Which of his wives, was Henry VIII actually in love with?

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This week we’re going to have a post about the Henry VIII era every day.  If I haven’t said it before, let me say it again – we are super cool people!

Want to kick it off with some #QuickFireThoughts on which of his wives Henry VIII was actually in love with.  It’s one of those fairly meaningless questions which can’t be proved wrong or right either way – but hopefully you’re getting the gist of this blog by now.

Of course, ‘love’ is a subjective term at the best of times.  It’s not 100% clear what it means to us today, let alone how we decipher it against the backdrop of the Tudor marriage market and different expectations about fidelity on the part of the husband.  But ultimately love is timeless.  What we’re looking for in this post, are indications of Henry’s passion and commitment to his respective spouse; feelings driven more from the heart than a logical pragmatism and a passion that was deeper than physical.

Let’s go.

  • Katherine of Aragon – He was certainly enthusiastic about marrying her and treated her (in public) fairly well to start with.  But there were probably other motives.  He was keen for the alliance with Spain (of which her father was effectively King) and wanted to appear like a man rather than a boy.  A prestigious wife helped with that.  Alison Weir argues that Henry’s ‘love’ for Catherine was never really passion.  I think she is probably right.  As I’ve argued in another post, Henry was probably unfaithful to Katherine within a year of their marriage.
  • Anne Boleyn – Surely this is a no-brainer?  I guess you could argue it was infatuation rather than love but I think that’s splitting hairs.  I also don’t think the violent reversal in his feeling suggests it was never love to start with and that, in part, may have been fuelled by feelings of betrayal.  Yep, with Anne it was love; heart and soul.   Until it became hate.
  • Jane Seymour – Hmm…tricky one.  She was in the right place at the right time and being the polar opposite of Anne certainly helped.  And who knows what would have happened had she lived.  But we have to go on what we have – and remember that no love is without questionable motives.  She was the Queen that he always mourned and remembered.  As Roxette might say, “it must have been love.”
  • Anne of Cleaves – Actually I have an unusual but credible theory on this.  There is newly discovered evidence that – ah sorry, can’t keep this up!  No.  Just, no!
  • Catherine Howard – Perhaps the trickiest one of all.  But I’m going for no.  I think it was lust.  He was hurt by her betrayal but I’m not sure the feelings ran deep.  But I am prepared to be out-argued on this one…
  • Katherine Parr – He admired her.  Respected her.  Cared for her.  But it’s difficult to see that a flame was burning.  During her time, he still lauded the memory of Jane – but then she had given Henry his only son.  It’s a toss up, but I’m going to land on ‘no.’

And now…over to you geeks.  Have I underestimated his feelings for Catherine Howard?  Were his feelings for his first wife genuine love that faded with time?  Were his lasting affections for Jane entirely rooted to the fact that she had delivered a son?  I want to know what you think!

In defence of Henry VI

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Been thinking lately about good King Henry.  No not that one.  Nor that one.  Not even that one.

I speak not of Henry VIII, who transformed England perhaps more than any other ruler.  Nor do I dwell on his father, who founded the infamous Tudor dynasty.  I do not even mean the fifth Harry, who took England to its 100 year war zenith at the battle of Agincourt.

Instead, I’ve been pondering the reign of Henry VI – the man whose reign was seen as so disastrous that it led to the Wars of the Roses and ultimately, the downfall of Lancaster and the rise of York.  He was weak.  Easily led.  He had no desire for glory in war.  He lacked ruthlessness.  He was far too trusting; particularly when it came to unscrupulous advisers.

All this is accurate.  He had none of the qualities necessary for successful medieval Kingship.

But something bothers me about how history judges him.  No sympathy has emerged and few rarely speak up for his good qualities.  He was a man of genuine religious conviction.  He was compassionate.  He invested in education.  He forgave people that wronged him.  He was not promiscuous.  He took care of his maternal half-brothers.  He was a lover of peace.

None of this, I agree, would have endeared him to contemporaries.  But shouldn’t the 21st century observer be pouring praise on these virtues?  After all, the behaviour of Catherine Howard made her a totally unsuitable Tudor Queen; but the modern reader has sympathy with her, recognising that she was essentially an abused teenage girl, forced into marriage with an obese man in his 50s.  Why isn’t Henry VI given the same generosity?

