Because that would be silly, that's why
December 1, 2012 7:39 AM   Subscribe

If Prince William and Duchess Kate were to legally adopt a child, would that child take hereditary positions and title? If not, would the Queen have the power to bestow them -- that is, to declare a child to be in line for the throne?

Obviously they aren't going to attempt this. Equally obviously, no one would stop them from making an ordinary adoption in which the child gained a family but no titles. (When I asked Google this question, it came back with a lot of tabloid rumors about that happening, but no answer to my question.)

I just wondered who had the power to make such decisions, if anyone.
posted by Countess Elena to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Short answer: no.

Ascent to the throne is determined by the Act of Settlement 1701, the Queen herself has no say in it. Technically, ascent has to be ratified by the British Parliament.

Only Protestant descendants of Sophia of Hanover (1630-1714) are eligible to become monarch.

However, there is nothing preventing the adopted child from having a title created for him/her by the Monarch, though it is unlikely they will be able to inherit one from their parents in their own right. The inheritance of titles are determined by the title's Letters Patent - I would be surprised if any of them have a provision for adoption though.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 7:52 AM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ordinary titles of nobility do not pass on to adopted children.

Succession to the crown is governed by (among others) the Act of Union 1800 and the Act of Settlement 1701.

... established and declared That the Crown and Regall Government of the Kingdoms of England France and Ireland and the Dominions thereunto belonging should be and continue to Your Majestie and the said late Queen during the joynt Lives of Your Majesty and the said Queen and to the Survivor And that after the Decease of Your Majesty and of the said Queen the said Crown and Regall Government should be and remain to the Heirs of the Body of the said late Queen And for Default of such Issue to Her Royall Highness the Princess Ann of Denmark and the Heirs of Her Body And for Default of such Issue to the Heirs of the Body of Your Majesty

That's from the Act of Settlement. Heirs of the Body means natural born legitimate children only.

If they wanted to adopt a child and have that child as heir to the throne, it would require an act of parliament. Parliament ultimately has the power to decide on issues of succession. Note though that this would only affect the UK, Canada and other countries that have Elizabeth the 2nd as monarch would have to pass their own legislation.
posted by atrazine at 7:53 AM on December 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

This could become a more probable scenario if, through the death of parents in an accident, a child member of the extended royal family (descended of Sophia of Hanover) were to be adopted by William and Kate. The child would still not be a "legitimate descendant", so I would expect that an act of Parliament would be required in this scenario, as well.
posted by 1367 at 10:14 AM on December 1, 2012

Chris Guest has two adopted children. Neither of them will inherit his baroncy when he dies; they're not eligible.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:08 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just wondered who had the power to make such decisions, if anyone.

Simple answer is Parliament. More broadly, it's important to understand that this is part of why the UK is considered a constitutional monarchy. The Queen is the Head of State, but not the Head of Government; a symbol of the unity of the nations of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but not, strictly speaking, their ruler. The price of the Crown was ceding this authority to Parliament. On the upside, there have been fewer pretenders gathering armies and landing on fair England's shore to contest the throne since that time.

One well-known example of adoptive children not inheriting a title is the family of Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest, Baron Haden-Guest. Because their two children are adopted, they are unable to inherit the Barony; as a result the heir presumptive is Christopher's younger brother, Nicholas Haden-Guest.

There has been a nod to modern times, and in 2004 a royal warrant was issued (in theory by the Queen, but in practice a decision made by the Government, i.e. Tony Blair's administration) allowing
that such styles and courtesy titles as are proper to the younger children of peers of the realm will in future be accorded to children adopted by peers within the meaning of the Adoption Act 1976 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002, notwithstanding that no right to any dignity or title of honour is thereby conferred upon them. This means, for instance, that the adopted sons of an Earl will be accorded the prefix designation of ‘Honourable’ and the adopted daughters of an Earl that of ‘Lady’, used in front of their Christian names.

As to why this is a concern, note that adoption -- since Roman times, actually -- has been a way for a person in a position of power to select a person to inherit that power. There is a long history of laws -- such as the Frankish Salic law -- designed to define just who is a just heir.

The vagaries of application of such laws mean that sometimes royal lines have diverged (and there have been disputes that have been resolved only through violence). To keep the present example in mind, the UK had never legally allowed a firstborn female to inherit the crown until 2011: Elizabeth only inherited from George VI because she only had a sister; and Charles being the eldest son of Elizabeth II would inherit, but should he die before his mother, Anne, the second-oldest child, would not until Andrew and Edward and their successors were unable to. So last year, in anticipation of the royal marriage, the 11 Commonwealth countries (that are not republics) agreed to a change in the law (which all of their parliaments need to approve) so that should the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a firstborn daughter, she would in fact inherit outright, as modern European subjects of monarchies generally expect.

So this is very much an area of the law that is capable of changing, though I doubt the adoptive child aspect will change anytime soon.
posted by dhartung at 11:16 AM on December 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

This happened in the Roman empire. When it stopped happening the quality of Caeser went down. Or so I've heard.
posted by notned at 11:43 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chris Guest has two adopted children. Neither of them will inherit his baroncy when he dies; they're not eligible.

I am pretty sure the eldest of those children, Ann, would not be eligible anyway because she's female. So basically: no birth out of wedlock, no adoption, and no girls for heriditary baronies.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:45 AM on December 1, 2012

no birth out of wedlock

Indeed, that already happened to Guest's older half-brother, Anthony Haden-Guest, whose parents married only after he was born.

Notably, Christopher is the 5th Baron, but the title has only existed across three generations thus far, having passed from brother to brother (which it will likely do so once more).

While the question was specifically about the British Royal Family, it's important to note that there remain other traditions, of which a notable example is Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt. It's not actually a title, since the nobility was formally abolished, but a last name. An (adult) adoptee himself, von Anhalt has successively adopted adult sons of his own, in an alleged scheme to "sell" the name.

A place where there remains some substance to the matter is Monaco. Due to the small size of the Grimaldi family, and the lack of a native aristocracy, there have been a number of instances in the country's history when its succession was threatened, which under a longstanding treaty would mean its absorption by France. So the Monegasque crown allows adoptive heirs. Retroactive legitimization of out-of-wedlock births by subsequent marriage is also permitted.

The last time that Wikipedia had a crowd-sourced list up of the potential successors to the British throne, though, it went well over 5000 names (including actual reigning monarchs of other countries, such as the King of Norway). The descendants of Sophia of Hanover only multiply.
posted by dhartung at 1:19 PM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This thread is teaching me way more than I expected. I had no idea Christopher Guest was a hereditary peer. If you'd asked me to guess which comedic British actor was titled gentry, I'd have started with, oh, Emma Thompson or Hugh Laurie.

I also had no idea of the story of Anne Stanley, Countess of Castlehaven, who was apparently just flatly ignored.

Thanks, guys!
posted by Countess Elena at 1:36 PM on December 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

For a while, Guest was a member of the House of Lords. (Then the law changed.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:45 PM on December 1, 2012

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