Downton Abbey has given us a lot of things, mostly a love of fancy furniture and Maggie Smith, and it could mean big changes in the U.K., at least for the handful of aristocrats who would be affected by a new bill making its way through the House of Lords.
The so-called “Downton law” would allow British aristocrats in the real world to pass their titles on to their daughters. At the moment, titles have to go to male heirs. That makes for great tension in Jane Austen novels and costume dramas, but aristocrats who only have daughters don’t like it very much.
This law would have had a pretty awesome effect on the actual Downton Abbey, because Lady Mary could just have inherited the Earl’s title and seat and money, then everybody could have just said fuck middle-class cousin Matthew that nobody’s ever heard of before, and fuck his judgey mom, too.
According to The Telegraph, the Downton law was initially supposed to apply to the daughters of dukes and earls and viscounts and other hereditary aristocrats, but it left out the baronets. But then four baronets with daughters but no sons realized this affects them directly and started a campaign to be included in the bill. In one case, the title would pass to a baronet’s younger brother instead of his daughter. In another, the baronetcy would simply cease to exist.
“I don’t mind if I am the first, the 10th, the 100th [baronetess] but I’ve been brought up the rest of my life — apart from those first years of disappointment of not being a boy — as completely equal to men,” said 24-year-old Virginia Stuart Taylor, who stands to become a baronetess if this bill becomes law. “I have been brought up believing that girls are equal to boys, often getting better grades at university. Everything is equal and it seems kind of ridiculous that we are trying so hard to make it fair for women in other areas of life but not in this one.”
As much as I’m sure it would be great for the daughters of dukes and earls to be able to inherit titles just like sons, this story mainly serves to remind me how glad I am that we don’t have aristocratic titles in the U.S. Tiaras and tea sandwiches and Jane Austen are wonderful things, but having a bunch of random people running around with hereditary aristocratic titles seems like it would just be ridiculous and embarrassing in this day and age.