It has come to my attention of late that the Wars of the Roses are still being fought – albeit by history fans on Twitter.  Great!  But it surprises me that so many side with Edward IV at the expense of poor Henry.

Don’t get me wrong – as I’ve said above, I understand why contemporaries would have seen Edward as the better King.  But shouldn’t we judge differently?  Shouldn’t we be quick to acknowledge that virtuous, faithful, peaceful Henry is a better offering than adulterous, gluttonous and war ready Edward – even if we have to sadly acknowledge that the latter probably makes you a better ruler of 15th century England?

But we don’t.  Part of me can’t shake the feeling that this has all been distorted by the fact that so many history fans have a crush on Max Irons…

Anyway, for this blogger at least, Henry VI deserves a reprieve.  He may have been one of the most unsuited heads to ever wear a crown – but he’s one of the finest characters in the annals of history.

Okay Yorkists (and other geeks) – do your worst.  Tell me where I’m going wrong!  I want to hear what you think!

How the ‘White Queen’ got Margaret Beaufort so, so wrong…

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As I trawled through my Google analytics the other day, I noticed that my post on the ‘Three things the White Queen Got Wrong’ was one of the highest read so far.  In fact, with the exception of anything about Prince Harry, the Wars of the Roses is easily the most popular topic.  Clearly the hit BBC series had something to do with that.

And for the most part, I’m a fan.  I’m relatively relaxed about the fact that historical fiction needs to take twists and turns that cause it to differ from the facts.  Obviously I wish that people would channel their new found interest into checking out an actual history book, but the fact that they don’t isn’t the fault of fiction writers or TV producers.

But it’s the Margaret Beaufort stuff that still bothers me.  I know, I know – I’ve blogged about this before.  However, the more I get into engaging with the historical community on Twitter (which I love by the way) the more I realise that some stuff still needs to be said.

For me, it isn’t the fact that the White Queen series has got facts about Margaret’s life wrong.  These things happen and actually the Philippa Gregory book of ‘The Red Queen’ is chronologically very accurate (and btw, an excellent read).  It’s the fact that her portrayal on the series – and how she is presented in other formats – has totally skewed perceptions of her.  This has now reached such an extent that back in 2013, the BBC history website (which many might understandably view as a respectable source) actually listed Margaret as a potential killer of the Princes in the Tower – almost as if the case against her was as strong of that against Richard III.

Anyway, I’m getting toward the end of my rant.  What I want to do quickly, is just list three things I believe about Margaret which the White Queen TV series entirely failed to capture:

  • She had a sense of humour – Okay, so she didn’t exactly leave behind a collection of published jokes in her (for the time) quite extensive collection of books, but that doesn’t mean she was all work and no fun.  There is evidence of her sharing jokes with servants and making humorous remarks in correspondence.  Her household was remembered as a happy place to be.
  • She was a pragmatist – I really did not like the Lancastrian fanatic that was presented in the White Queen.  Yes, she knew where her deep loyalties lay but she was as happy as most people of the era to play the game.  When she needed to be loyal to the Yorkist Edward IV (who she was actually genetically more closely related to than she was Lancaster’s Henry VI) then loyal she was.
  • She was quite a good wife – Margaret’s second husband, Sir Henry Stafford, was presented in the series as a loyal and long suffering spouse to the cold and aggressive Margaret.  Despite being only fifteen when she married the thirty-something year old, there is much evidence that their wedding was warm and happy.  Its childlessness is probably better explained by the damage caused by the birth of Henry VII (when Margaret was just 13) rather than any sexual frigidity on her part.

Rant over for now.  But one day, I would love to see a novel and TV series that present the warmer, practical and realistic Margaret that I have been privileged to get to know through study.

Review: A few thoughts on episode 1 of ‘Victoria’

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Wanted to bash out some #QuickFireThoughts on the first episode of ITV’s Victoria.  Given that speed is of the essence to keep it topical, I can’t promise this will be my finest literary endeavour.

It was good.

Purists (a camp that I loosely consider myself a member of) will be quick to point out the inaccuracies, and they’re not wrong.  The casting was clearly a victory of viewing figures over accuracy.  Yes, Lord Melbourne was an attractive man, but the countless girls currently going crazy over Rufus Sewell on Twitter might find themselves disappointed if they stepped back in time to 1837.  And of course, even as a young girl, Victoria never had the beauty of Jenna Coleman, but the thrust of the programme was good.

