The UK’s “Downton Law” Seeks to Let Women Inherit Titles
by Rebecca Pahle | 11:00 am, December 30th, 2013
At first I was going to go with a happy image of Downton Abbey‘s Mary Crawley, since doubtless if this bill had been passed back in her day she’d have been very pleased to be able to inherit her father’s title herself instead of having to marry her cousin Matthew. You know, assuming she weren’t fictional. But the allure of the Mary Crawley “judging you” look is just too strong.
Four baronets have taken some time off from being rich, drinking tea, and shopping for jodhpurs (that’s what happens in the British peerage system, right?) to add an amendment to a bill making its way through the House of Lords that will make it possible for women to inherit their father’s titles. The bill has been nicknamed the “Downton law” after, you guessed it, Downton Abbey, which had as a plot point in its earlier seasons the fact that lead character Mary Crawley couldn’t inherit her father’s Earlship because she was the wrong gender and tradition! History! Honor!
According to its supporters the bill is gaining some traction, which is good, because in the great multiple choice question that is this story the rule that keeps women from inheriting is
D) All of the above
The law already included earls, dukes, viscounts, and other hereditary titles, but baronets had to make a special effort to get in on it for reasons to do with the peerage system that frankly I don’t understand and don’t really care about. One of those baronets who went the extra mile is Sir Nicholas Stuart Taylor, whose baronetcy will become extinct if one of his daughters cannot inherit his title. One of those daughters is Virginia Stuart Taylor, whose parents “were so disappointed not to have an heir that her mother cried when she learnt she had given birth to a girl,” according to The Telegraph.
“I don’t mind if i am the first, the 10th, the 100th [baronetess],” says Stuart Taylor,
“but I’ve been brought up the rest of my life — apart from those first years of disappointment of not being a boy — as completely equal to men.
I have been brought up believing that girls are equal to boys, often getting better grades at university. Everything is equal and it seems kind of ridiculous that we are trying so hard to make it fair for women in other areas of life but not in this one.”
Of the 1,260 baronets in the UK, only four of them—all in Scotland—can be passed down to daughters. Mary would doubtless be very pleased if this were to change. Ditto Edith. Edith for life.