Saturday, 20 November 2010

Title issues: Princess Catherine, Princess William or Duchess?

Since the engagement of Prince William of Britain and Kate Middleton was announced many have asked me what will be her title once married. There appears to be two, maybe three, possibilities.
Whereas her title in most other European monarchies would have been “Princess Catherine”, Britain still follows the more old-fashioned practice whereby a woman who marries into the royal family does not become a princess under her own name, but under that of her husband. Thus Prince Michael of Kent’s wife Marie-Christine is styled Princess Michael of Kent, while the current Duchess of Gloucester was styled Princess Richard of Gloucester before her husband succeeded to the dukedom.
Prince William’s mother was colloquially known as “Princess Diana”, but that was never her title. As the wife of the Prince of Wales she was officially styled the Princess of Wales. If Prince Charles had had no other title than that of Prince of the United Kingdom, his wife would have been styled “Princess Charles”. (Among Prince Charles’s other titles is Duke of Cornwall and his second wife, who is legally the Princess of Wales, has chosen to be known as the Duchess of Cornwall out of respect for her late predecessor).
Within Britain the territorial designation is never used (in the same way as the Norwegian court refers to “the Crown Prince” rather than to “the Crown Prince of Norway”), but princes and unmarried princesses are styled with their father’s dukedom (or principality). Thus the younger son of the previous Duke of Kent is Prince Michael of Kent, the daughters of the Duke of York are Princess Beatrice of York and Princess Eugenie of York, and the sons of the Prince of Wales are styled Prince William of Wales and Prince Henry of Wales.
The answer is thus that, as things now are, Kate Middleton will become Her Royal Highness Princess William of Wales.

However, this might come across as very old-fashioned and sexist in the 21st century and there is therefore a theoretical, but in my opinion not very likely, possibility that Queen Elizabeth II may allow her granddaughter-in-law to be styled as “Princess Catherine of Wales”, although this would actually imply that she was herself the daughter of the Prince of Wales.
Queen Elizabeth II has however shown herself to be rather flexible when it comes to deciding titles for her family. The most recent example are the children of her youngest son, the Earl of Wessex (Prince Edward), who are by virtue of the rules decided by King George V in 1917 HRH Princess Louise of Wessex and HRH Prince James of Wessex, yet are styled Lady Louise Windsor and Viscount Severn.
On two occasions she has also allowed women who were not born British princesses to be styled as Princess with their own name. The first example was Marina, the widow of the Queen’s uncle the Duke of Kent (Prince George). Following his death in 1942 she continued to be known as simply the Duchess of Kent, but when her son married in 1961, his wife became the Duchess of Kent and his mother received the Queen’s permission to be known as Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent rather than as the Dowager Duchess of Kent.
While Princess Marina was born a Princess of Greece and Denmark that title had no relevance to her British style and she would have become “Princess George” if her husband had not been given the title Duke of Kent. When the Queen’s other uncle, the Duke of Gloucester (Prince Henry), died in 1974, she similarly allowed his widow to be styled Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. (This somewhat irritated the Queen’s great-aunt Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, who was born a British princess and thought that the other Alice should have been known as “Princess Henry”).