Here’s a few quick observations from me:

  • There were some really nice touches that geeks will appreciate. I don’t know if Conroy specifically tried to encourage Victoria to adopt the name of ‘Elizabeth II’ but it was certainly something discussed in Parliament.
  • I’m assuming – and Twitter agrees – that the ‘upstairs / downstairs’ dynamic was deliberately engineered to fill the void left by Downton Abbey last year. Does anyone know what, if anything, the ‘downstairs’ stories were based on?
  • The Lady Flora sub-plot was quite powerful. It is important to show how potentially spiteful the young Queen could be.
  • Baroness Lehzen was well cast. I liked the early acknowledgement that Victoria was totally constitutionally uneducated.

Of course the big thing that I – and other RoyalHistoryGeeks – will have struggled the most with was Victoria’s ‘attraction’ to Lord M.  Yes, she may have been infatuated and yes, he was dashing, but the relationship surely more closely resembled that of father/daughter.

In summary, the first episode was good and I’ll certainly tune in next week.  Was it totally historically accurate?  No, of course not.  Will it still aid people’s understanding of the history of the era?  Yes, I think it probably will.

Was Henry VIII trying to establish Fitzroy as ‘quasi-Royalty’ with the Richmond title?

Lately I’ve been diving into a wealth of books about the Henry VIII era.  Having got a bit trapped in the Wars of the Roses last year, it’s been good to return to the Tudors, my first love.

As I read, I keep coming across references to Henry Fitzroy, the only acknowledged illegitimate son of the second Tudor King.  He’s a character that, when time and energy permit, I’d like to learn more about.  For now though, I wanted to blog some #QuickFireThoughts about the thing that all super-cool people are most interested in – the titles that were bestowed on him.

Keen Tudor fans will know that having been acknowledged as Henry VIII’s son since birth, in 1525, with the King increasingly sensitive about his lack of male heir, the six year old boy was elevated to the upper reaches of the English nobility and given the titles Duke of Richmond and Duke of Somerset.  Some, both at the time and subsequently, believed that Henry was keeping his options open and considering a bastard succession.

What’s interesting about these titles is that they were both intrinsically linked to the Tudor dynasty.  Edmund Tudor – Henry’s grandfather – had possessed the earldom of Richmond and his young wife, Margaret Beaufort was descended from the Earls and Dukes of Somerset.  The Dukedom of Somerset had also been bestowed on an ill-fated son of Henry VII.

They are also both titles of impeccable Lancastrian pedigree.  John of Gaunt himself had once been Earl of Richmond and, as just stated, the Somerset title had been wielded by his Beaufort offspring.

However, it occurs to me that had Henry wanted to use them, there were more explicitly royal titles at his disposal, particularly the Dukedom of York, which he himself had once possessed.  Clarence might also have been a more appropriate choice for someone of princely status.  Historians talk of Richmond and Somerset as being royal titles, but it seems to me that if anything, they can be more accurately described as ‘quasi Royal’.

Edmund Tudor was the half-brother of Henry VI and son of a French Princess, but strictly speaking, he had no claim to English royalty.  Similarly, the Dukes of Somerset – the Beauforts – had been born illegitimate and were of questionable status.  Even though they were legitimised after the marriage of their parents, the fact that the eldest was already an adult and that his half-brother would later explicitly (albeit futilely) bar his descendants from the royal succession, meant that the taint of bastardy never truly went away.  The Beauforts were at best quasi-Royal.

Could it be then that at this stage, Henry was trying to establish his son not necessarily as a potential successor but as a member of the quasi-royalty?  Associations of these titles would have been well known to contemporaries and it is difficult to think that they would have escaped the notice of the King himself.  Henry would later give similar status to his daughters Mary and Elizabeth once he had divorced their mothers and declared them illegitimate.

Like I say, just a few #QuickFireThoughts – but it’s amazing what gets the brain ticking.

How ‘experienced’ was Henry VIII before his first marriage?

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Henry VIII has gone down in history as a great womaniser.  Given that he took six (almost seven) women in marriage, you can see where subsequent generations are coming from.  However, a closer look at the facts suggest he may not have been as active in extra-marital activities as fans of Tudor history might assume – at least not to begin with.

