Take a seat: what I am about to say might shock you. There have been grumblings, recently, that the British nobility is not the bastion of egalitarianism that we believed it to be.
I know, it’s startling. But this week a small group of downtrodden aristocracy wrote to The Daily Telegraph, describing the system as “outdated and manifestly unfair”. The laws of succession were recently changed to allow Royal daughters to take the throne ahead of their younger brothers, and, they say, it is time to spread equality of the sexes to the country’s hereditary titles. At the moment, daughters are excluded from inheriting most titles and estates.
“As long as there is a playing field, how can we live with it not being level?” asked the Countess of Clancarty, wife of the ninth Earl of Clancarty, speaking from her husband’s ancestral home, granted to the family in 1658 by Charles II. This “silly piece of inequality” is the only remaining part of British life “where women are still treated as second-class citizens”, the ruling-class citizen continued.
“As a 21st-century woman, something seems to be very archaic about it all,” added Lady Liza Campbell, daughter of the 6th Earl of Cawdor, who traces her ancestry back to Sir Colin of Lochow, knighted in 1280.
Now, it might be odd to claim you’re on the wrong end of the inequality seesaw when you own a decent fraction of Britain solely because your great-great-something-great grandfather killed more Danes in defence of sixth-century Wessex than mine did. The feudal system, after all, was not noted for its concern for gender politics. If you got your job because a divinely appointed monarch tapped your ancestor on the shoulder with a sword, you’re not operating under the same employment laws as the rest of us.
But we shouldn’t mock. There’s something lovely about it, about the great and fantastically ancient institutions of Britain slowly turning, like liveried, velvet-bedecked oil tankers, towards modernity, while trying to keep their ancient character. The Royal family has a Twitter account. The House of Lords has started putting its debates up on YouTube. Even the Telegraph has a website these days, I gather.
Is equality for aristocrats a bridge too far? Perhaps. After all, if you take the “outdated and manifestly unfair” stuff out of nobility, it’s not clear much is left. But too late: the noble revolution has begun. To the barricades, my aristocratic sisters! Liberté, égalité, hérédité!