On The Table Read, “the best book reader magazine in the UK“, author Maggie Ballinger writes about how the accession of British Queens inspired her new hit “what if…?” alternative reality novel, James The Third.
Written by Maggie Ballinger
Upon The Queen’s accession to the throne in February 1952, HRH Princess Anne became second in the line of succession. When Prince Andrew was born in 1960, she dropped a place and was bumped down a further notch in 1964 with the arrival of her youngest brother, Prince Edward.
This was due to male-preference primogeniture, a system which didn’t officially change March 2015. As Princess Elizabeth, Her Majesty was never regarded as ‘heir apparent’: she was merely ‘heir presumptive’ − against the possibility of her parents’ producing a son.
Before becoming queen, Victoria, too, was always a ‘presumptive’, but for a different reason. Her father, The Duke of Kent, died the year after she was born, so would never have male issue. But the King, her uncle William IV, might yet have an heir.
This was the case until William’s death and beyond. In the declaration of Victoria’s accession, there was a caveat (known as ‘the saving’) to the effect that, should the late king’s widow (44-year-old Adelaide) be pregnant, any child she bore would instead be the rightful monarch.
Fertility and IVF
There was no such special provision in the 1952 declaration. One wonders why not? The lady we came to know as the Queen Mother was 51 when her husband, King George VI, died. Remote though the chances were, especially before the era of fertility treatments such as IVF, it is not impossible for her to have been expecting a male baby at the time.
Naomi Campbell was 50 when she produced her daughter. Janet Jackson’s son was born when she, too, had reached her half century. Brigitte Neilsen gave birth at the age of 54. Nature may have had a helping hand in the case of these celebrities, but there are also plenty of instances whereby older mothers conceived naturally.
The only female ever to have been an ‘heir apparent’ was Anne. She became regarded as such in 1694 when her older sister, Mary II, died of smallpox. Mary and her husband (William III) had reigned jointly. The couple had no children.
Although Anne’s brother-in-law continued as lone king after his wife’s death, he had not claimed the throne in his own right. Therefore, even if William had remarried and fathered a child, that son or daughter would always have been lower down in the pecking order than Anne, thus guaranteeing her the crown. (With Catholic claimants in the background, the situation was a bit more complicated than told, but that’s another story.)
Back in time, the British were not keen on the idea of female monarchs, as evidenced in 1135, when King Henry I died. Henry’s son had tragically drowned in the White Ship disaster − the twelfth century equivalent of a party cruise that went badly wrong. Many of those aboard the ship, which was setting off from France to England, had been binge drinking and were already drunk (including the crew).
The King was left with only a legitimate daughter, Matilda, whom he named as his successor. But, rejected by some factions, she was ousted by her cousin Stephen. A violent period known as ‘The Anarchy’ ensued.
Seeking A Son
Fast forward almost four centuries, and little had changed. Henry VIII took the view that female children counted for nothing. His desperate desire for a son explains, in part at least, his numerous marriages.
In the 1500s, and in the absence of better-qualified (i.e. male) candidates, two women named Mary did little to popularise the notion of a queen. Mary Queen of Scots, who inherited her crown at the tender age of 6 days, was forced to abdicate and was eventually executed. Mary I of England, who burned Protestants at the stake and earned the epithet ‘Bloody Mary’, reigned for only five years, which was more than long enough. Her younger sister, Elizabeth, fared rather better.
It was thus a fact that royal women lost out because they did not enjoy equal opportunities. Fate, however, sometimes intervened to ensure that, even though they were denied the chance to rule, their lineage nevertheless prevailed. Matilda had the last laugh, because the period of civil strife was ended by an agreement that her son, rather than the usurper Stephen’s, would become England’s next king. She had the pleasure of seeing her child crowned as Henry II.
Henry VIII had an older sister, Margaret. When the Tudor line died out, it was Margaret’s Stuart descendents who succeeded, thus uniting the thrones of Scotland and England. Charles I (he who was beheaded) was also not an eldest child. With the death of Queen Anne, there were no eligible (that is, non-Catholic) Stuart heirs. The British throne therefore passed to the grandson of Charles I’s big sister, (another Elizabeth). Enter the Hanoverians, who were mostly named George.
One of the most fascinating things about history is the question ‘what if…’? What if male-preference primogeniture hadn’t been the rule two hundred years ago? Queen Victoria’s first born was a girl, who was heir presumptive for only about 17 months, until the first of four sons turned up.
Victoria II’s reign would have been brief − she died in 1901, the same year as her mother. Her son was Kaiser Wilhelm II. His actions were instrumental in starting the First World War. Would (indeed could?) that conflict have happened, if he’d been King of England? Then again, would Princess Vicky have been married off to the heir to the German Empire, had she been a British queen-in-waiting?
James The Third
A classic ‘what if?’ provided the intriguing premise for the novel ‘James the Third’. This is based on the notion that, late on in the reign of George VI, a prince was born. As the baby brother of the grown-up Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, he would have become king upon the tragically early death of his father, heralding a prolonged regency.
The young monarch would have grown up alongside his near contemporary, Prince Charles. How might his reign have panned out? Playing around with such a ‘fun’ scenario provided the author with endless hours of entertainment, and it is hoped that readers of the resultant tale will find the idea equally enjoyable.
Find more from Maggie Ballinger now:
It is also available at Waterstones, WH Smith, Blackwell’s and other independent bookshops.
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