We know that after a decade of marriage Henry had started to play away.  His mistress, Bessie Blount, had done what Queen Katherine of Aragon had proved unable to and delivered him a healthy son.  He was prepared to shout it from the roof tops.  This experience perhaps, gave him the taste for adultery and he had soon moved on to Mary Boleyn before, infamously, becoming infatuated with her sister.

There is talk of dalliances before Elizabeth Blount and of course it is entirely possible that details of these are lost to us.  But David Loades has recently argued that some of the early flirtations laid at Henry’s door were nothing more than the accepted pantomime of ‘courtly love,’ where aristocrats exchanged gifts, tokens and letters that conveyed affection which did not (in theory) lead to any physical interaction.

The real question though that I’ve been scratching my head over is: when Henry married Katherine, as a newly ascended 17 year old, did he do so as a virgin, as of course she famously claimed to?  I’m not sure how we can ever know, but for the following reasons, I’m inclined to think he was as a pure as a winter snow flake:

  • He was young – Henry was still 17 when he came to the throne and married. The most obvious argument to support chastity up until this point is that he hadn’t had much time to do anything else.
  • He was sheltered – After losing his first son to an untimely demise, Henry VII was hyper-protective of the only remaining Tudor heir. He banned Henry junior from dangerous sports and went to great lengths to keep him safe.  I have no evidence that this extended to shielding his son from the wiles of women, but it is conceivable.  In Tudor times, teenage sex was often seen as dangerous to health and even married young couples were sometimes encouraged to refrain from it.  Also, some believe that Prince Henry’s upbringing was largely overseen by his grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who had more than enough reason of her own to be fearful of such antics at a young age.  That being said, I find it hard to believe this was a subject she would have raised directly with her grandson.
  • He may have been genuinely confused about Katherine’s virginity – Many considered Henry’s case for a valid divorce from his first wife to hinge around whether she was a virgin upon their marriage (she had previously been married as a teenager to Henry’s elder brother Arthur, but denied that the marriage had ever been consummated). When the King later married Anne of Cleves, he described in great detail why he, somewhat strangely, believed her to be ‘no maid’.  He never had the confidence to do so with Katherine, which could be a major hint toward his inexperience with women in 1509.  It is also possible that the more familiar the King became with the female form, the more he had genuinely growing doubts about his wife’s precondition and the validity of his marriage – although this is perhaps a far too sympathetic understanding of the King’s ‘great matter.’

Anyway, these are just some #QuickFireThoughts for what they’re worth.  Either way, it isn’t a particularly significant question, but it does go to show that despite public perceptions of England’s most famous ruler, all is not always what it seems.

Could Catherine of Aragon have saved her daughter from illegitimacy?

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Unlike my teenage self, I’m not too quick to defend Henry VIII.  I used to – perhaps somewhat precociously – try and convince my history teacher that his savage treatment of his wives could be justified by his fear of a ‘war of the roses relapse.’  While I don’t discount this argument entirely, I no longer believe it provides the late king with a blank cheque of justification.

So when it comes to his divorce of Catherine of Aragon, I tend to side with the wronged woman.  As I’ve blogged recently, I believe her when she says she entered her marriage to Henry a virgin, the crux of his case to obtain a divorce.

Catherine went to her grave maintaining that she remained both Henry’s true wife and the Queen of England.   This has often been deemed to be a sure sign of her grit, determination and noble perseverance.  I believe it was all of those things.  But it was also a radical display of pride.

I doubt there’s anything Catherine could have done to save herself, but the question I’m really interested in is – could she have cast her pride aside in the interest of saving her only child?

Let’s recap for a minute.  Henry and Catherine had just one child who survived infancy, the Princess Mary.  Mary, every inch her mother’s daughter, swung firmly behind Catherine and, perhaps in part because of her defiance, was declared illegitimate and unable to inherit once Henry had split from Rome and obtained his divorce.

Mary was robbed of her royal status, separated from Catherine and eventually made to serve her infant sister Elizabeth.  She was alienated and demeaned.

The trauma caused the teenager to develop health problems that lasted the rest of her life.

Catherine would ‘commend Mary’ to Henry with her dying breath, but could she actually have done more to protect her?

Let me explain.

