The centuries-old practice of aristocratic titles only being passed on to male descendants could be about to come to an end, with several high-society heiresses set to inherit the family land and titles.
Boris Johnson is understood to have ordered the issue of male primogeniture be looked into as part of plans to make Parliament more welcoming to women.
If the practice is abolished, it would mean for the first time first-born daughters would take on their father’s peerage instead of younger sons, as seen in shows such as ITV’s Downton Abbey.
Here, FEMAIL reveals the stunning socialites who could inherit the family pile, and titles, under the new proposals, including Princess Diana‘s niece Kitty Spencer and Lady Willa Franks.
With the centuries-old practice of aristocratic titles only being passed on to male descendants could be about to come to an end, FEMAIL has revealed the aristocratic women who could be set to inherit the family seat
Lady Kitty could be set to inherit the family seat of Althorp House in Northamptonshire under the new proposals
Lady Kitty Spencer
Lady Kitty Spencer, niece of Princess Diana, is the eldest child of Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer.
What is male primogeniture?
Primogeniture is preference in inheritance that is given by law, custom, or usage to the eldest son and his issue.
In exceptional cases, primogeniture may prescribe such preferential inheritance to the line of the eldest daughter.
The motivation for such a practice has usually been to keep the estate of the deceased, or some part of it, whole and intact.
The Royal Family brought to an end the system of primogeniture that had dictated the line of succession since 1701.
Under the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, princes no longer take precedence over their sisters.
It means Princess Charlotte, five, is ahead of her brother Prince Louis, two, in the line of succession.
She grew up in South Africa, reading psychology, politics and English at the University of Cape Town.
In 1992, her father Charles inherited Althorp House, the family’s ancestral seat in and has since restored the estate, re-roofing it and restoring its entire exterior for the first time since the 1780s.
The socialite was this week announced as Global Ambassador for luxury label Dolce&Gabbana and has 520,000 followers on Instagram, where she posts endless photos showcasing her glamorous modelling career and glitzy social life.
In previous years, she’s certainly attended a never-ending reel of celebrity parties, appeared front row at fashion shows including Cartier and Jimmy Choo and a number of society weddings.
Most notably, the socialite hit the headlines when she arrived at Prince Harry and Meghan’s big day at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018 donning a custom dress from Dolce & Gabbana, which featured hand-painted floral detail.
In 2017 year, Kitty made her catwalk debut for D&G in Milan as part of their ‘Millennials’ campaign, and has starred in various magazine shoots – including for Vogue Japan and Elle Russia.
She is on warm terms with William and Harry, and is an ambassador for homelessness charity Centrepoint (of which William is patron), but is not in their inner circle.
And the brother who will miss out…
Under current rules, Lady Kitty’s younger brother Louis Spencer will inherit the estate and title when their father passes away.
The 26-year-old set hearts aflutter when he attended cousin Prince Harry’s wedding in 2018, with many online left fawning over the Viscount Althorp.
He is the youngest of Earl Spencer’s children with first wife Victoria, with his parents divorcing in 1997.
The viscount studied at the University of Edinburgh, having grown up with his sisters in Cape Town.
Under current rules, Lady Kitty’s younger brother Louis Spencer will inherit the estate and title when their father passes away
Lady Violet Manners
If the rules were to change, the estate would go to socialite Lady Violet, 27.
She has spent much of the past year with her four siblings at Belvoir Castle, their 15,000 acre estate in Leicestershire, as well as her parents the Duke and Duchess of Rutland, who divorced eight years ago.
Speaking to Town & Country, the Duchess revealed the family was taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach in order to keep the estate afloat.
‘We have a Whatsapp group going, it’s called the Corona Clan and in the mornings I share a to-do list,’ said Emma, 56, who lives on the estate with her ex-husband David Manners, the 11th Duke of Rutland, whom she divorced in 2012.
If the rules were to change, The Crown’s Belvoir Castle estate would go to socialite Lady Violet Manners, 27,
Belvoir Castle has formed the backdrop for scenes in Young Victoria in 2007, The Da Vinci Code and The Crown – where Matt Smith and Claire Foy filmed in one of the opulent rooms, which stood in for Windsor Castle
‘I don’t have staff anymore but I do have kids so I tell them where they need to be and what they need to be doing. I feel a little like the Sergeant Major.’
Belvoir Castle has formed the backdrop for scenes in Young Victoria in 2007, The Da Vinci Code and The Crown – where Matt Smith and Claire Foy filmed in one of the opulent rooms, which stood in for Windsor Castle.