But what is perhaps more likely than that Queen Elizabeth II will allow her granddaughter-in-law to be known as “Princess Catherine of Wales” is the possibility that she will bestow a royal dukedom upon Prince William on his wedding day. It has long been a tradition that British princes have been given a dukedom on their wedding day (or earlier), the most recent example being Prince Andrew, who was created Duke of York on his wedding day in 1986.
But in 1999 the Queen broke with that tradition when her youngest son, Prince Edward, was not given a dukedom on his wedding day, but rather created Earl of Wessex, which is two pegs down on the ranking list of titles. However, that came with the promise that the title Duke of Edinburgh will be re-created for Prince Edward when both the current Queen and her husband are dead. (If Prince Philip dies before the Queen the title will be inherited by Prince Charles and as the Sovereign cannot hold a peerage it will merge with the Crown upon his accession and thus be eligible for re-creation – if Prince Philip outlives the Queen the title will automatically merge with the Crown).
The last time the eldest son of the monarch’s eldest son married was in 1893, when Prince George (V) married Princess Victoria Mary of Teck. Although his grandmother Queen Victoria disapproved of royal dukedoms she nevertheless created him Duke of York (his elder brother Albert Victor, who died in 1892, had earlier been made Duke of Clarence and Avondale). If Queen Elizabeth II does the same, Prince William of Wales will cease being styled as such and rather be known as His Royal Highness the Duke of X, his wife becoming Her Royal Highness the Duchess of X.
Options for a ducal title may be Duke of Cambridge, Clarence or Sussex – all three of them previous royal dukedoms which are now “available”. Clarence does however have some unfortunate connotations, while Connaught, another recent royal dukedom, can certainly be ruled out as Connaught is now part of the Republic of Ireland). The Queen may also choose a previously unused name for the dukedom – Queen Victoria is known to have considered Duke of London rather than York for her grandson, while George IV as Prince Regent intended to create his son-in-law Leopold Duke of Kendal (this did however not come about when Leopold’s wife died in childbirth with their son).

Whether he gets a new title or not, Prince William will become Duke of Cornwall the moment Queen Elizabeth II draws her last breath as this title automatically belongs to the eldest son of the monarch – this in contrast to the title of Prince of Wales, which can only be held by the monarch’s eldest son (or the eldest son’s eldest son if the former is deceased, as was the case with the future George III in the reign of his grandfather George II), but which has to be granted by the monarch. Following her accession in 1952 Queen Elizabeth II waited six years before bestowing the title Prince of Wales upon her son, who in the meantime was known as the Duke of Cornwall. This was however a special case, as Prince Charles was still a child at the time.
On the other hand Queen Victoria created her eldest son Albert Edward Prince of Wales upon his birth. When he came to the throne as King Edward VII in January 1901 he had thus been Prince of Wales for nearly sixty years and felt that the title was too closely associated with himself for it to be given to someone else immediately. It was thus only in November of that year that he created his eldest surviving son Prince of Wales. This son had as mentioned been created Duke of York by Queen Victoria upon his marriage and having acquired the title Duke of Cornwall upon his father’s accession he was in the meantime known as the Duke of Cornwall and York.
Thus, if Prince William is given a dukedom, say of Cambridge, he will be known as the Duke of Cornwall and Cambridge in the time between his father’s accession to the throne and his own creation as Prince of Wales.

When Prince William becomes Prince of Wales, his wife will automatically be the Princess of Wales, and when he becomes King, she will become Queen. Unlike princesses queens use their own name and she will therefore be Queen Catherine, but officially she will be referred to as simply Her Majesty the Queen. Her parents had the good sense to give her two queenly names – Catherine Elizabeth – but when George V came to the throne in 1910 it was explained to his wife, who was officially called Victoria Mary (but known privately as May), that a queen could not have two names and as “Queen Victoria” was considered out of the question she chose to be known as Queen Mary.

