It’s official: Prince Charles will succeed his mother Queen Elizabeth II in the honorary position of Head of the Commonwealth. U.K. leaders came to the decision on Friday night.
“I am deeply touched and honored by the decision of Commonwealth Heads of State and Government that I should succeed The Queen, in due course, as Head of the Commonwealth,” Prince Charles said in a statement.
This news follows the Queen’s endorsement of Prince Charles in the position in a speech she delivered at Buckingham Palace on Thursday. “It is my sincere wish that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future generations and will decide that one day the Prince of Wales should carry on the important work started by my father,” she said.
Her father King George VI was the first Head of the Commonwealth, a position he adopted in 1950. The honorary and non-hereditary position of Head of the Commonwealth should not be confused with the monarchy itself.
The Commonwealth today is an international organization comprised of 53 countries (many formerly under British rule). Official duties of the Head of the Commonwealth include holding discussions with Commonwealth leaders, delivering a Commonwealth Day broadcast, and visiting Commonwealth countries in a diplomatic position.
Queen Elizabeth II is about to turn 92 years old and is the United Kingdom’s longest reigning monarch, having gained the title 65 years ago. She and Prince Phillip, 96, her husband and royal consort, have been married for 71 years.
In the time the Queen has held the throne, there has been much speculation as to who exactly would succeed her as monarch. For many decades, it was assumed that her oldest son, Prince Charles, 68, would succeed her as king.
However, the possibility was raised that Charles might not choose to succeed the Queen and instead his eldest son, Prince William, 35, would be the next king.
According to The Sun, the Queen has reportedly shared with her closest circle of confidants that if she lives to 95 years of age, she will abdicate the throne and ask for legislation to grant Prince Charles the full power to reign as king while she is alive.
Prince Charles is already the longest-serving heir apparent to the throne, a role he’s held since 1952. Whenever he ascends to the throne, he will be the oldest person in British history to be crowned.
If Prince Charles elects not to take the throne, the next in line for the kingship is Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. Next comes his son, four-year-old Prince George, then his daughter, two-year-old Princess Charlotte and his third (yet to be born) child.
Sixth in line to the crown is William’s younger brother Prince Harry, 33, followed by Charles’ younger brother, 57-year-old Prince Andrew. Charles’ nieces, Princess Beatrice, 29, and Princess Eugenie, 27, would come next, followed by his youngest brother, 53-year-old Prince Edward.
Prior to 2011, daughters could inherit the throne only if no living sons were present. The rule was based on the tenets of primogeniture, an act that gives preference to the oldest male heirs of a king or queen.
In 2011, changes to the U.K.’s succession laws allowed an elder daughter the right to the throne over her younger brother.
Another 2011 change to the centuries-old rules allowed monarchs to marry Roman Catholics, whom they were previously barred from wedding.