By Sarah Stevenson Sadullaeva
Master’s Thesis, University of Texas at Arlington, 2013
Abstract: It was not until the late eighteenth century that rules for succession to the English throne were written. Succession to the throne has never been random. As such, the heir to the throne plays an important part in the history of England. The heir was the personification of the future of England and signified stability, dynastic continuity and power. This study examines the designation of the heirs from the oath received by William of Normandy, which justified the conquest of 1066, to the current Prince of Wales, Charles, investiture in 1969. In reviewing the methods and reasons for designating an heir there is an evolution as sovereigns sought to secure power for themselves and for their families.
Introduction: A primary duty of the sovereign is to produce heirs for the continuation of the dynasty but also for the good of the country. However, even with heirs the continuation of the dynasty remained uncertain throughout much of the history of England. The rules that govern succession to the throne were unwritten until the late seventeenth century. This does not mean; however, that succession to the throne is or has ever been random. Inheritance to the English crown in the twenty-first century follows the common law principle of male primogeniture, but the rules of primogeniture were not firmly established until the thirteenth century. Although, succession followed the male primogeniture, this does not mean that succession was always smooth or without complications.
The English monarchy is at the heart of what it means to be British. The sovereign not only aids in the government of the commonwealth but is the ultimate example of Britishness. As such, succession is of the most importance as it is will determine who will be the visual representative of a nation. The heir plays an important part in the history of England. The desire to ensure the continuity of the dynasty, sovereigns placed importance on not only determining the heir but gaining recognition from the nation as to the heir’s right to claim the throne. The heir is the personification of the future of England as it signifies stability for the government as well as dynastic continuity and power for the sovereign.
This study will examine the designation of the heirs from Saint Edward the Confessor (r. 1042-1066) to the current sovereign Elizabeth II (r. 1952-present). These dates between were chosen because they are two iconic events in the history of England. The reception of Williams’ oath of fealty by Edward’s magnates was used for William’s justification of the Conquest and the investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales in 1969 was the most recent example of the appointment of an heir. This thesis demonstrates an evolution in the reasons and methods in the designation of heirs to the throne.