Succession to the Crown Bill: La Reine (ou le Prince) le veult?

Further to Bob Morris’s post on the Succession to the Crown Bill, readers may be aware that the Daily Mail reported that the Prince of Wales had expressed concern to the Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office that he had not been consulted about the proposals in the Bill and that he was disturbed about the potential effect of the proposal that his grandchild – irrespective of gender – should be allowed to marry a Roman Catholic. In a separate piece on the same day, Simon Heffer reported HRH as saying:

“If this happened, and his grandchild’s spouse insisted that any child be brought up as a Catholic, that could either bar the child from the Throne, or compromise the Monarch’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England”.

The London Evening Standard took up the story in the Mail, claiming that St James’s Palace “declined to deny a report that Prince Charles voiced serious concern about the ‘rushed’ plans to change the ancient laws that govern the royal line of succession” and stated that the Bill would have an accelerated progress through Parliament.

The Mail then reported a statement by the Bishop of Leicester, who convenes the Lords Spiritual, as follows:

“If the heir to the throne is brought up as a Catholic and therefore, under the present disciplines of the Roman Catholic Church, is not able to be in communion with the Church of England, it effectively renders a Catholic heir incapable of being the Supreme Governor of the Church, so clearly that’s a more complicated issue than it appears at first sight”.

He added that any threat to the established status of the Church of England was something bishops “would have to resist”.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law

To date, the debate concerning the Royal Succession Bill has skirted around the canonical issues associated with the marriage of the monarch to a Roman Catholic. The Codex Iuris Canonici 1983 is quite prescriptive in the case of “mixed marriages” and whilst neither of us [dp or fc] would profess to be an expert in this area of canon law, its provisions in the area of “mixed marriages” are nevertheless unambiguous.

Mixed marriages are the subject of Canons 1124-1129 of the 1983 Codex  [you can find an approved English text of Title VII of the Code (on marriage) on the Vatican website here]; and whilst the term is used quite loosely to denote the marriage of a Roman Catholic with a non-Catholic, in the strict canonical sense a “mixed marriage” is one “entered into by a Catholic with a person who is a baptized member of a Christian church or ecclesiastical community that lacks full communion with the Catholic Church”: see J P Beal, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press, New York 2000).

Under the present constitutional arrangements it is unlikely that the Monarch would be anyone other than a baptised member of the Church of England. However, under Canon 1125 CIC the local Ordinary can grant a permission for a mixed marriage where the following conditions have been fulfilled

  1. the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;
  2. the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party; and
  3. both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage which neither of the contracting parties is to exclude.

Other relevant provisions include:

Canon 1126: It is for the conference of bishops to establish the method in which these declarations and promises, which are always required, must be made and to define the manner in which they are to be established in the external forum and the non-Catholic party informed about them.

Canon 1127 §3: It is forbidden to have another religious celebration of the same marriage to give or renew matrimonial consent before or after the canonical celebration according to the norm of Canon 1127 §1. Likewise, there is not to be a religious celebration in which the Catholic who is assisting and a non-Catholic minister together, using their own rites, ask for the consent of the parties.

Canon 1128: Local ordinaries and other pastors of souls are to take care that the Catholic spouse and the children born of a mixed marriage do not lack the spiritual help to fulfil their obligations and are to help spouses foster the unity of conjugal and family life.

The above provisions give plenty of food for thought – and that is before one begins to consider the canons relating to divorce and separation.


Whether or not there is any truth in any of the press reports we shall never know, because no official would ever comment on such an allegation – whether to confirm or deny it. But it does look as if it has the all the makings of another major row. We haven’t forgotten the Blair Government deciding summarily to abolish the position of Lord Chancellor without first consulting the House of Lords – and the reaction of the then Clerk of the Parliaments, who asked very politely, through gritted teeth, who would then be Speaker of the Lords?