There was probably no circumstance in which Henry would rest until he was rid of his first wife, but the humbling of Mary did not have to automatically follow.  When couples had their marriages annulled, it was possible that the children of the union could retain their legitimacy if it was deemed that their parents had married in ‘good faith.’  This wasn’t just a theoretical exemption; in 1527, Henry VIII’s sister Margaret had divorced the Earl of Angus  and their daughter, the English-resident Lady Margaret Douglas, experienced no change in status.  It was a scenario fresh on the Tudor consciousness.

Of course, I cannot prove that Henry would have been prepared to give any ground and it’s certainly conceivable that Anne Boleyn would not have been able to tolerate Mary remaining in the line of succession.   But when the King wanted rid of wife number 4 (Anne of Cleves), he showed he was prepared to give her a good deal so long as he ultimately got what he wanted.

Could Catherine not have sensed which way the wind was blowing and entered negotiations?  Perhaps she could have looked past her own pride and made her daughter’s legitimacy a condition of her ‘going quietly.’  Mary would still have been displaced in the succession by the birth of children to Anne, but she would have been spared the stain of bastardy and able to maintain her status as a Princess.  She would not have been publicly disgraced.

None of this changes that fact that I still believe Catherine was the injured party and Henry was fundamentally to blame for the cruel treatment of Mary.  But Catherine is not free from guilt.  A parent’s job, both in Tudor times as it is now, is to forsake their own happiness in order to do everything possible for their child.  Catherine’s high pride blinded her from her maternal duties and Mary would live with the consequences for the rest of her life.

Okay geeks…what do you think?  Have I been way to harsh on Catherine?  Have I over-estimated Henry’s capacity to compromise?  Would Mary have ever been satisfied with this deal?  I want to know what YOU think!

In defence of Queen Victoria

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As you can imagine, I like a good Royal documentary as much as the next person.  A few years back, when the Queen celebrated her diamond jubilee, it was a cause of great joy to me that TV makers were inspired to turn their attention to the only other monarch to have marked that milestone.  Victoria.

But as I’ve blogged before, something concerns me about what is entering the public consciousness as a result.  Last week when ‘Queen Victoria’s children’ was re-run, I noticed again that social media was filling up with criticism of the late monarch.

Some of it was justified.  She was a self-centred woman.  She could be callous about and to, her children.  If you made an enemy of her, she was anything but gracious.  But this is only one side of the story; it’s time the other one was told.  To that end, I want to offer a few #QuickFireThoughts.

To start with, when it came to parenting, it should be remembered that her 9 children were no picnic.  The Prince of Wales in particular, indulged in antics that would drive almost any  parent to distraction.  She treated her youngest daughter horrifically when she announced she wanted to marry – but she also eventually embraced her son-in-law and helped advance him in life.  All of this of course should be viewed against the backdrop that she was horrifically parented herself.

Aside from parenting, there were many admirable parts to her personality and character that deserve honourable mention:

  • She was significantly less racist than her contemporaries – Her embracing of Indian servants enraged the establishment, but she would constantly defend them against the glare of the English superiority complex that was rampant.  I’m not suggesting that her world view would survive the scrutiny of 21st century standards, but it was considerably more advanced than those around her.
  • She embraced the underdog – Perhaps aware of her own heritage (she probably always felt like a first-generation immigrant despite being born in England) she was keen to champion the minority.  Be it in her love of Scotland over England or her preference for the Jewish Disraeli over the establishment produced Gladstone, she often acted in a way that people would not expect their ruler to; this has to be to her credit.
  • She placed less stock in hierarchy than most Royals – Perhaps seen most evidently in her relationships with her highland servants, Victoria craved informality in a way that often made other Royals, including her children, uncomfortable.  She was also disturbed by the Germanic practice of morganatic marriages, which was when a continental noble chose to wed someone of lower social status.  Such arrangements meant that a woman marrying a man of higher nobility could not claim his titles and precedence.  She was glad no such practice existed in Britain.
  • She genuinely valued friendship – The close associations she struck up were both unpredictable and frequent.  While she never forgot that she was a Queen-Empress, she coveted connections that would allow people to approach her as something resembling an equal.  Victoria was a woman who wanted at least some people to know her as a human being.

None of this is to suggest that the late matriarch was a forward-thinking liberal.  She was vehemently opposed to women’s rights throughout her reign.  But she was not the cold, callous egomaniac that recent documentaries have portrayed her as.

Or at the very least, that wasn’t all she was.

