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My society has a typical line of succession (like the UK monarchy before a female child was given equal status). The eldest son has priority, followed by other sons followed by his daughters.

Unfortunately the king has died young. He's spent too much time visiting other ladies and has left two children. An illegitimate daughter (who is unaware she's his daughter) and an unborn illegitimate son.

According to most western constitutions would the unborn son be next in line (presumably with an interim ruler) or would the daughter?

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A male child would always take precedence over a female one.

From wikipedia:

Male-preference cognatic primogeniture allows a female member of a dynasty to succeed if she has no living brothers and no deceased brothers who left surviving legitimate descendants. A dynast's sons and their lines all come before that dynast's daughters and their lines. Older sons and their lines come before younger sons and their lines. Older daughters and their lines come before younger daughters and their lines.

This was the most common primogeniture practiced in Western European feudalism

If the girl child does not know, does that mean that other people do know?

In practice in this sort of case the selection of the child is pretty much a technicality and may well owe a lot to politics. A Regent would be appointed to run the kingdom in the child's name and would become King in all but name. The politics behind selection of the Regent and which child that Regent controls would likely have a larger impact on the results of the succession than the status of two illegitimate children.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I'm just toying with a plot at the moment and wanted to make sure both had a legitimate claim. $\endgroup$ – Liath Oct 15 '14 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ I've added a relevant reference. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 15 '14 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ Even considering the son is not born yet? $\endgroup$ – o0'. Oct 15 '14 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I don't have a reference for it but so far as I know as soon as he was born he would take precedence. If the sister was older she might become regent until he was old enough but a living male heir always comes before a living female heir. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Oct 15 '14 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to point out that at the times we are discussing here, no one would know that the unborn child was male... Regent would still be possible until the gender was known, but at this point you would have advisors working to gain influence and backing one or the other, pushing for a crowning "so our enemies don't see us as weak!", assassinations would be attempted, etc. Real Game of Thrones stuff. $\endgroup$ – IchabodE Oct 16 '14 at 6:50
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In a typical European monarchy, both illegitimate children would be out of the line of succession. Instead, you'd be working your way back up the king's ancestors, trying to find one with a living legitimate male descendant (eg. the king's third cousin or somesuch).

If someone wants to use the son as a figurehead for their regency, you might get a civil war between the son's supporters and the legitimate king; if finding a legitimate king is too hard (or the person in question is too unpopular), the nobles might be willing to ignore the son's illegitimate birth.

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Some other questions: are illegitimate children considered heirs in the culture? As far as I know, this wasn't the case in Middle Ages. That the father was expected to help his illegitimate children earn their living somehow is another question, the father is dead now. According to the law, closest male relative of the former king should become a new king. Tim B's already cited the rules for determining the heir legally, but in practice the question is who is the closest relative among neighboring kings willing to use their army to get their heritage (I assume that most of the kings are relatives to each other, as in medieval Europe). Also, when a dynasty dies out, the nobility usually has some right to influence who will be the next king, and if most of them agree on a candidate, they might get to the throne even if some other potential heir tries to get it by force. Anyway, hard times begin for the country.

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