Congratulations to Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra of Hanover, who has been received into the Catholic Church. May God shower His blessings upon her. The Princess is the daughter of Prince Georg of Hanover and Princess Caroline of Monaco, both of whom, in their day, provided the tabloid newspapers with ample fodder. On her mother’s side, Princess Alexandra is the granddaughter of the late Grace Kelly and on her father’s side she is a descendant of the Duke of Cumberland, Queen Victoria’s wicked uncle who inherited the Kingdom of Hanover on the accession of his niece. Given that German royalty have a habit of marrying each other, the Princess is not only a descendant of George III but also of the Kaiser, and thus of Queen Victoria herself, through her eldest child Princess Vicky.
Given her descent from Queen Victoria, she has a place very low down in the line of succession, or had. Now that she is a Catholic, she loses her place in the line of succession. The same fate applies to all those who become Catholic. Further up the chain, so to speak, the senior victims of this harsh law must be the children of the Duke of Kent, the eldest of whom is married to a Catholic, and the younger of whom, Lord Nicholas Windsor, became a Catholic. One might also mention the Duke’s brother, Prince Michael of Kent, who also married a Catholic.
That Princess Alexandra’s purely notional claim to the throne and its loss should arouse such interest – and the story has been very persistent on social media – is a reminder that we all remain fascinated by things royal. In modern Britain, lots of people who do not know who their own second cousins are could reel off a list of the Queen’s. The forthcoming nuptials of the Queen’s granddaughter, Princess Eugenie of York, are getting a fair amount of newspaper coverage as well. The wedding of her grandson, Prince Harry, was huge. And now we have the lovely figure of the figure-skating Princess Alexandra to contemplate. Our appetite for all things royal knows no bounds. Some, I am sure, would say that this obsession is unhealthy; but one could equally argue that it is perfectly natural. We are genealogically-minded creatures.
The story also reminds us of something else: Britain is still an officially anti-Catholic country, in that it has laws that discriminate (albeit in theory alone) against Catholics on the statute books; moreover, no one, except for a few readers of this magazine, seems to care or think it worth bothering about. While the equality agenda remains all the rage, this fact of religious discrimination seems strangely accepted by almost everyone.
Of course, it is not true to think of Princess Alexandra as a victim of oppression in any sense. After all, her chance of inheriting the throne was nil to beginning with; but she is not the point. The rest of us are. As a Catholic, I am annoyed that I live in a country that discriminates against my fellow Catholics (even if only in theory) in any way at all. The law of succession is not a live issue as it was, for example, in the first part of the 18th century. But the niggling fact remains – a Catholic cannot become head of state, for the state is a Protestant state. How many Catholics had a role in Prince Harry’s wedding, for example? At the risk of finding myself in agreement with the National Secular Society, we need to get rid of the last vestiges of the confessional state in Britain. The state can only be one thing – religiously neutral. Princess Alexandra’s conversion should be of no political import at all; that it is, is the fault of our archaic succession laws. They need to go.