New UK Bill to Let Women Inherit Titles Named After Downton Abbey

Let this serve as the end of the debate over whether life imitates art or art imitates life (it's the former, but you're entitled to your entirely incorrect opinion): a new bill snaking its way through the UK's House of Lords would change a 400-year-old system of agnatic primogeniture and allow baronets to pass their titles to their daughters instead of their sons. It's nickname? The "Downton law."

Lady Mary could have probably used the Downton law in her fictional universe, but it probably would have ruined three seasons' worth of careful plotting. According to the Telegraph, the bill, which four baronets have successfully added an amendment to that would let them pass their titles to their daughters, was originally introduced to allow dukes, earls, viscounts, and "other hereditary peers to pass their titles along a female line of succession." The bill conspicuously left out baronets, probably because a baronetcy is the only hereditary honor in the UK that's not part of the hilariously anachronistic peerage (it's above all but two orders of knighthoods and damehoods, but it isn't a noble title and its recipients do not receive a fancy accolade).

From the Telegraph:

The Bill is known as the "Downton law" after the anomaly of female succession at the heart of ITV's Downton Abbey, in which the character of Lady Mary, the eldest daughter of the drama's fictional earl, was unable to inherit the family seat because it had to pass to a male heir.

Its wording has been amended to include baronets and, despite initial Tory opposition, the Equality Titles Bill is gathering momentum and support in the Lords and the Commons, according to its supporters.

The campaign to include baronets was led by Sir Nicholas Stuart Taylor Bt, who has two daughters and no heir. If the law is not passed, the Stuart Taylor baronetcy will become extinct.

The would-be recipient of Taylor's baronetcy is Virginia Stuart, his extremely accomplished daughter. She explained that the new bill is the only sensible way to change the inheritance systems, which, in the context of contemporary gender politics, is currently bananas:

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.

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.

All told, there are 1,260 baronets in the UK, and only four (all in Scotland) of these are able to pass inheritance in the female line. The last actual baronetess, Dame Anne Maxwell Macdonald, died in 2011 at the age of 104.