History has shown us that unexpected heirs can play important roles.
In recent years, historical research has looked beyond the central figures of monarchy to investigate the peripheral members of royal families – princely satellites of royal suns. I have explored this previously in a piece for The Conversation. By extending the story to include the second daughters and second sons of kings or queens in Europe, it becomes clear that monarchy was a far more complex affair than just the kings and the queens.
Anne the survivor
Princess Anne of York was expected to have a relatively minor role in British monarchy. She was born in 1665. You may have believed that as the daughter of James Duke of York and niece of Charles II, a second child of a first son, she would be a good candidate for marriage in order to establish a diplomatic alliance with the Stuart monarchy. Anne was fortunate in a few ways: neither of her brothers survived childhood, and by the time she was born, it was obvious that Charles would not produce an heir. The most important thing to note is that neither England nor Scotland prohibited female succession.
James II and his family. Peter Lely/Benedetto Gennari via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY
James’ first marriage, Anne Hyde, died in 1671. The Duke of York then remarried an Italian princess, Mary Beatrice Modena, and hoped to have a son. In 1683, Anne’s daughter was married to Prince George, younger brother of Danish King Christian V. Christian, a protestant, was also an ally to France’s catholic king Louis XIV, and was a good counterbalance for Dutch power on the North Sea represented by William of Orange. William was married to Anne’s elder sister, Princess Mary, a few short years earlier.
Charles II died in 1685, and his brother James II (and James VII) of Scotland became King of England. He only ruled for a few short years before the “Glorious Revolution”, 1688, drove him off the throne. Mary, his daughter, was made queen along with her husband William III. Their heir was Anne.
When William died in 1702, Anne became queen and ruled for 12 years. She surprised many when she emerged from the shadows and proved herself to be a capable leader. She oversaw the transformation of England, Scotland, into a united Great Britain. During her reign, the two-party government system evolved.
Change of roles
Anne’s rise was unusual for junior royal daughters, as most younger daughters of sons younger than her faded away. The British monarchy’s female succession system has allowed royal women more opportunities than their counterparts in France and Germany, where women are still prohibited from the throne. Queen Victoria is the child of a fourth-born. Queen Elizabeth II, on the other hand, is the offspring of a second-born . George VI, a duke of York who succeeded his brother after his abdication in 1936, was also the mother of Queen Victoria.
Queen Victoria directed her daughters and granddaughters, even those who were not directly related to the throne, to marry to form alliances. This led to several members of Victoria’s extended family fighting on opposing sides during World War I.
Another second daughter, Princess Victoria Melita (also a second daughter from a second son, Prince Alfred, Duke Edinburgh), broke royal tradition by marrying Grand Duke Cyril of Russia for love, in spite of the family’s objections. In the 1950s, another second daughter tried to do the same thing, as shown in the recent TV documentary Prince Margaret: The Rebel Royal.
In the modern world, Princess Eugenie’s choice of husband caused no royal ripples. It is unlikely that she will rise to prominence in the United Kingdom’s monarchy history, barring a bizarre catastrophe that removes the eight people ahead of her. History has shown that we should expect the unexpected.