The line of succession to the British throne is the ordered sequence of all those people eligible to succeed to the throne of the United Kingdom and the other 15 Commonwealth realms.
The Act of Settlement 1701 bestowed succession on the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her descendant while excluding Roman Catholics.
The British government does not publish an official list of all those in line to succeed, but the work of genealogical authors and amateur researchers suggest that there are several thousand people potentially in line.
At a summit in Perth, Western Australia in 2011, the heads of government of all 16 Commonwealth realms agreed to take steps to adopt absolute primogeniture, end the exclusion of people married to Roman Catholics, and make other changes in the succession rules.
They agreed unanimously that laws governing the succession would be changed, so that sons of any future monarch would no longer be preferred over daughters. This change will not apply retroactively, and will only affect the descendants of the current heir apparent, Charles, Prince of Wales. It was also agreed that the ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic would be lifted, although the monarch would still need to be in communion with the Church of England. Individual realms will need to enact legislation before the succession changes take effect.
Succession to the British throne is governed both by common law and statute. Under common law the crown is inherited by male-preference cognatic primogeniture.
In other words, succession passes first to an individual’s sons, in order of birth, and subsequently to daughters, again in order of birth.
Succession is also governed by the Act of Union 1800, which restates the provisions of the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Bill of Rights 1689.
These laws restrict the succession to legitimate descendants of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and debar those who are Roman Catholics or who have married Roman Catholics.
Descendants of those debarred for being or marrying Roman Catholics, however, may still be eligible to succeed. The succession was also regulated by His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication Act 1936, which excluded the abdicated king Edward VIII and his descendants from the throne; this act ceased to have any practical effect when Edward, then known as the Duke of Windsor, died without issue in 1972.
Elizabeth II is the present Sovereign and her heir apparent is her eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales. Next in line is Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, the Prince of Wales’s eldest son.
The laws ending male primogeniture would mean that if William and Kate’s baby is a girl, she could not be overtaken in the line by any future younger brothers. The baby will be third in line to the throne, behind Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest child, Prince Charles, and William, his eldest child.
The first four individuals in the line of succession who are twenty-one years or older, along with the Sovereign's consort, may be appointed Counsellors of State. Counsellors of State perform some of the Sovereign's duties whilst he or she is abroad or temporarily incapacitated. Otherwise, individuals in the line of succession need not have specific legal or official duties (though members of the royal family often do).
The first 20 individuals in the line of succession are:
1. Charles, Prince of Wales (b 1948), eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II
2. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (b 1982), elder son of Charles, Prince of Wales
3. Prince Harry of Wales (b 1984), younger son of Charles, Prince of Wales
4. Prince Andrew, Duke of York (b 1960), second son of Queen Elizabeth II
5. Princess Beatrice of York (b 1988), elder daughter of Prince Andrew, Duke of York
6. Princess Eugenie of York (b 1990), younger daughter of Prince Andrew, Duke of York
7. Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex (b 1964), youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II
8. James, Viscount Severn (b 2007), son of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
9. Lady Louise Windsor (b 2003), daughter of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
10. Anne, Princess Royal (b 1950), daughter of Queen Elizabeth II
11. Peter Phillips (b 1977), son of Anne, Princess Royal
12. Savannah Phillips (b 2010), daughter of Peter Phillips
13. Isla Phillips (b 2012), daughter of Peter Phillips
14. Zara Phillips (b 1981), daughter of Anne, Princess Royal
15. David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley (b 1961), son of Princess Margaret, the late younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II
16. The Honourable Charles Armstrong-Jones (b 1999), son of David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley
17. The Honourable Margarita Armstrong-Jones (b 2002), daughter of David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley
18. Lady Sarah Chatto (b 1964), daughter of Princess Margaret the late younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II
19. Samuel Chatto (b 1996), elder son of Lady Sarah Chatto
20. Arthur Chatto (b 1999), younger son of Lady Sarah Chatto
The succession to the throne is regulated not only through descent, but also by Parliamentary statute. The order of succession is the sequence of members of the Royal Family in the order in which they stand in line to the throne.
The basis for the succession was determined in the constitutional developments of the seventeenth century, which culminated in the Bill of Rights (1689) and the Act of Settlement (1701).
When James II fled the country in 1688, Parliament held that he had 'abdicated the government' and that the throne was vacant. The throne was then offered, not to James's young son, but to his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange, as joint rulers.
It therefore came to be established not only that the Sovereign rules through Parliament, but that the succession to the throne can be regulated by Parliament, and that a Sovereign can be deprived of his title through misgovernment.
The succession to the throne is regulated not only through descent, but also by statute; the Act of Settlement confirmed that it was for Parliament to determine the title to the throne.
The Act laid down that only Protestant descendants of Princess Sophia - the Electress of Hanover and granddaughter of James I - are eligible to succeed. Subsequent Acts have confirmed this.
Parliament, under the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement, also laid down various conditions which the Sovereign must meet. A Roman Catholic is specifically excluded from succession to the throne; nor may the Sovereign marry a Roman Catholic.
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. The Sovereign must also promise to uphold the Protestant succession.