The 356 room castle is themed around classic opulence dating back to the 1700s when it was first restored, with the bedrooms boasting four poster beds, rich tapestries, fur rugs and fireplaces.
Sparing no expense, the drawing room offers silk wallpaper, luxurious furnishings and artwork dating back centuries.
And the brother who will miss out…
Lady Violet’s handsome younger brother Charles Manners is currently set to inherit the estate over his three older sisters
Due to the practice of male primogeniture Charles Manners will one day inherit the Grade II-listed Belvoir over his sisters, Lady Violet, Lady Alice and Lady Eliza, who are 25 and 22.
Charles, who studied business management at Newcastle University, has been helping his mother keep Belvoir running after it was forced to close to visitors during lockdown.
Lady Katie Percy
Lady Katie Percy, 38, a Gunsmith and mechanic, would take the title from her father Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland.
Katie is not your traditional aristocratic daughter. After her stint as a mechanic, she tried her hand at racing driving and trained with the royal gunmakers Purdey & Sons, setting up a business making stocks for sporting guns.
Lady Katie Percy, a Gunsmith and mechanic, would take the title from her father Ralph Percy, 12th Duke of Northumberland, instead of younger son George Percy, Earl Percy
The family seat of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland was made famous by the Harry Potter films
Lady Katie married Patrick Valentine in 2011, with Pippa Middleton among the guests. The pair divorced in 2014.
In 2015 Percy began a relationship with businessman Mark Carnegie.
The family seat of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland was made famous by the Harry Potter films.
The castle, a 150-room, heavily crenellated, many-towered magnificence perched on a rocky outcrop above the River Aln in Northumberland, is the second-largest privately inhabited castle after Windsor — and it bears the scars of centuries.
Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke, with the help of his energetic Duchess, Jane, transformed Alnwick into one of Britain’s most visited attractions.
Over the years, the castle has featured as a backdrop for Blackadder, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Elizabeth, Mary Queen Of Scots, Transformers and the Christmas special of Downton Abbey.
And the brother who would miss out…
Lady Katie’s younger brother George Percy, 36, Earl Percy, is currently due to inherit their father’s title and estate after his death (pictured)
Lady Katie’s younger brother George Percy, 36, Earl Percy, is currently due to inherit their father’s title and estate after his death.
Percy was educated at Eton College, then studied geography at the University of Edinburgh, specialising in sustainable development and renewable energy.
He graduated in 2007, having shared a house with Pippa Middleton, with whom he was subsequently linked.
Percy studied Arabic language at the University of Damascus, and later worked on development projects in the Middle East, including Abu Dhabi.
He is the CEO of Hotspur Geothermal (formerly Cluff Geothermal), a British geothermal energy company, with Paul Younger as the Technical Director.
He remains a close friend of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and attended their wedding in 2011.
Lady Willa Franks
Lady Willa Franks, 49, is the eldest of four daughters born to the 5th Earl of Balfour, 71, an investment executive.
Under current laws her father’s family home of Burpham Lodge, and his place in the House of Lords, will be passed to his brother rather than his children on his death.
The current Earl of Balfour inherited his title from a distant cousin after he died with no male descendants.
She runs a children’s nursery and is married to George William Franks, 51, who works for a London estate agency.
Lady Willa Franks, 49, is the eldest of four daughters born to the 5th Earl of Balfour, 71, an investment executive
The couple live in Hampshire with their children, Arthur, 21, Violet, 19, and Esme, 16.
Willa previously told the Daily Mail: ‘My father is very proud of his four daughters. We are all educated and entrepreneurial and he feels we have as much right to stand for election to the Lords as a man.
‘With no heir, my father’s title will go to his brother, my uncle Charles, but this campaign hasn’t caused any tension in the family because everyone accepts that in a modern society, blatant sexual discrimination needs to be challenged.
Her younger sister Lady Kinvara Balfour, 45, has previously called for the practice of male primogeniture to be outlawed, calling it ‘unfair’ and ‘unjust’.
Under current laws her father’s family home of Burpham Lodge, and his place in the House of Lords, will be passed to his brother rather than his children on his death (pictured, Willa with her sisters)
Under current laws Willa’s father’s family home of Burpham Lodge, and his place in the House of Lords, will be passed to his brother rather than his children on his death (pictured)
Lady Kinvara’s mother Tessa is the eldest daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. When her father Miles died in 2002, the dukedom was passed to Tessa’s younger brother, Edward, who was the fourth child but the only son.
Lady Kinvara is a creative director, producer, writer and public speaker. She and her partner, a private jet company CEO named Sudhin Shahani, have a son.
