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Hannah Wallis

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Girls Rule. Or at Least, they Should Have the Option to

Posted: 22/10/2011 01:00

Primogeniture is once again back in the news - and this time, it's nothing to do with bloody Downton Abbey (I know, I know: I'll get kicked out of the girl club for saying so, but - whisper it - I just don't care about it). Rather, that the chances of Wills and Kate popping out a sprog in the near future (can you say 'popping out a sprog if it's a royal sprog? Is that the sort of thing that passes for treason?) is probably pretty high, and the chances of said sprog (eh. May as well hang for a sheep as a lamb) being a girl are, well...one in two, really, aren't they?

As a result, one of the ongoing consequences of the spring's Royal Wedding - other than a continued and frankly unhealthy interest in the whereabouts, whys and wherefores of Pippa Middleton and the famous bottom - is that a centuries-old custom, usually the sole concern of the landed gentry, has found itself thrust into the spotlight.

The issue of whether girls are entitled to inherit - be it the throne, a title, or a whacking great pile somewhere in the heart of Berkshire floggable to passing film crews - isn't one that'll affect most of us on a personal level. And yet I still find it shocking that it's taken until 2011 for it to come up as a parliamentary issue.

Obviously, primogeniture isn't an issue that's at the top of the priority tree - nor should it be - and it's only come up now because the possibility of an imminent royal baby has forced it. But that doesn't take away from the fact that, at a time when the President of Liberia can be Nobel prize-winning and female, if you've got a nice pile in the wilds of Northumberland, you won't get your mitts on it if your brother happens to be a minute or so older.

Clearly, to those it directly affects, the issue can be a heated one, and if you're the eldest boy in a family then it's in your interests that the status quo remains. But that doesn't mean it's right for things to continue the way they are.

And even before the famous bottom wiggled down the aisle, a survey conducted at the beginning of the year on behalf of aristocrat (and property voyeur) favourite Country Life suggested that attitudes towards the practice have been shifting over time, with more and more landowners feeling it's acceptable not to leave an estate to the eldest child.

I can see there's an argument for wanting to make sure that, when you pass on an estate that's been in family for generations, it's going to stay in one piece, rather than being divvied up into small pieces and lost to the economic winds.

But surely that doesn't mean it needs to go to the eldest boy? What makes boys, and eldest boys in particular, so special? Historically, some parts of the world practised lineal primogeniture - inheritance of the eldest child regardless of sex. And quite honestly, I'm not sure there's a need for an inheritance to go even to the eldest child, as the practice of ultimogeniture - leaving everything to the youngest child - would suggest.

But surely if the priority is keeping whatever you're handing over inside the family, then it should go to the person most capable of looking after it as a going concern, regardless of someone's age or gender. If the IQ of Lord Whatever's three daughters means they wouldn't look out of place on Made in Chelsea, then inherit their baby brother. But, by the same token, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire hasn't done too badly with the little place she's been running for the past few years - and, one might argue, to a rather higher degree of renown than her uncle, to whom her father's title passed.

You needn't even fear the place drops out of the family name once your clever daughter runs off and gets married - she is quite permitted to keep her own name these days.

Other than it being tradition - of which we English are admittedly so fond - there's no reason at all for it to continue. And given that two of the most successful monarchs we've had have been women, about bloody time too.

 

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