alexander Louis, the line of succession for the British monarchy extends to a fourth generation. The Prince of Cambridge is now third in line to the throne after his grandfather, Prince Charles, and his father, Prince William. He booted his Uncle Harry to fourth. What could have been groundbreaking—but wasn’t—was a change in the law of succession passed by Parliament in 2011 that guaranteed that the first child of Prince William would become the ruling (regent) king or queen: This child was going to be third in line to the throne regardless of sex. The difference is, under the old law, had this baby been a girl, she could have been surpassed in the line of succession by a later-born brother. Since George is a boy, he’s third under either law—and will stay so—thus, things stay the same this time. Interestingly, primogeniture, or the practice of the oldest male inheriting a nobleman’s entire estate, continues for dukes and earls and other landed gentry.
More important, from a historical perspective, is the public’s reaction to Prince George and the monarchy in general; and thus, the practical issue of whether the monarchy will continue at all. When I was a student in England in the late ‘80s, most of my peers were not fans of the royals, with some advocating the termination of the monarchical system in Britain. That sentiment probably reached its peak after the death of Princess Diana, ‘the people’s princess,’ whom the public considered as someone who had been poorly treated by the royal family.
Since then, however, the royal family, thanks in large part to Diana’s sons, has rehabilitated itself and is now enjoying great popularity. The differences between the stuffy and stiff Prince Charles and Prince William, who is relaxed and comes across as a real human being, are tremendous. Just look at the photos of Charles taking William home from the hospital, and William taking George home from the same hospital. Charles in 1982 is in a suit and tie, and gets into a chauffeured station wagon to be driven back to the palace. Compare that with William in 2013, coming out in rolled-up shirt sleeves, putting George in his car seat in the back of a Range Rover, and then driving his family back to the palace himself. It may seem trivial, but I think it speaks volumes about how different Charles and William are, and how much more in touch with the real world William is.
As I noted after Kate and William’s wedding, I credit Princess Diana for William’s upbringing. She made him queue up at McDonald’s, showed him homeless people on London’s streets and sick people in hospitals, and insisted that he go to school with children his age. But for this humanizing of the royal family, I think their future would be a lot less certain than it appears to be today.
Looking forward, I would guess that William and Kate will try to give George as ordinary a childhood as possible under the circumstances. George definitely will have a nanny or two, but William and Kate have hinted that they will be very involved, hands-on parents. George has the added advantage of having Kate’s parents as his other grandparents: The Middletons appear to be a very down-to-earth, albeit upper-middle-class English family whose influence should help keep George grounded very well, indeed. It also won’t hurt for him to see that his father has a real job as a search and rescue helicopter pilot for the Royal Air Force. Of course, with Aunt Pippa and Uncle Harry involved, George will have plenty of opportunity for mischief and fun in his privileged life, as well.
So it appears the British monarchy is firmly entrenched and ready to face the future with future kings who are relatable, likeable and popular. Look for significant changes after Charles reigns; which he may not do for some time, considering his mother is 87 and in good health. Charles also probably will maintain the status quo; but count on William and then George to bring the monarchy more into step with modern times—when their time comes.
Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) holds an honors degree in European history, read British history at University College London for a semester, and is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.