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40 Years of Gender Neutral Succession Rules for Swedish Royals

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Sweden, Stockholm waterfront. [Between 1910 and 1925.] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Picture shows Swedish Royal Castle.
While researching one issue related to laws in my jurisdictional portfolio I often come across another interesting piece of information. For instance, while reading about the Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf’s decision to revoke the royal highness titles for five of his grandchildren, I realized that today, November 7, 2019, marks the 40th anniversary of the amendment to the Swedish Constitution that changed the order of royal succession. The Amendment made Swedish Princess Victoria Crown Princess and stripped then Crown Prince Carl Philip of his title and place as first in line to the throne, making him only a Prince and second in line to the throne. Thus, his big sister, at the age of two, went from being a princess to a Crown Princess when the Swedish Parliament voted to revise the succession order.

The new provision, in article 1 of the Act on Succession, states that:

The right of succession to the throne of Sweden is vested in the male and female descendants of King Carl XVI Gustaf, Crown Prince Johan Baptist Julii, later King Karl XIV Johan’s, issue in direct line of descent. In this connection, older siblings and their descendants have precedence over younger siblings and their descendants.

The process of amending the Swedish constitution to give then baby Victoria the Swedish crown had begun in 1977 with the government report SOU 1977:5 Kvinnlig tronföljd, following the princess’ birth in 1977.  The decision to review the adoption of female succession was taken even earlier, already in 1975, with a vote in Parliament of 151 in favor and 149 against. The final proposal (Proposition 1977/78:71) was brought before the Parliament in 1978 and 1979. Because changing the Act of Succession meant amending the Swedish Constitution, it had to be voted on twice by Parliament, with a general election in between. (8 kap. 14 § Regeringsformen (RF) [Instrument of Government] [Constitution].) A general election was held on September 16, 1979. The final vote in favor of gender neutral royal succession was cast on November 7, 1979. The law entered into force on January 1, 1980. Thus, the titles of the royal children were changed on that day.

At the time, the royal family opposed the changes to the succession order. The Swedish King, himself the fifth child with four older sisters, did not officially comment the legislation, but reportedly wanted to keep Prince Carl Philip as the royal heir, and to include female successors only if there was no male (brother) heir. According to reports, the King is nevertheless happy today with the outcome of the succession rules and his daughter’s performance as heir to the throne.

Other Changes as a Result of the Amendment to the Succession Rules

The change in succession also had effect on the family name of the Princess’ offspring. Prior to 1979, a child born to a Princess would have received the father’s last name, but now, as they are in direct line to the throne, they automatically receive the royal last name Bernadotte. The Princess Consort (person married to a princess), however, has the option of including his own name in conjunction with Bernadotte. When Victoria wed in 2010, her husband Daniel Westling did indeed proceed to take her name in conjunction with his own, and is now known as Prince Daniel, but legally named Daniel Westling Bernadotte. Mr. Christopher O’Neil, who wed Princess Madeleine in 2013, kept his name and chose to not become a member of the Swedish Royal House, meaning he has no title, and no restrictions.

The 1979 changes to the Succession Act also meant a revocation of the prohibition for a Swedish prince to marry a commoner, i.e. “enskild svensk mans dotter.” A change that Prince Carl Philip himself availed himself of when he, on June 13, 2015, married Miss Sofia Hellqvist, making her Princess Sofia. Prior to the change, a Swedish prince could not, with or without the permission of the King, marry a commoner (5 § Act of Succession, as in force prior to January 1, 1980). One may say that he lost a kingdom, but gained a princess.

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