A recent story in the press caught our eye, where HM The Queen has ordered that Britain’s most senior judges decide if DNA evidence can be used to settle a dispute over a hereditary title.
Lord Neuberger, Britain’s most senior judge, and six other justices of the Supreme Court are to rule on who is the rightful heir to an ancient baronetcy (the Pringle of Stichill baronetcy).
Questions over the rightful heir came up after a family tree project – scientific analysis showed that the last baronet had a different bloodline to his relatives, suggesting that there could have been an illegitimate child in previous generations.
Peerage authorities have been called in to decide if genetic material can be used to determine who the rightful inheritor of the Pringle of Stichill baronetcy is, and it is up to the Queen to order the court to make the ruling. Should the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council agree that DNA evidence can be admitted, it could then be used in any future claims to peerage.
The news article in the Daily Mail claims this could have huge implications for all of the British aristocracy, including the Royal family itself, as people with genetic evidence could prove their right to succession. And experts say it will be a tough call for the judges – as it pits modern science against hundreds of years of tradition.
The two contenders for the Pringle of Stichill baronetcy are Simon Pringle and Murray Pringle, both descended from the 8th Pringle of Stichill baronet, Sir Norman Robert Pringle. The baronetcy dates back to 1683, and family members included a physician to King George III.
Sir Steuart Pringle, the most recent baronet (the 10th) was the Commandant General of the Royal Marines during the Falklands War. When he died two years ago, his eldest son Simon – a 56-year-old insurer from Sussex – was expected to become the 11th baronet.
However, Murray Pringle, a 74-year-old accountant from High Wycombe, insists that he is the true heir. There’s no land or property associated with the title, and he wouldn’t have any claim on the £1.5 million estate left by the last baronet.
Murray Pringle’s claim is based on DNA samples which were provided for a Clan Pringle DNA project. The samples unexpectedly indicated that the 10th baronet was not genetically related to his cousins and the extended Pringle family, but that Murray is descended from a legitimate branch of the family.
Sir Norman Robert Pringle married Florence Madge Vaughan at the turn of the 20th Century and had three sons, with the eldest, Sir Norman Hamilton Pringle, becoming the 9th baronet and his only son Sir Steuart succeeding him as the 10th baronet.
Following the DNA findings, experts have said that the title should have gone to the 9th baronet’s younger – legitimate – brother Ronald and then to his eldest son Murray.
Simon Pringle registered his claim to the Baronetcy with the Crown Office in June 2013. Murray did the same in September that year, together with the DNA evidence.
The Queen herself had to sign a letter requesting that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council consider the matter, under the little-used Judicial Committee Act 1833, and the case will be heard in November.
DNA evidence hasn’t been used to settle significant claims on hereditary titles before.