The marriage in April 2011 between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was watched by more than 24m people on the BBC and ITV.
The wedding was followed by a power surge amounting to the equivalent of 1m kettles being boiled. However, public interest in Royal relationships goes further than fascination with the Duchess’s wedding dress and the Royal kiss. What for many are the most private of moments – births, deaths and marriages – are for the Royal family of great public interest, and in some cases matters of public policy.
For an heir to succeed to the Crown at all, the incumbent must either abdicate or die. The Queen succeeded to the throne following the death of her father, George VI. The King was much loved, and the queue to file past his coffin in Westminster Hall reached up to four miles, with over 300,000 people recorded as having filed past. George VI succeeded the throne on the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, whose marriage to a divorcee had been seen as unacceptable at the time.
There are also legal constraints on the succession to the Crown and on royal marriages. The monarch can neither be, nor be married to, a Roman Catholic. Under a 1772 Act of Parliament, all descendants of George II under the age of 25 can marry only with the consent of the Queen, unless they are children of princesses marrying into ‘foreign families’. And currently males take precedence over female siblings in the line of succession. Thus under the existing rules, where William and Kate’s first-born child fits in the line of succession would depend not only on its sex, but that of any sibling that follows. As it stands, a single female baby would become, on birth, third in line for the throne, behind Princes Charles and William. If she was followed by a younger brother, she would be bumped down to fourth in line.
These rules however may change. The Commonwealth Heads of Government have agreed to alter the rules to favour gender equality, end the prohibition on an heir marrying a Catholic, and limit the scope of the 1772 Act. Legislation will be needed, guaranteeing that public interest in and debate on the monarchy will continue well after the Diamond Jubilee.
Stately statistics. The charts compare English and British monarchs over the period 1066-1910 (black lines) with those since 1910 (blue lines). All figures are averages.