Earlier this week the Duke of Cambridge carried out an engagement with the Albert Kennedy Trust, a charitable initiative that supports LGBQT youth at risk of homelessness. During conversation he was asked how he would react if any of his children told him they were gay, and William responded:
“Do you know what? I’ve been giving that some thought recently because a couple of other parents said that to me as well. I think you really don’t start thinking about that until you are a parent, and I think, obviously, absolutely fine by me. The one thing I’d be worried about is how they—particularly the roles my children fill…is how that is going to be interpreted and seen. It worries me not because of them being gay; it worries me as to how everyone else will react and perceive it and then the pressure is then on them.
“It does worry me from a parent point of view. How many barriers, you know, hateful words, persecution, all that, and discrimination that might come, that’s the bit that really troubles me. But that’s for all of us to try and help correct and make sure we can put that to the past and not come back to that sort of stuff.”
William has a relatively long history of supporting the LGBQT community. In 2016 he was on the cover of Attitude Magazine and spoke out against bullying and discrimination. The next year he was given the Straight Ally Award at the British L.G.B.T. Awards.
I think his answer this week was a good one, but it does bring to the forefront the intersection of this particular issue and the Royal Family. Up until very recently, were a member of the RF gay, it was kept under wraps…give or take. A number of monarchs are surrounded by rumor, some even in their own day, and statistically (at the very least) it’s highly probable. Edward II, who ruled from 1307 to 1327, was almost certainly gay, and I’m of the belief that James I, who ruled from 1603 to 1625, was at least bisexual. Richard I (1189-1199) and Richard II (1377-1399) are two more who spark speculation.
And then, of course, there were lesser members of the broader royal family. A grandson of Queen Victoria via her daughter, Princess Alice, Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse had a tumultuous marriage to his first cousin, Victoria Melita “Ducky” of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (daughter of Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred), which apparently completely unraveled after she returned home one day to find him in bed with a male servant. Victoria refused to allow their divorce because they had a daughter, so the couple waited until she passed and then quietly did so 11 months later.
Another more recent example is George V’s son, the Duke of Kent, who is believed to have had a number of sexual relationships with men before he married Princess Marina of Greece & Denmark.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter – so much of the RF’s function is based in the concept of dynasty, and throughout history one of the monarch’s most essential functions was to secure the succession. Every single one of the people mentioned above married and most had children. Just like their heterosexual peers, they were still expected to forge an alliance through marriage and produce heirs regardless of personal desire. It was, quite simply, a part of the job.
Norms, laws, and societal expectation have changed dramatically in the last century, and even in the last decade. The difference between William hypothetically having come out as a young man compared with what might face Prince George if he does in another 15 years or so are night and day, and that’s a good thing. But it does raise an interesting question of how that might work in an institution based around the perpetuation of a blood line.
I definitely don’t think there would be an issue at this point with George serving as monarch (and I’m using George given his position as a future king), nor do I think there would be push back on him marrying and his spouse filling the role of consort. As for children, my best guess is that even if the couple had children via adoption or surrogacy, those children would be excluded from the succession and Princess Charlotte would become her brother’s heir.
That’s not to say there isn’t a fair argument to be made for those children being included in the succession, but one of the biggest challenges to the idea of the Queen abdicating or the crown skipping the Prince of Wales (one of the more insane suggestions from die-hard Diana fans) is that when you mess with the foundation of the succession you risk the monarchy’s fabric unraveling altogether. The idea of a bloodline is wildly outdated in the 21st century…and yet it’s still the bedrock of the institution.
In that sense, the issue has very little to do with the hypothetical homosexuality of a royal couple, since I think the same situation would arise if a heterosexual royal couple struggled with infertility and decided to adopt or use a donor. In a situation less extreme than the crown itself, I would imagine there’d be less of an issue – if, let’s say, the Earl of Wessex’s son was adopted, I doubt anyone would jump up and down about him inheriting his father’s title. But when it comes to the crown, there’s a near-mystical sense of an uninterrupted bloodline having moved from the Norman Conquest to today.
To play devil’s advocate, though, I would note that I use “near-mystical” because there have been oh-so-many interruptions. There’s a school of thought that Edward IV was already married when he made Elizabeth Woodville his queen in 1464 (thus rendering their children, including the Tudor’s matriarch, illegitimate). George IV had already married the Catholic Maria Fitzherbert when he married the Protestant Caroline of Brunswick, thus raising questions on the legality of both marriages. Henry VIII, of course, cast aside two women with daughters and prompted over a century of intermittent war and rebellion. Aside from marriage, the Glorious Revolution is dubious at best, for James II’s legitimate Catholic son was shunted to the side in exchange for his Protestant daughters. Legal, yes, but absolutely a manipulation of the succession.
And then let’s not forget that when DNA testing was done on Richard III’s skeleton it was discovered he wasn’t related to Edward III, the great patriarch of modern monarchy. (Honestly, claiming descent from Edward III or Charles II is a thing it feels like almost anyone can fairly say at this point…) So, at some point children descended from an extramarital relationship (or more than one) sat on the English throne. Frankly, it’s part of the reason why certain portions of the Royal Archives remain locked up, and why there’s a desire not to run similar tests on the remains of other buried royals. Very real questions about the current RF’s legitimacy could be raised.
So, in that sense, you are grounding the idea of the succession on the idea that nature trumps nurture. You are arguing that the Prince of Wales, for example, is the best candidate to succeed his mother because he’s her eldest child, and not the decades of on-the-job experience that he has from serving as her heir. It’s problematic to say the least, and these questions – should they arise someday – could very well shake the institution to its core. The monarchy needs new generations to survive, but it also needs to reflect the mores of its time.