Another question is what will be the titles of Prince William’s children if born in the reign of their great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth II. The rules laid down by King George V in 1917 restrict the title of prince or princess to the monarch’s children, the children of the monarch’s son and the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales. Thus, Prince William’s eldest son will be a prince, while any other children born in the lifetime of Queen Elizabeth II will be Lord X Windsor and Lady Y Windsor.
However, the monarch can then issue a so-called Letters Patent to bestow the title of prince or princess upon the younger children as well. King George VI did something similar when his daughter, the current Queen, was expecting her first child in 1948. As she was the daughter, not the son, of the monarch, her children would not be princes, but be styled as the children of their father, who had been given the titles Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich upon his marriage in 1947. Thus a son would have received the courtesy title Earl of Merioneth, while a daughter would have been Lady X Mountbatten (assuming her father’s surname). By virtue of George VI’s Letter Patent the son born before his mother’s accession rather became Prince Charles of Edinburgh, the daughter Princess Anne of Edinburgh.
A peerage, including a royal dukedom such as that of Edinburgh, usually comes with subsidiary titles which are commonly used as so-called courtesy titles by the eldest son (and the eldest son’s eldest son). However, royal princes do not use courtesy titles, so that if Prince William is given a dukedom with a subsidiary earldom and barony his eldest son will be known as Prince X of the dukedom rather than as Earl of Y.
The opposite is the case with the eldest son and grandson of the current Duke of Gloucester (Prince Richard) and the current Duke of Kent (Prince Edward). The Duke of Gloucester is also Earl of Ulster and Baron Culloden, and the Duke of Kent is also Earl of St Andrews and Baron Downpatrick. But as grandsons of a monarch (George V) rather than sons, these two dukes are the last of their lines to be princes. Their sons and grandsons are not princes and therefore use the two dukes’ respective courtesy titles – Earl of Ulster and Baron Culloden for the Duke of Gloucester’s son and grandson; Earl of St Andrews and Baron Downpatrick for the Duke of Kent’s eldest son and eldest son’s son.
As will be seen it has been usual to choose different parts of the United Kingdom for the main title and the courtesy titles. With Ireland now an independent republic, a dukedom for Prince William is thus likely to consist of a dukedom, an earldom and a barony with territorial designations drawn from England, Scotland and Wales. With the Queen’s eldest son being Prince of Wales and her two younger sons having English titles it would in my opinion be nice if the second in line to the throne receives a Scottish dukedom like her husband.


  1. Great article (as usual)! One minor mistake: without George VI's Letters Patent, Elizabeth's daughter would have become 'Lady X Mountbatten', not 'Lady X Windsor'... Keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you; you are probably right about that. It was only when Lord Mountbatten in 1952 had bragged to Prince Ernst August of Hanover that "the House of Mountbatten now reigned" (and the Prince ran and told Queen Mary) that Elizabeth II issued the decree saying that the name would remain Windsor. But I guess that the absence of such a decree did indeed mean that Mountbatten would have been Anne's surname before 1952 if she were not a princess.

  3. I do not understand if diana became "the princess of wales" upon her marriage to prince charles why does kate not also become the princess of wales and not the princess william of wales as you suggest.

  4. Please observe that comments should be signed - preferably by a name, but an initial or a nick will also be accepted.

    Lady Diana Spencer became "The Princess of Wales" because she married a man whose title is "The Prince of Wales". Catherine Middleton became "The Duchess of Cambridge" because she married a man whose title is "The Duke of Cambridge".

    Until this morning the Duke of Cambridge was styled "Prince William of Wales", indicating that he is a son of the Prince of Wales but did not hold a peerage of his own. If he had not be given a peerage his wife would have been styled "Princess William of Wales".

    If today's bride and groom gets a son in the lifetime of Queen Elizabeth II he will be styled "Prince _______ of Cambridge".

    The title "The Prince of Wales" can only be held by the monarch's eldest son (or the eldest son of a deceased eldest son of the monarch). Thus it is currently Prince Charles who is the Prince of Wales. When he becomes King following his mother's death he will (most likely) create his eldest son Prince of Wales. Only then will Catherine become "the Princess of Wales" (and their children "Prince(ss) ____ of Wales" rather than "of Cambridge").

    The title "The Princess of Wales" is currently held by Camilla, the wife of the Prince of Wales, but out of respect for his late ex-wife she has chosen not to use that title but rather the second title, i.e. the Duchess of Cornwall.

    So the simple answer to your question is that Diana was "the Princess of Wales" because she was married to the first in line to the throne, Catherine is not (yet) "the Princess of Wales" because she is married to the second in line to the throne.

  5. Hello -- I'd never heard that Queen Victoria "disapproved of royal dukedoms." Is this true?

    1. Yes, it is true (otherwise I would not have written it). She made some remark about it either when Prince Albert Victor was created Duke of Clarence or when Prince George was created Duke of York. If I recall she objected that being a prince was a finer thing than being a duke, but obviously she bowed to tradition, as she created three sons and two grandsons dukes.


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