What do you think geeks?  Am I being too hard on the documentary makers?  Am I too quick to overlook the faults of the Queen-Empress?  Have I over-emphasised her positive character traits?  I want to know what YOU think?

Why did George V shrink the Royal family in 1917?

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The reasons that the legendary King George V decided to abandon all German names, titles and distinctions in 1917 are well known.   And let’s face it, kind of obvious.  The proud but down-to-earth emperor was dismayed by comments that he presided over an ‘uninspiring and alien court’ to which he famously responded that he may be uninspiring but he’d be damned if he was alien!  Thus, against such peculiar circumstances, was the house of Windsor born.

What is less know (well, unless you’re a super call Royal-watcher like me) is that just a few months later, George took the opportunity to shrink the Royal family, restricting the title of Prince and Princess and virtually abolishing the style of Highness.

On 30 November 1917,of 1917, letters patent were issued declaring that henceforth only the children of the sovereign, sons of sons of the sovereign and the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales would be entitles to the style of Royal Highness and the titular dignity of Prince of Princess.  Hitherto, male-line great-grandchildren of a sovereign could also call themselves Prince or Princess with the style of Highness.

Despite my obsession with Royalty in general and Royal titles in particular, I have never come by much in terms of a reason for the King’s decisions.  This is no doubt mainly down to the fact that I so far limited my search to the internet; I have never yet had the chance to trawl through many of the excellent biographies of the war-time King, something I would love to do when time allows.  But it might also be because the King’s own thoughts on the matter were fairly guarded.

Nonetheless I thought whacking out some #QuickFireThoughts on the subject would make a compelling blog post.  I have three (all entirely speculative) theories as to why he felt the title stripping necessary.  The first two I think are quite credible; the third more of a #WildCard:

  • George V wanted to start a fresh with the Royal family –  It is quite believable that the earlier decision to Anglicise the house of Saxe-Coburgh-Gotha reminded everybody just how far flung the Royal family had become and just how intwined they were with continental (especially Germanic) Royalty.  Perhaps the King also didn’t fancy the thought of a host of deposed demi-Royals from the continent fleeing to Britain and claiming Royal status as descendants of Queen Victoria for the next few years.  This declaration would have limited Royalty almost (although not entirely) to those already domicile in the UK, largely eliminating that problem.
  • In the wake of monarchies falling, the time seemed right to shrink down the family-firm – Everywhere you looked European monarchies were crumbling.  The Russian Tsar had been forced to abdicate earlier that year, and it was pretty obvious that others weren’t far behind.  So, perhaps the British monarchy did what it does best; modernise to survive!  We know that George V was keen to pump a bit more British blood into the veins of the house of Windsor and would allow his children to take local spouses; this whole project would be easier if there were less potential Royals to marry off.  Also, perhaps he felt that the new house of Windsor really needed a fresh start and should be contained, primarily to his descendants.  Regardless of his motivation, the move boasted incredible foresight; had he not made this change, Britain today would be positively littered with Princes and Princesses.
  • It was a personal vendetta against the Connaughts – Before I get into this, let me reiterate that this point firmly fits into the #WildCard category.  But anyway, here we go!  Although the 1917 letters patent but the ky-bosh on a number of continental royals potentially falling back on British titles once stripped of others, there was only one person who was actually affected by it at the time: Alastair, Earl of Macduff who prior to the LPs has been known as His Highness Prince Alastair of Connaught.  I remember once reading somewhere (and I really can’t remember where) that George V had some kind of grudge against his Connaught cousins.  Could it be that he wanted to alienate them from the Royal family.  After all, young Alastair’s aunt, Princess Patricia of Connaught mysteriously ‘volunteered’ to give up her Royal style when she married in 1919.  Perhaps this was no coincidence…

Anyway, perhaps one day I will have chance to read more about this and return to the subject.  Until then, if anyone know more or has any views, I would be very grateful to hear them!

What titles will Harry’s wife and children have?

Image: Surtsicna – This file was derived fromPrince Harry Trooping the Colour.JPG:, CC BY-SA 3.0,

As regular readers know, as a historian I see myself as an amateur; but when it comes to questions of Royal titles – ah now that’s quite different.  Here I consider myself an expert.

