Following the announcement of an impending royal baby, I was interviewed yesterday on BBC Three Counties radio to discuss reigning queens (Roberto Perrone show, available on the BBC I-player at http://www.bbc.co.uk/threecountiesradio/programmes/schedules/2012/12/04). It was recently agreed that the eldest child of Prince William will succeed to the throne, regardless of whether they are male or female. The legislation to bring this into force has not yet been enacted but it does look as though this baby, if a girl, will become queen, regardless of whether or not she has younger brothers.
Reigning queens enjoy a special status amongst English monarchs, with Elizabeth I, Victoria and the current queen largely considered to have been successful and memorable. Part of this must be due to longevity, but Henry III, Edward III and George III (all of whom enjoyed long reigns) are not similarly revered. Their gender certainly helped to endear them to their people and build a mythology: Mary I and her sister, Elizabeth I, both claimed to be wedded to their countries, a claim that a male king never felt the need to make. Perhaps in the popular perception women are considered better able to symbolise their country and an era. This was somewhat unexpected and there was widespread dread at the prospect of female rule in the mid-sixteenth century when Edward VI's death began to look likely.
The new baby, even if it is a girl, may not succeed for a very long time: 'her' grandfather has already waited over sixty years. She probably wont have to wait as long as another heiress to the English crown, Sophia of Hannover, who died in June 1714 at the age of 83, only weeks before she would have succeeded to the throne.