Friday, July 10, 2009

The Aristocracy in the 21st Century

Each month, The Aristo News will write our version of a "Letter from the Editor" based on the news surrounding the aristocracy. We hope you enjoy it! Always, The Aristo News

Last week, Burke’s Peerage announced that they would include illegitimate children of peers in their bible to the aristocracy. While this news may shake some families to the core, others may see it as Burke’s way of entering the twenty-first century. Illegitimate children are nothing new to the titled classes.

Charles, II acknowledged his illegitimate children and even bestowed aristocratic titles upon them. Their descendants include the Duke of Buccleuch, Earl of Plymouth, and the Duke of Richmond, Lennox and Gordon. It’s also interesting that while the illegitimate children will finally be recognized by Burke’s, it remains to be seen if the families of these children will be as welcoming? One can only imagine Christmas morning or the reading of the recently deceased duke’s last will and testament.

Will Burke’s new additions give credence to long whispered rumors that were never substantiated by the men and women who were the source of such scurrilous gossip? Debrett’s, the main competitor to Burke’s, has listed illegitimate children since 1990 (Los Angeles Times). Needless to say, illegitimate children still cannot inherit their parents’ title even if they are the oldest of the peer’s children. It’s unlikely that this will affect the aristocracy in any great way, but it may finally allow those children who were thrust into the shadows to have their own moment in the sun.

Burke’s also announced that they will list children in their birth order, regardless of sex. This is great news for the women of aristocratic families who have long been pushed to the bottom of their parents’ birth order in favor of their brothers. However, the eldest daughter still cannot inherit the family title. No, that’s still reserved for the oldest son or eldest male relative to outlive the current title holder.

History has shown us that upon the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s death in 1722, his eldest daughter, Henrietta, became the 2nd Duchess of Marlborough since her father had no male relative to carry on the title. It wasn’t as easy as Henrietta simply inheriting the title; a special act of Parliament had to be passed for Henrietta to become the duchess. Interestingly enough, the Dukedom of Marlborough is the only one in the United Kingdom that can still pass to the female line.

The Barony of de Walden fell into abeyance after the death of the 9th Baron de Walden in 1999. It wasn’t until 2004 that Queen Elizabeth; II took the barony out of abeyance in order for the 9th Baron’s eldest daughter, Mary, to become to the 10th Baroness Howard de Walden. Mary is also the third richest aristocrat on The Aristo News’ “Ten Richest Aristocrats in the UK” list.

Could Parliament call an end to male preference lineages in favor of a full primogeniture (or birth order preference)? There have been rumblings that the UK monarchy should adopt this system, which is already in use in Sweden, Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, and Denmark. If women were to inherit the title, one could simply state that the title of peerage could not change, no matter what the children are called. For example, if the woman is Mary Hart, 3rd Duchess of Holm and she marries John Draper, her son would be known as the John Draper, 4th Duke of Holm. Maybe we’re oversimplifying the issue, but it’s something to think about.

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