Princess Power Is on the Rise

Gabriel is just a little over a year old, but soon he'll learn that his big sister, Elisabeth, can push him around. In a few years, he'll understand that one day she will rule -- literally.

In fact, 3-year-old Elisabeth is slated to one day become Belgium's first reigning queen.

The little princess is a member of an elite but growing group of girls destined to wear crowns in their own right. It's due to an increasing trend among European monarchies to adopt absolute, or cognatic, primogeniture -- meaning the ruler's eldest child, whether boy or girl, inherits the crown.

Sweden became the first European kingdom to adopt cognatic primogeniture. When the constitutional change was made in 1980, the baby Prince Carl Philip was suddenly demoted. His older sister, Victoria, became the heir to the throne now occupied by their father, King Carl XVI Gustaf.

"It's said that the only person who really disapproved of changing the line of succession was the king," said Paul Rapacioli, editor of The Local (www.thelocal.se), an online site providing Sweden's news in English. "As far as equality-conscious Swedes are concerned, Victoria is the rightful heir."

Baby Tabloid Targets

Indeed, the future queens have been welcomed enthusiastically by their future subjects -- or at least as enthusiastically as a future king would have been. When Princess Elisabeth celebrated her first birthday, Belgium issued a special stamp to mark the occasion. The Dutch, who have had female rulers since 1890, got another future queen when Princess Catharina-Amalia was born Dec. 7, 2003, to Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Crown Princess Maxima.

Norway's Princess Ingrid Alexandra is still in diapers, but she's rapidly becoming a star. The infant made her first state visit when her parents, Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit, traveled to Iceland. And she's already been featured on the gossip pages: A German magazine reported Norwegians were concerned that the 10-month-old's lack of hair could be symptomatic of a "mystery illness."

Not every monarchy is giving equal rights to girls. In Britain, Spain, Denmark and Monaco, sons still take precedence over daughters. In the grand duchy of Luxembourg and the principality of Liechtenstein, the succession goes through all possible male heirs in order of birth; if those are exhausted, it goes to male descendants of the eldest female descendant.

A lack of male heirs is causing a controversy in Japan, where females are barred from inheriting the Chrysanthemum Throne. The enormous pressure to produce a son is believed to be a major factor in the malaise gripping Crown Princess Masako, wife of the current heir to the throne. She has largely retreated from public life while she struggles with an "adjustment disorder."

Since the current crop of youngsters in the extended imperial family contains no boys, there is increasing talk of changing the law so that Princess Aiko, only child of Masako and Crown Prince Naruhito, can one day become empress.

The Marriage Question

Changing the law would not be difficult, and polls show most Japanese would have no problem with a reigning empress. There have been reigning empresses before, although not since the 18th century. But rightists don't believe a female can carry on the imperial line.

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