Why Princess Charlotte Will Never Be Your Average Spare Heir

Princess Charlotte and Cousin Mia Tindall’s Viral Sweet Moment

Not all that long ago, Princess Charlotte wouldn’t have even been a spare heir. She would’ve just been a plain ol’ princess.

But with the 2013 Succession to the Crown Act retroactively applying to all those born after Oct. 28, 2011, her late gan-gan Queen Elizabeth II and British Parliament made it so that the line of succession would stop skipping over girls in favor of younger brothers. It also meant that a daughter of the heir to the throne would remain in line according to her place in the birth order, rather than get booted down the line by male first cousins.

Though she will be booted by her older sibling’s children.

Still, Charlotte—who will descend the ladder when her currently 10-year-old brother Prince George starts his own family one day, as Prince Harry (born third in line) did when Prince William and Kate Middleton started theirs—was already destined to be so much more than a spare heir, a term that dates back to the late 1800s, when American Consuelo Vanderbilt described her two children with the 9th Duke of Marlborough as “the heir and the spare.”

Charlotte, who turns 9 on May 2, happens to have been born to parents who’ve already been tasked with ensuring that the British royal family remains relevant for the foreseeable future and useful in a way that it didn’t need to worry about being 100 years ago.

The queen, Charlotte’s great-grandmother, was a revered, symbolically unifying figure, and in her 70-year reign she had pretty much seen it all, globally and within her own family, as the monarchy’s influence expanded and contracted over time.

King Charles III ascended the throne when his mother died Sept. 8, 2022, and William became the Prince of Wales (the title historically given to the eldest son of the monarch) and first in line to the throne.

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When Charlotte was born in 2015, in a post-Succession to the Crown Act world, much was made of her spare-heir status.

Commentary flooded in as to how she could avoid being too much like, well… like her Uncle Harry, who had a famously rocky young-adulthood, being “too much army, not enough prince,” as he himself characterized his behavior years before he aired his grievances in his 2023 memoir Spare.

By the time his niece arrived, Harry’s wildest days were behind him and he had carved out an estimable niche for himself as a humanitarian and full-time working royal, often joining forces with William and Kate but also distinguishing himself with his work on behalf of military veterans and families affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.

A million developments later, Harry is no longer a working royal, having decamped with his wife Meghan Markle to the United States to do his own similar-looking but independently-financed thing away from the crushing glare of the U.K. tabloids.

“He wasn’t going to be happy living his life in William’s shadow,” royal biographer Katie Nicholl told E! News in 2015 when Charlotte was born, discussing the spare-heir struggle. “He recognized that not being the heir gave him a greater freedom. When William said he wanted to be a policeman so he could look after their mother, Princess Diana, his little brother shot back, ‘You can’t because you’ve got to be king.'”


Charles long envisioned a slimmed-down monarchy, one in which fewer members of his family were considered full-timers (and therefore partaking of the public money that helps keep the Firm up and running), but by all accounts his smaller troop of senior royals would have included his younger son, who was historically very popular in Britain and beyond but has since ended up on the opposing side of a public opinion divide.

It’s been long apparent, though, that William and Kate have put a priority on filling their children’s lives with normal activities—maintaining the kids’ routine has been paramount for the couple while Kate has been away from public life undergoing treatment following her cancer diagnosis—while also readying them for, if not their future not-quite-normal lives just yet, then lives of gratitude and public service.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, George, Charlotte and Prince Louis, now 6, joined in the nightly applause for the National Health Service and other frontline workers keeping society running during all the shutdowns. In April 2020, at the queen’s Sandringham estate, Charlotte and George joined William and Kate in packing up food to be delivered to isolated seniors in the area.


Diana strove to strike the right balance between honoring her eldest son William’s destiny and making Harry feel just as special, and that was just on the royal front. She also famously wanted her sons to experience life outside the literal and proverbial palace walls, taking them with her to visit homeless shelters and hospital patients.

And apparently she saw a sparkle in Harry that made him more of a natural people person than his brother. Diana privately called Harry “GKH”—for “Good King Harry”—”because she thought he’d probably be better equipped for the role in the future than William,” royals correspondent Robert Jobson said in 2019 on the Channel 5 special William & Harry: Princes At War?

