12 Jul 2013

A genteel revolution over aristocratic succession?

Whatever sex the royal baby is, it will inherit the throne. Elsewhere among the aristocracy, however, such equality does not exist – but a whiff of genteel revolution is in the air.

Remember Francis Fulford, of F****** Fulford fame? It was an unforgettable documentary. But I never thought when I watched and laughed all that time ago, that I’d actually get to meet Francis Fulford in his stately pile all these years on.

Great Fulford has been lived in by a Fulford for 25 or 26 generations – and, of course, it’s always been passed through the male line. It’s vast, though crumbling a little around the edges, surrounded by 3,000 acres and a beautiful lake in which the Fulford children and friends were cavorting when we dropped in.

‘Farting about’

Now that royal succession is gender neutral (whatever variety of babe is Prince(ss) of Cambridge, it will be king or queen in the future), and with rumblings afoot in the aristocracy to end the tradition of primogeniture, it seemed the right moment to see what Mr Fulford had to say about all this.

He’s not impressed. “A lightbulb moment for Cameron in the bath” is how he puts the decision to change the law on royal succession (he terms it “farting about with royal succession”).

Great Fulford will go to his son Arthur; twin sister Matilda doesn’t get a look in. Francis Fulford told me “Matilda doesn’t mind,” though he’s never actually asked her.

Genteel rebellion?

But higher up the social elite, if you believe in these things, there is a whiff of genteel rebellion in the air. I went to meet the fifth Earl of Balfour and his wife Lady Tessa (whose younger brother is the country’s premier aristocrat, the 18th Duke of Norfolk – keep up!).

If the aristocracy were a bastion of equality, as eldest child of the 17th duke, she’d be living in Arundel castle now, presiding over 30,000 acres.

But, surprise surprise, these aristocratic folk are rather stuck in their ways. Almost every title in the country goes to men over women. Most of them can’t even be passed on to daughters if there are no sons. They go sideways (the Downton Abbey dilemma).

Which is a problem for the earl because he and Tessa have four daughters, no sons. They’re fighting for a change in the law. But does anyone else agree?