When the Government published its proposals for same-sex marriage the Church of England and the Church in Wales both complained that they had not been informed of the important detail of the provisions: some (but certainly not the co-writers of this blog) doubted the veracity of their claims. When the Government published its proposals for the Succession to the Crown Bill reports in the media suggested that the Queen had not been informed of the decision to legislate until very soon before the Bill was published and that her son and grandson appeared not to have been consulted at all. As Lady Bracknell might have said:

“To fail to consult once may be regarded as a misfortune; to fail twice looks like carelessness.”

That said, the last time a Monarch uttered the fateful words “La Reine s’avisera” (ie “No”) it was Queen Anne in 1707.


Even as we were publishing the above, yesterday’s Commons Hansard was also being published – and included exchanges on the subject during Topical Questions. Thinking Anglicans helpfully extracted the relevant questions and answers about the Succession to the Crown Bill as follows:

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing forward legislation on the succession to the Crown. However, does he think that it is necessary to push it through in one day as if it was emergency terrorism legislation, when Parliament has a job to do to ensure that it is correctly drafted and that any concerns or unforeseen difficulties are addressed properly?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Making a small, concise amendment to an Act that has been on the statute book since 1701 is hardly acting hastily.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): 1700.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am being corrected by the historians on the Opposition Benches. None the less, this is something that has been on the statute book for more than 300 years. Let us remember that this is a very specific act of discrimination against one faith only. The heir to the throne may marry someone of any religion outside the Church of England—Muslim, Hindu and so on—but uniquely not a Catholic under the terms of the Act of 1700 or 1701. This is a precise change and it is being coordinated precisely with all the other realms that have to make the identical change in their legislation.”


Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Can the Deputy Prime Minister assure the House that the Succession to the Crown Bill will give the public confidence that the relationship between Church and state will be unaltered, even if a future monarch should marry a Roman Catholic and the ensuing child is a Catholic?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I can give the hon. Gentleman complete reassurance that the provisions in the Bill will not in any way alter the status of the established Church in this country and the monarch as head of that Church. We have had monarchs who have married Catholics. I think Queen Anne of Denmark was married to James I of Scotland—I may be corrected by our historian, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), from a sedentary position. There is absolutely nothing in the provisions that will alter the status of the Church in the way feared by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner).”


Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I wish the Deputy Prime Minister a happy new year. Was one of his new year resolutions to decide that, if he thinks a policy is right, it should be rushed through in a day? Will he answer properly a question he has been asked before? Why will the succession Bill be rushed through in a day under emergency legislation procedures? Those procedures should be used only for emergency legislation, which the succession Bill is not.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I wish the hon. Gentleman a happy new year too—and Mrs Bone. It is important to stress that the Bill is not a capricious legislative initiative on behalf of the Government. It was solemnly agreed at the Commonwealth summit in Perth by all the Commonwealth realms. It has also been subject to extensive discussion between officials in the Cabinet Office and the royal household, and between Governments and officials of this country and of the Commonwealth realms. We have said that we will take the lead in setting out the legislative provisions for the other Commonwealth realms. The legislative change is very precise, which is why we are keen to proceed as quickly as possible.”

But, in a sense, much of this misses the point. We have indeed had Monarchs married to Roman Catholics but the issue raised by Andrew Turner remains unanswered: if the Heir to the Throne were to be baptised and raised as a Roman Catholic could that person ever be Supreme Governor of the Church of England? One would have thought that the short answer was “No”.

Frank Cranmer and David Pocklington

12 thoughts on “Succession to the Crown Bill: La Reine (ou le Prince) le veult?

  1. Scot Peterson attempted unsuccessfully to post the following comment – so I’m posting it on his behalf:

    “Quick question, Frank and David. The canons seem to me to require that the Catholic spouse ‘to do all in his or her power’. The idea of actually raising the child (which would have to be a great-grandchild of the Prince of Wales) as a Catholic might be outside the power of the Catholic spouse, particularly if it was going to bring about a constitutional crisis. Doesn’t that eliminate at least a large portion of the problem?