Birth order, however, made the decision for them.

As far as taking after Harry, Charlotte could do worse in the popularity department—and she’s already standing out as much as any kid surrounded by future kings can with her congenial but relatable (we’ve all had tantrums at the airport) personality.

But the vast public interest in Harry’s life—including why his home country has been so invested in his romantic fortunes—was shaped by especially unique circumstances, most notably the loss of his mother two weeks before his 13th birthday. 

As the constraints governing the public side of the royals’ personal lives have incrementally loosened over the years—once upon a time, marrying a Catholic, let alone a divorced American, required a royal to step out of the line of succession—Charlotte will face a decidedly different romantic landscape than even her father, though he was lucky enough to fall in love with a fellow student at university, who proved to be his ideal match.

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At the same time, like her uncle, Charlotte simply won’t have the expectations foisted upon her that will be foisted upon her older brother—other than the general expectation that she lead an honorable life and try not to embarrass the family too much.

That being said, no one, future king or not, has managed to not embarrass the family at all, so she shouldn’t feel pressured to be perfect.

So far, Charlotte has distinguished herself in the normal, best-case-scenario ways—as a smart, spirited child with a thousand-watt smile; a devoted big sister who dotes on her little brother, whom she happily shared her official 3rd-birthday portrait with in 2018; and a charmer with a spot-on royal wave. She’s known in casual circles as Lottie Wales. She loves olives and the color pink. She does ballet. She attends Lambrook School in Berkshire with her brothers.

And, according to Nicholl, the kids at her previous school called her “warrior princess.”

HRH The Duchess of Cambridge via Getty Images. ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

“She earned that nickname because obviously she is a princess but she is quite a tomboy,” the Vanity Fair editor told Entertainment Tonight in 2019. “She loves climbing trees and she’s very much an adventurer.”

Right away, Charlotte drew physical comparisons to the queen as a little girl, and she too may be a natural-born leader.

“[Kate] said that Charlotte is growing up really fast. She is the one in charge,” the wife of a Royal Marine officer, who had a mum-to-mum chat with the duchess at the opening of a war memorial, told reporters in 2017. 

It could just be the familial resemblance, but we’re also already getting Princess Anne vibes—though due to the archaic system of male primogeniture in place at the time, the queen’s second-eldest child wasn’t even considered the spare heir once her younger brother Prince Andrew was born, and she remains lower on the ladder than all six of her nieces and nephews.

But Anne, though a full-time working royal who most years outpaced her brother Charles in official engagements, has simultaneously been the picture of a modern, independently minded member of the family—one who didn’t give her son, Peter Phillips, and daughter, Zara Tindall, royal titles in order to foster their own independence from the crown.

An accomplished equestrienne and free to pursue her dream (“for a limited time,” she told Vanity Fair), Anne was the first British royal to compete in the Olympics. Otherwise, she has dedicated most of her public life to various charities, most notably Save the Children, which she’s been president of since 1970. And, not unlike many of the women in her family, she’s been hailed as a fashion icon in her own right.

“I still try and buy materials and have them made up because I just think that’s more fun,” Anne told VF in a rare interview ahead of her 70th birthday. “it also helps to support those who still manufacture in this country…I very seldom buy anything which isn’t made in the U.K.”

“She’s a gem,” a longtime close protection officer for the royals told the magazine about Anne. “Truly one of the nicest and most hardworking of them all.”


Going by how Princess Charlotte has been raised these last nine years and the women in her family she has to look up to, we’re picturing a combination of familial devotion, pragmatism, service and spunkiness, with some inevitable trailblazing thrown into the mix as well.

There will always be heightened interest in what Charlotte is up to, as Kate and William’s only daughter, and everything from her fashion (the “Charlotte Effect” has already pumped many dollars into the U.K. retail economy), to her education and extracurriculars, to her eventual choice of mate will the get the once- (and twice-, and third-) over.

But the possibilities are endless, especially considering she has modernity and birth order on her side. As the first girl in her storied family who will keep her place in the line of succession over her younger brother, the role of spare heir will be whatever she makes of it.