On this subject, people trust my knowledge.  On this subject, I often get asked questions – questions I am only too happy to answer.  Once question I’ve been asked a bit lately (okay only once.  And I was the one that asked it.  To myself.  Even though I already knew the answer) is “when Prince Harry gets married, what title will his wife received and how will any eventual children of the marriage be styled?”

The answer, as ever, isn’t entirely straightforward.  But as I like a challenge, I’ll wade in and answer it, making a few qualifications along the way.

If Prince Harry married NOW and there was no intervention from the Queen…

Than his lucky bride would be known as HRH Princess Henry of Wales.

“SAY WHAAAAT?!”  I hear you cry.  “That sounds weird at the best of times and who the heck is ‘Henry of Wales.’”

Okay, bear with, bear with.  First of all we need to be clear on one thing.  Despite  the fact he is almost universally known as ‘Harry’ (I believe at his late mother’s request) William’s younger brother is technically called ‘Henry’ and on official documents is styled as such.  Thanks to Letters Patent issued by his great-great-grandfather in 1917, as a son of a son of the sovereign he is entitled to the style of Royal Highness and the titular dignity of Prince before his christian name. By custom, he takes the territorial designation from his father’s title (in this case ‘Wales’) and uses it as sort of surname with an ‘of’ in front of it.

In the British system, a wife literally feminises her husband’s style.  So the wife of Mr Joe Bloggs is technically Mrs Joe Bloggs rather than Mrs Jane Bloggs, even if the latter is now more common social practice.  Hence why Harry’s wife would rather clunkily be ‘HRH Princess Henry of Wales.’

As for the children?  Well, let’s just suppose that in the lifetime of the Queen, Harry and his wife have two children and for sake of argument we’ll call them Andrew (after his uncle) and Catherine (after his sister in law).  They would be known respectively as Lord Andrew Mountbatten-Windsor and Lady Catherine Mountbatten-Windsor.

“Hold the phone!” I can sense you shout out loud as your coffee drops to the floor.  “Mountbatten?  What’s that about?  And why on God’s earth aren’t these two fictitious young Royals a Prince and Princess.”

<Sigh.>  I knew it would get to this.  Okay, I’ll tell ya.

The Royal family are known as the ‘House and family of Windsor.’  There was some question mark over this when the Queen ascended (married women tend to take their husband’s name and Philip had adopted the surname of Mountbatten in 1947) but the then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill made it crystal clear.  However a few years later, the Queen, no doubt wanting to recognise her husband, decreed that her and Philip’s male-line descendants who do NOT bear the style Royal Highness would carry the name ‘Mountbatten-Windsor.’

As far as their lack of Royal titles?  The Letters Patent of 1917 (mentioned above) restricted the use of the Royal style so that male line great-grandchildren of a sovereign were no longer entitled to it (with the exception of the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales.  In fact the Queen had to intervene to ensure that Charlotte was born a Princess).  Instead, it made provisions for them to have the same titles as the children of Dukes – the right to prefix their Christian name with the title ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady.’

HOWEVER, when Charles ascends the throne, everything changes.  Now, these two offspring would be male-line grandchildren of a sovereign and would be bumped up to HRH with the titular dignity of Prince or Princess.  And Harry’s title would change too – he would lose ‘Wales’ and gain the definite article, becoming HRH The Prince Henry, with his wife upgrading to HRH The Princess Henry.

But in reality, there would probably be some intervention from the Queen

When Harry marries he will probably be given a peerage most likely a Dukedom, but potentially an Earldom like Prince Edward.  Even if this doesn’t happen on marriage, it is highly likely to take place once Charles ascends.  If then he is created (let’s say) ‘Duke of Sussex’ (the title he is rumoured to desire) than it’s good news for his wife.  She would then be styled Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex.

It is also possible that a change will be made with the children.  Given that they will one day be grandchildren of a sovereign and entitled to the Princely style, the Queen might decide to bring that day forward and give it to them straight away.  She has that power.

But more worryingly, there is a third alternative.  We hear much talk of Charles wanting to ‘shrink’ the Royal family.  While this would be disastrous for Royal watchers like me, there is a chance that he may further restrict HRH to those in direct line of succession – freeing his other descendants from the burden or privilege (depending how you see it) of Royal titles.  As such Harry’s children may never be technically considered Royal – although this is entirely speculation.

Well there you go.  That was an adventure, wasn’t it?  Stay tuned for more super-coolness just around the corner.