Someone in the office recently quipped, "When does England recognize Kate Middleton's zygote/fetus as a royal? They must have a policy, no?" The knee-jerk reaction was of course the zygote is a royal. Kate is a royal, therefore all of her cells are royals, including her shiny hair, her vomit and her fetus. But therin lies an interesting situation: Though lately we've been discussing the ridiculousness of personhood amendments and fetal rights — and how important it is for a woman to have a sense of agency over her own body — this pregnancy spotlights the very backward nature of the monarchy, an institution in which women have been pieces of property whose sole purpose is breeding.
Throughout history, in many cultures and countries, marriage has been considered a business proposal. Marriages were often arranged at birth, with families and properties joining, intertwining and being exchanged. In Ye Olde England, if a woman didn't have a dowry — a gift of money and goods — a marriage could be called off. This tradition continued up until very recently, with the bride's family considered responsible for the wedding expenses. Some countries still have a "bride price," the amount the groom will pay to marry a woman. (Today, we call it an engagement ring.)
But cash isn't the only thing a woman is expected to bring to a marriage: It's always been all about the heirs. Henry the Eighth was married six times but only considered Jane Seymour his "true" wife, because she gave birth to a son. The British monarchy is based on a male-preference cognatic primogeniture system: The first born sons have the most power; elder children inherit before younger ones of the same gender.
Which is all to say that when Kate Middleton became Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, she married into a bizarre cult of tradition. There's a distinct possibility that she had a medical workup — and her fertility was checked — before an engagement was announced. (Shortly after the royal wedding, rumors of infertility began.) Though she is a modern woman, she is unlike most of the other 30-year-old women living in London: Could she get an abortion? In many parts of the UK, abortions are available as part of the NHS: there is no charge. But it could be argued that by becoming part of the royal family, Kate, to some extent, gave up the rights to her own body. What would happen if she said she didn't want kids? What would happen if she woke up and decided what she'd really like is to adopt a 3-year-old from Ethiopia? Would it even be allowed?
This is all theoretical, of course: The likely story is that Kate was informed early on what marrying William of the House of Windsor would entail, and signed away many rights and freedoms in exchange for royalty. Royalty that comes with its own perks — wealth, fame, protection, entry into history books. Still: Goodbye, personal and private gynecologist, hello someone Queen-approved! (Did you know that the Queen has her own Medical Household? This includes two Physicians to the Queen, a Serjeant Surgeon, a Surgeon to the Queen, Surgeon Oculist to the Queen, Surgeon Gynaecologist to the Queen, Surgeon Dentist to the Queen, Orthopaedic Surgeon to the Queen, Physician to the Household, Surgeon to the Household, Surgeon Oculist to the Household, Apothecary to the Queen, Apothecary to the Household at Windsor, Apothecary to the Household, Apothecary to the Household at Sandringham, Coroner of the Queen's Household.)
The point is, though, that the snarky question, "When does England recognize Kate Middleton's zygote/fetus as a royal?" is actually worth exploring, in terms of how we view a woman, the contents of her womb, and reproductive rights. And the answer remains the same: The zygote is royal, the same way every shiny lock of hair on Kate's head is royal. And when a baby is born, he or she will be a prince or a princess, royal from birth. Belonging to the monarchy, from conception.
And what if the fetus were not royal? What if Kate and William were not married? What would that mean for Kate? For the monarchy? Prince Albert of Monaco has at least one "illegitimate" son who is not allowed to be in line for the throne and does not have the royal last name of Grimaldi.
There's been talk of "modernizing" the monarchy — abandoning the male succession rules so that if Kate gives birth to a girl, that child can be queen. But in a truly modern monarchy, a woman would have the right to remain childless. Or adopt! Or William would have the right not to marry. For instance, what if he were gay? Or just chose not to reproduce? Apparently, it's been 171 years since the last reigning monarch — King William IV — died without producing a legitimate heir. (He was Williams's great-great-great-great-great uncle.)
While there will always be heirs somewhere — titles abound in the UK — if you want a truly modern monarchy, it means royal women (and men) are free to live something other than a traditional, heteronormative married life with biological children. But that would really mean an end to the monarchy as we know it. A modern monarchy is no monarchy at all.