Why Is Princess Anne So Low in the Line of Succession to the Throne?

The line of succession to the British throne is pretty cut-and-dried. It’s a little confusing to figure out if you don’t know the rules. But once you know what the royal family tree looks like, most of it makes sense. Except, you could argue, when it comes to Princess Anne.

Princess Anne is the second child — and only daughter — of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. But while her older brother, Prince Charles, will ascend to the throne when the queen dies, Princess Anne is thirteenth in the line of succession. Want to know why she isn’t likely to ever become queen? Here’s what you need to know.

Princess Anne has gone from second to thirteenth to the throne

Princess Elizabeth with her husband, Philip, and children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne

Elizabeth, Philip, Charles, and Anne circa 1951. | AFP/Getty Images

Right now, Princess Anne has only a very remote chance of ever becoming queen. But that wasn’t always the case. Closer reports that Anne was second in line to the throne at the time of her mother’s coronation. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip had only two children at that point: Prince Charles, born in 1948, and Princess Anne, born in 1950. Prince Charles became the heir apparent, and Princess Anne was in second place, right behind Charles.

Princess Anne held onto her spot — second place in the line of succession to the throne — for the first few years of her mother’s reign. And because she was only behind Prince Charles, it seemed entirely possible that Anne could sit on the throne one day. But then, her rank in the line of succession began to fall.

Prince Andrew and Prince Edward took her place

For years, Prince Charles was Princess Anne’s only sibling. But when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip had more children, Princess Anne began to fall farther down the line of succession. When Prince Andrew arrived in 1960, he took Princess Anne’s spot and bumped her down to third place. Then, when Prince Edward was born in 1964, he got the third spot and pushed Anne down to fourth.

That doesn’t seem entirely fair. After all, Princess Anne was born way before her younger brothers. Why should they get to take her place? As The Smithsonian Magazine notes, for hundreds of years, the laws of succession to the British throne have followed male-preference primogeniture, which places all brothers ahead of their sisters in line for the crown. Princess Anne was always preceded by her older brother, Prince Charles. And then when she got more brothers, they also took precedence over her because of their gender, not their birth order.

The rules that prioritize gender over birth order changed

Princess Anne | Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Though Princess Anne ended up farther down the line of succession when she had brothers, the same thing doesn’t happen today. In 2011, the leaders of the Commonwealth agreed that birth order, not gender, should determine the line of succession. So in 2013, Parliament passed the Succession to the Crown Act to make it official. That means that Princess Charlotte retained her place in the line of succession even when she got a younger brother, Prince Louis.

But that doesn’t help Princess Anne. As Closer notes, the act states that absolute primogeniture — where the oldest child ascends to the crown before his or her siblings, regardless of gender — only applies to members of the royal family born after October 28, 2011. So the changes don’t help Princess Anne get any closer to the crown.

It’s not just Anne’s brothers who have pushed her farther from the crown

Additionally, it isn’t just Prince Andrew and Prince Edward who have pushed Princess Anne farther down the line of succession, away from the throne. Anne comes behind not only her brothers, but also all of their children and grandchildren. Prince Charles is first in line to the throne, followed by Prince William in second place, Prince George in third place, Princess Charlotte in fourth place, and Prince Louis in fifth place. Next comes Prince Harry, in sixth place.

After Harry comes Prince Andrew in seventh place, followed by his daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, in eighth and ninth places. Next comes Prince Edward, who is in tenth place, and then his children, James and Louise, in eleventh and twelfth place. And then, finally, is Princess Anne, who takes thirteenth place.

The British don’t expect to have another queen for generations

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles arrive for the formal opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at the ballroom at Buckingham Palace

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles arrive for the formal opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace. | Jonathan Brady/ AFP/ Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning monarch in British history. And many people can’t remember a time when the queen wasn’t on the throne. But if you look at the royal family tree, you’ll notice something striking. It’s not particularly likely that we’ll see another queen for at least a few generations. The Washington Post reported at the time of Prince George’s birth that “If this newborn lives to be as old as Elizabeth II. . . then even if his first child is a daughter, it could be nearly a century before there is another British queen.”

Princess Anne is very unlikely to ever sit on the throne. And unless something dramatic — and tragic — happens, even Princess Charlotte won’t become queen. The next three generations of likely heirs to the throne are all men. So unless something significant changes, the United Kingdom probably won’t have another queen for at least three generations, possibly more.

Read more: When the Queen Dies, What Happens to William and Kate? Or Harry and Meghan?

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