    And one more, if it’s not too much (which only Bob Morris may be able to answer): didn’t this consultation actually start under the previous, Labour Government and, if so, isn’t it a bit problematic for Labour MPs to be criticizing it? Or is my chronology off?”

    • To which my answer to the first was that I agreed: presumably the Heir to the Throne would simply say “No” and there would be nothing that could be done about that. But I wonder, if the Constitution (however defined) has to cater for all possible eventualities, what might happen if, at some remote future date, the Heir to the Throne were to say “yes” (possibly because he or she was secretly in sympathy with Roman Catholic theology and practice)? There’s precedent for the latter: Charles II was received into the Roman Catholic Church on his deathbed, so presumably he must have had doubts about the validity of the C of E for some considerable time before that.

      Bob Morris, however, points out that what the Bill does not do is to remove the bar on the Monarch being a Roman Catholic: merely the bar on him or her being married to one – so maybe the point, for the foreseeable future at least, is purely academic.

      My initial reaction to the second was that the Brown Government had set the consultation in motion but I had misremembered: Gordon Brown had spoken about the issue but had not done anything to get things moving.

  2. Probably no in theory but yes in practice . Canon 1125 identifies the preconditions on which the local ordinary must satisfy himself before he permits a marriage to take place in a Catholic church under the Catholic rite. Having done so, and the marriage having taken place, Canon 1128 covers the aftercare that is to be given to the Catholic party, the spouse, and their children, if any.

    Whilst much of the media refer to “marrying a Catholic”, the Canons are concerned with where and how such a marriage is solemnized, and unless the canonical form is followed, the marriage is not recognized by the church.

    • But this makes it look like it’s up to the Roman Catholics to determine whether there’s a constitutional crisis. They might do so, and the probability increases as they become more and more countercultural (detached from reality, if you will). But that will have a bigger down-side for the church, I should think, than for the UK or anyone else, except perhaps UK Catholics, doesn’t it? The church (in the form of the ordinary, who surely won’t act on his own here to create a constitutional crisis) has options here, few others do (including the loving royal couple). I think I agree with Nick on this one: it will be negotiated with the Vatican. His answer was the right one.

  3. Nick Clegg’s Parliamentary replies are simplistic. A speedy resolution to enabling a girl to become sovereign is necessary. There is no such urgency about enacting the other provisions. It is odd for him to pray in aid the complexities of reaching agreement with other commonwealth governments when our own parliament, which is more familiar with the underlying issues, is not being given time to examine them.
    Removing the bar to marrying a Roman Catholic is not simply a matter of tidying up a 300 yr. old anomaly. Hindus, Moslems and Jews do not require a parent to do all in their power to bring up their children in a faith which is alien to their spouse. The RC Church communicates the message that the spouse’s faith is defective, which is both a public statement and a seed of interpersonal dissension. The bar is a constitutional rejection of this demeaning dynamic.
    Mr. Clegg’s solution is to postpone dealing with the problem for 100 yrs. I should have thought that kicking the can down the road has rather lost its authenticity. The solution will be “negotiated with the Vatican”. My observation of the Vatican is that things don’t change much in 100 yrs. and that precedents strengthen with age. As regards “negotiation”, following the procedure by which the Ordinariate was established, I think relying on this represent the triumph of hope over reality.
    Wake up. Abandon conditional statements (“One would have thought that the short answer would be No”). Let the demeaning message which is addressed to us about the validity of our faith be removed and the constitutional exclusion will no longer be necessary.

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  7. Is anyone bothered about the primary change – creating an entitlement to the throne for a daughter with younger brothers? The current succession rules are biblical – see Numbers 27:8 (“If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.”) Indeed, Shakespeare refers to this verse in Henry V in providing the casus belli for the French war of succession. I am concerned that Bill, as a whole, is simply an attempt to secularise the monarchy using an “equalities” approach. Won’t the unfortunate future Queen simply be seen as an appointee of the atheist Mr Clegg (who himself is married to a Roman Catholic)?


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