Keep reading for a roundup of all the news that has touched Charlotte’s family so far in 2024:

Handout/Millie Pilkington/Buckingham Palace via Getty Images

Returning to Public Duties

On April 26, nearly three months after sharing his cancer diagnosis, Buckingham Palace announced that Charles will return to public-facing duties

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Queen Camilla Attends Royal Maundy Service

The queen consort attended the Royal Maundy Service on March 28 in place of King Charles III, making her the first spouse of the Monarch to continue the ancient tradition.

BBC Studios

Kate Middleton Shares Cancer Diagnosis

In a March 22 video message, the Princess of Wales shared that she’d been diagnosed with cancer after undergoing abdominal surgery in January.

“It was thought that my condition was non-cancerous. The surgery was successful,” she said before noting that tests after the operation found cancer had been present. “My medical team therefore advised that I should undergo a course of preventative chemotherapy and I am now in the early stages of that treatment.”

Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Kate Middleton Apologizes for Edited Family Photo Controversy

After photo agencies pulled the picture Kensington Palace shared of Kate since having her abdominal surgery on March 10, the Princess of Wales addressed claims the photo was doctored. 

“Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing,” she tweeted on March 11. “I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C.”

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Lady Kitty Spencer Privately Welcomes Baby

Princess Diana‘s niece celebrated Mother’s Day in the U.K. by sharing she and her husband Michael Lewis privately welcomed their first baby.

“It’s the joy of my life to be your mummy, little one. I love you unconditionally,” she captioned her March 10 Instagram post. “Happy Mother’s Day to those who celebrate today.”

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Queen Camilla Takes a Break

After keeping up her full slate of engagements in the wake of her husband’s cancer diagnosis, the palace cleared Camilla’s schedule.

The Times pointed out March 2 that the 76-year-old didn’t have any engagements on her calendar until March 11, when she’d be due at Westminster Abbey to observe Commonwealth Day.

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Thomas Kensington Dies at 45

The husband of Lady Gabriella Windsor and ex-boyfriend of Pippa Middleton, was found dead Feb. 25. Days later, a coroner’s inquest found that he died by suicide.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

King Charles Diagnosed With Cancer

While King Charles III was in the hospital for his benign prostate enlargement procedure, the royal family member was diagnosed with cancer.

“His Majesty has today commenced a schedule of regular treatments, during which time he has been advised by doctors to postpone public-facing duties,” Buckingham Palace said Feb. 5. “Throughout this period, His Majesty will continue to undertake State business and official paperwork as usual.The King is grateful to his medical team for their swift intervention, which was made possible thanks to his recent hospital procedure. He remains wholly positive about his treatment and looks forward to returning to full public duty as soon as possible.”

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Sarah Ferguson Is Diagnosed With a Second Type of Cancer

The Duchess of York’s rep said in a statement on Jan. 21 that Sarah was recently diagnosed with malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. Several months prior, she underwent a single mastectomy to treat breast cancer.

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Queen Margrethe II of Denmark Abdicates the Throne

On Jan. 14, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark made history as she officially abdicated the throne, handing the crown over to her son, now known as King Frederik the 10th

Samir Hussein/WireImage

Kate Middleton Is Hospitalized

Kensington Palace announced on Jan. 17 that Kate Middleton underwent planned abdominal surgery and was set to remain in the hospital for 10 to 14 days.

“Based on the current medical advice,” the Palace said, “she is unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter.”

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Prince William Adjusting His Schedule

Amid Kate’s recovery, Prince William postponed a number of engagements as he supported his family, including the couple’s three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

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King Charles III Undergoing Treatment

Shortly after Kate’s hospitalization was made public, Buckingham Palace shared that Charles “has sought treatment for an enlarged prostate.”

“His Majesty’s condition is benign and he will attend hospital next week for a corrective procedure,” the statement added. “The King’s public engagements will be postponed for a short period of recuperation.”

Arnold Jerocki/WireImage

Luxembourg Welcomes a New Baby

Princess Claire and Prince Felix of Luxembourg welcomed son Balthazar Felix Karl on Jan. 7, the first royal baby of the New Year!

This story was originally published on Friday, May 1, 2020 at 11 p.m. PT.

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