Ancient rules of inheritance, which have survived riots, revolution and reform of the House of Lords, face grave danger from family planning technology. Frozen sperm and eggs, though convenient to busy professionals wishing to postpone parenthood, will cause terrible problems to anybody interested in establishing a right to properties and titles.
The complication arises from the possibility that people with a strong claim will find themselves pipped to the prize by some thawed fragment of an earlier generation.
To illustrate this problem – neglected by both the Bill of Rights or the Act of Settlement – it may help to look backwards. Imagine that a frozen jar of Henry VIII’s sperm were discovered in the Arctic (how it got there, and why such an item should exist, is irrelevant). If this substance were authenticated, and used to conceive a child, the constitutional position of the present queen would become extremely awkward.
If the newborn were a boy, his claim to the throne would be stronger than Queen Elizabeth’s – and stronger even than the first Queen Elizabeth’s. Constitutional referees would be obliged to rule offside everybody who has worn the crown since the 1500s.
The title of this pretender would pose additional difficulty. If he took the name of his father, he’d be Henry IX: simple enough, because there has been no other Henry since that time. But if he called himself Edward, should we call him Edward IX or Edward VI(b)?