A Word for Wednesday: Heir

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In another week the word ‘heir’ might lead one to recall the television series Downton Abbey, or perhaps socialites such as Paris and Nicky Hilton - this week, though, everyone seems to be talking about same thing: the birth of a baby.

The new Prince of Cambridge, whose name is yet to be revealed, is the first grandson of Prince Charles of Wales, Heir Apparent to the reigning monarch of Great Britain. This means that the baby is third in line to the throne and is likely to one day be King. Within an hour of the birth announcement, thousands of tourists had gathered at Buckingham Palace to be part of the historic occasion. Here at Spellzone, we thought we’d take a look at the word ‘heir

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an ‘heir’ as ‘a person legally entitled to the property or rank of another on that person’s death’(remember that ‘heir’ begins with an h, although it is not heard when you say the word). The word is Anglo-French from c1300, deriving from the Old French word ‘oir’, and before from the Latin ‘heredem’.

The term ‘Heir Apparent’ refers to someone who claim to the throne cannot be set aside by the birth of another heir, whereas ‘Heir Presumptive’ refers to someone whose claim to the throne might be affected by the new birth of someone more closely related to the current title holder. In the British Royal Family, until very recently, daughters were ranked below sons in the order of succession even if they were born first. Queen Elizabeth II was referred to as ‘Heiress Presumptive’ during her father’s reign in case King George VI fathered a son before his death.

In 2011, however, the British government changed the rules of succession to give female heirs the same rights as male heirs. This means that had the Prince of Cambridge been a baby girl, the baby would have stayed third in line to the throne after her father and grandfather even if a boy was later born. About the changes, David Cameron said: ‘The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he's a man ... this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we've all become.’ With the birth of a son, though, it will be at least another generation before the new succession laws might affect the line to the throne. 

Avani Shah


24 Jul 2013
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