Suppose the British King dies and he is currently childless, but his wife is pregnant. Under the succession laws of the commonwealth realms, what happens? I see three natural possibilities:

  1. The next in line (e.g. the King's younger sibling) becomes monarch and the unborn child misses out.
  2. The next in line becomes temporary monarch and the child becomes monarch upon birth.
  3. The unborn child becomes monarch with a regent. (This seems no more ridiculous than a nine-month-old monarch.)

Obviously, this is a hypothetical question, as the current Queen has plenty of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The first person in the line of succession who is both married and childless is Prince Harry at number 6 and he is not in the "direct" line of succession. However, when King William IV died childless in 1837, the accession proclamation of his niece Queen Victoria made reference to "saving the rights of any issue of His late Majesty King William the Fourth which may be borne of His late Majesty's Consort". In the end, the King's widow was not pregnant. In essence, my question is what would have happened if William IV’s widow gave birth.

I'm curious to know what the law says or, if it is ambiguous, who is empowered to make the decision and on what basis. Are there any similar cases elsewhere in world history?

A follow-up question: Would the stage of pregnancy matter? If the pregnancy was already public knowledge, the unborn child's rights might be considered more seriously than if it was unknown.

An even more complicated follow-up question: There are now cases of dead men fathering children via frozen semen. What would happen if the King's widow had a child via artificial insemination after the death of the monarch?

  • 1
    This situation actually occurs in the Honor Harrington book Echoes of Honor (albeit with a mere countess, not a king). They give some interesting if fictional precedents. And of course there is another twist that would be a spoiler for those who haven't read the previous book yet. It doesn't answer this question but may be interesting to the same people who find this question interesting.
    – Brythan
    Oct 13, 2018 at 0:47
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    who is empowered to make the decision and on what basis. Whatever the decision, in the UK the answer is almost always "the Parliament on account of Parliamentary Sovereignty". Which can lead to ad-hoc decisions ("we did decide that way in the previous case, but we do not like the candidate so we are changing the rules"). In this case, with the additional point that the law for the accession of Queen Victoria does not appear to have been challenged, so they can invoke precedents. More info here: royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/…
    – SJuan76
    Oct 13, 2018 at 11:40
  • In any case, it seems that the Succession Acts are created with lots of time in advance (the link I provided tells that the Succession Act for Elizabeth began to be drafted when his father accessed to the Throne) so it is reasonable to expect the previous King (as head of the Parliament) to have considerable influence on it.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 13, 2018 at 11:48
  • Relevant resources here and here. Oct 13, 2018 at 23:08
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    If the unborn had no rights, why would the Queen be barred from remarriage to supposedly allow for issue to be born ? This was for a tad longer than 9 months, wasn't it ?
    – mckenzm
    Oct 15, 2018 at 2:49

1 Answer 1


According to the British line of succession, if a King is to die childless, the crown would then fall to the next oldest male son of the previous king, given that they were both born before the royal succession line was revised in 2011. Thereby, if Prince William was king now, and Prince William didn't have any children, the crown would fall to Prince Harry. It doesn't matter if the wife is pregnant.

  • 2
    Do you have a source for this?
    – Thomas
    Nov 6, 2018 at 19:54
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  • If you go here, you'll see that before Prince William had kids, Prince Harry was third in line for the throne. There was also a revision act passed in 2014 that made boys not to be made king before girls, even if they had been born after the girl had been born. However, most members of the royal family are too old to qualify for the newest revision. Nov 6, 2018 at 20:01
  • @AidanMcMillan: Currently, your answer still claims the crown prefers sons to daughters, but as you said in the comments, that's not the case. Could you please edit that information into your answer? Comments are temporary and may be deleted at any time.
    – Kevin
    Nov 6, 2018 at 20:36
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    The link to the family tree is hardly a source supporting the assertion that "it doesn't matter if the wife is pregnant." And, it seems, it might actually matter. See newstatesman.com/culture/2017/09/….
    – phoog
    Nov 6, 2018 at 21:00

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