She has argued the rules, which mean land and hereditary titles are only passed down to men, violate a woman’s ‘right to fair treatment’ and mean daughters are ‘disregarded entirely’.
Willa’s younger sister Kinvara, creative director, producer, writer and public speaker, has previously called for the practice of male primogeniture to be outlawed, calling it ‘unfair’ and ‘unjust’
However she refuses to identify as a feminist, saying: ‘I cannot abide the word and all it misrepresents. If I must label myself, I am a gender equalist.’
‘The current rules don’t just malign a bunch of girls who want a jolly nice house and a title,’ Lady Kinvara wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
‘With these titles comes the chance to be elected to one of the 92 seats still reserved for hereditary peers in the House of Lords which have been held almost exclusively by men.’
And the uncle who would miss out…
With no male heirs within the direct line, Willa’s father’s title and estate would be inherited by his brother, Honorable Charles George Yule Balfour, 69.
He was educated at Eton and was admitted to the Royal Company of Archers. He was managing director of the NASDAQ.
He has two children, Eleanor Cecily Isabelle Balfour, 31, and George Eustace Charles Balfour, 29, who would also usurp his sister to the inheritance if the proposal does not go through.
Lady Eliza Dundas
Meanwhile Lady Eliza Dundas, 20, who is the eldest of Robin Dundas, the Earl of Ronaldshay, four daughters, would be in place to inherit Aske Hall
Lady Eliza’s family live on the Aske family estate in North Yorkshire, which her father runs (pictured)
Lady Eliza Dundas, 20, is the eldest of four daughters born to Robin Dundas, 53, who is the Earl of Ronaldshay, and eldest son of the 4th Marquess of Zetland.
She is studying Psychology at New York University. The family live on the Aske family estate in North Yorkshire, which her father runs.
Robin, ended the family’s reliance on long-serving land agents and took on the role himself.
He overhauled the residential lettings business, modernising the estate cottages and reforming the traditional tenancy agreements.
She previously stated: ‘We grew up in a Grade I-listed Georgian hall, but these days the estate is a commercial operation, with office blocks for rent.
‘Our parents brought us up to get a good education and work hard, so we are pretty down to earth.’
And the uncle who would be missing out…
Under current rules, Lady Eliza’s uncle Lord James Edward Dundas would inherit the titles as well as the estate upon her father’s death.
The Honourable Henrietta ‘Hatta’ Byng, 40, is the eldest of Viscount Torrington’s three daughters and the editor of House and Garden magazine
The Honourable Henrietta ‘Hatta’ Byng, 40, is the eldest of Viscount Torrington’s three daughters and the editor of House and Garden magazine.
Married to Charlie Wood, 45, they have three children: Jago, five, Margot, three, and Ivo, ten months.
Hatta has argued for the outruling of the law in the past because it could mean her father Timothy Byng’s title passes to a distant cousin in Canada.
She has previously said: ‘It seems mad that despite having two degrees, editing a magazine and running a team of 20, I can’t inherit simply because I am a woman.
The subject of male primogeniture is close to the heart of creator of Downton Abbey Julian Fellowes, because his wife Emma’s family title fell into disuse after her uncle died unmarried and had no children
The subject of male primogeniture is close to the heart of creator of Downton Abbey Julian Fellowes.
He married Emma Kitchener, the former lady-in-waiting to Princess Michael of Kent, in 1990.
She is the great-great niece of the first Earl Kitchener – the soldier whose ‘Your Country Needs You’ recruitment posters became a defining image of the First World War.
He has been a vocal critic of the fact his wife’s family title – the Earldom of Kitchener – fell into disuse after her uncle Henry Kitchener died unmarried and had no children.
Meanwhile Emma was not allowed to inherit because she is a woman.
Speaking in 2011, he told the Radio Times: ‘If you’re asking me if I find it ridiculous that in 2011, a perfectly sentient adult woman has no rights of inheritance whatsoever when it comes to a hereditary title, I think it’s outrageous, actually.’
He added: ‘Either you’ve got to get rid of the system or you’ve got to let women into it. I don’t think you can keep it as ‘men only’.’
‘This is discrimination and with any other minority group, the Government simply wouldn’t get away with it.
‘For me, this is not about having the grandeur of a title or even inheriting the manor, because there isn’t one — it was sold off during World War II.
‘There is just a real sadness that when my father, 75, dies his title will go to a distant cousin in Canada whom we’ve never met.
‘My father, an only child, has always taken an active role in the House of Lords and would like to see the title pass to me.
‘In this day and age, where we have a female monarch, a female Prime Minister and women are as educated as men, it’s pretty odd that the House of Lords remains in the Middle Ages.’