Duke of Westminster’s wedding sparks calls to change male inheritance law

The young couple stand together in a garden
The Duke of Westminster and his fiancee, Olivia Henson, who will marry in Chester on June 7 - Grosvenor2023

The Duke of Westminster’s forthcoming wedding has sparked fresh calls to change the law preventing firstborn daughters inheriting their family’s titles.

The centuries-old law of primogeniture discriminates in favour of boys, with sons automatically inheriting the family title on their father’s death, even if they have an older sister.

Now campaigners for the rights of daughters have renewed their call for the law to be changed, pointing out that it will impact any children the Duke of Westminster, who marries his fiancee Olivia Henson on June 7, may go on to have.

The couple could therefore be forgiven for having more than half an eye on the progress of a Private Members Bill, designed to remedy what campaigners say is a longstanding injustice.

Unless Harriet Baldwin’s proposed Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill is passed by MPs and Lords in the next Parliament, the Duke and Duchess’s first child – should she be a daughter – will not inherit the Westminster title, and all the status and wealth it brings.

As a result of laws dating back to the feudal era, it will instead pass to any son the couple might have, even if he is born second. If the bill passes, it will transform the aristocracy, allowing firstborn daughters to inherit their family titles for the first time.

Charlotte Carew Pole with her husband and their two children in their stately home
Mrs Carew Pole, of Daughter's Rights, pictured with her family in their home Antony House, Torpoint, Cornwall - Mike Hogan/Times Newspapers Ltd

Ms Baldwin’s bill, supported by several MPs including Philip Davies, was scheduled to receive its second reading in February but was timed out. It will now have to be re-submitted after a new Parliament has been elected on July 4.

Campaigners say the upcoming wedding of the 7th Duke of Westminster at Chester Cathedral, one of the most glittering society events in years, only serves to throw the current injustice into stark relief.

The Duke, a friend of both Princes William and Harry, and godfather to Prince George and Prince Archie, inherited the title and seat at Eaton Hall from his father in 2016.

He also took on 140,000 acres of land in Oxfordshire, Cheshire, Lancashire and Scotland, and 300 acres in Mayfair and Belgravia. He is worth an estimated £10.127 billion.

Previous attempts to change the law were blocked by the Cabinet Office and many of the 92 male hereditary peers who remain in the House of Lords, much to the anger of women barred from inheriting titles.

Charlotte Carew Pole, of Daughters’ Rights, has long campaigned to change male primogeniture. She told The Telegraph: “This is a fundamental inequality. If this was any other section of society that kind of discrimination would prompt outrage and condemnation.

Mrs Carew Pole with her daughter Jemima and her son Lucien
Mrs Carew Pole with her daughter Jemima and her son Lucien - Julian Simmonds for The Telegraph

“If it was a Muslim community discriminating in this way against its daughters it would rightfully be condemned, but because it involved posh people it seems to have been acceptable. Well, it’s not and it can’t be tolerated any longer.”

Those who back a change in the law argue that primogeniture has a profound impact on the daughters of the nobility. Mrs Carew Pole’s nine-year-old, Jemima, will lose out to her younger brother Lucian when he eventually inherits the Pole baronetcy from his father Tremayne.

Mrs Carew Pole said: “They are quite simply not as valued as boys are. Families want two sons – an heir and a spare – and the girls are a bit of fluff on the side.

“My daughter asks me: ‘Why can’t I have it? What’s wrong with me?’ What do I tell her? The reality is that girls spend their life feeling less valued and important than their brothers.”

Among those affected by the rules in recent years was Lady Tessa, Countess of Balfour, whose younger brother Edward inherited the title Duke of Norfolk, along with its seat Arundel Castle in West Sussex, following the death of their father in 2002.

Lady Tessa was one of five daughters of hereditary peers who tried to end the system of male primogeniture by taking the government to the European Court of Human Rights in 2018.

As part of their proposed test case, which was not heard by the court, Lady Willa Franks, eldest daughter of the Earl of Balfour; Lady Eliza Dundas, eldest daughter of the Earl of Ronaldshay; Sarah Long, elder sister to the current Viscount Long of Wraxall; Tanya Field, eldest daughter of the Earl of Macclesfield; and Hatta Byng, eldest daughter of Viscount Torrington, would have argued that the current system breaches Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

That fight now reverts to Parliament.

Mrs Carew Pole said: “We would hope the Duke of Westminster would support our fight for equality when Harriet’s Private Members Bill comes back before a new Parliament.

“The Westminsters strike me as the kind of modern aristocratic family that would support the idea of a firstborn daughter enjoying the same inheritance rights and benefits as a firstborn son.”