The Duke and Duchess of Sussex – it’s in the running but not a done deal!

Credit: U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Capt. Andrew Bolla

A few years ago – before I even knew the name ‘Meghan Markle’ – I penned a post exploring what titles any future wife of Prince Harry and their children might possess.  By some margin, it’s had more hits than anything else I’ve ever written.

In the post, I stated my hunch – and it really was just a hunch – that upon marriage Harry would be created ‘Duke of Sussex’, a title he is rumoured to desire.

Perhaps I have more influence than I think.  When the joyous news of the couple’s engagement was released, some media outlets were reporting as near certainty that America’s Meghan Markle would be transformed into Sussex’s Duchess upon marriage.

There are a number of logical reasons for thinking this.  Most of the Dukedoms previously used for royalty are occupied and those that remain – such as Clarence – seem too tainted to touch.

But I still think that our popular media has jumped the gun.  Let’s look at the other alternatives Her Majesty is presented with:

  • A new Dukedom could be invented – By tradition, only Dukedoms that have previously been wielded by a Royal are bestowed on a Prince. But it’s only a tradition.  Perhaps a new location will be honoured.  Duke of London?  Duke of Glasgow?  All are possible.  True, Her Majesty is more traditionalist than innovator – but she broke all the ‘rules’ when she made her third son Earl of Wessex.
  • Harry could become ‘Duke of York in waiting’ – the monarch’s second son – which Harry will one day be – is traditionally created Duke of York. Clearly this cannot happen while Prince Andrew lives, but it should be noted that he has no son to succeed him.  Perhaps Harry could have an Earldom bestowed upon marriage with the promise that he would one day become Duke of York when the title is vacant.  This would mirror what happened with Prince Edward who will one day assume the title of Duke of Edinburgh.
  • Harry might get no title at all – I don’t think this is likely. But as far as I know, no monarch has previously been in the position where he/she needed to give two of grandsons peerages (George V’s brother was dead by the time George was made Duke of York).  She might decide that it’s for Charles to dish out his second son’s title when he eventually gets the throne.  She was, after all, quite happy to leave two of her cousin’s wives with the clumsy sounding styles of Princess Richard of Gloucester and Princess of Michael of Kent.  Perhaps Meghan will simply be HRH Princess Henry of Wales.  Stranger things have happened…

For what it’s worth, I still think Dukedom of Sussex is going to be the one that lands.  I’ve read rumours that Harry has always wanted it (I have no idea if they’re true) and it seems that Her Majesty does take personal wishes into consideration.  But to report it as a done deal – like so much of our media has (and don’t even get me started on the American press) is just continuing the trend of lazy journalism that bombards conversation on these topics.

So much of what I discuss on this site can never be truly known.  The great thing about this subject is that it’s only a matter of months before time will tell…

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.

Why did George V shrink the Royal family in 1917?

King_George_V_1911_color-crop

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.

Is Kate a Princess?

Image: Surtsicna – This file was derived from Duchess of Cambridge, 16 June 2012.JPG:, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

Shockingly, my friends and family are not always keen for me to recite my fascinating knowledge of Royal history in their presence.  Even more puzzling to me – and something that will no doubt surprise loyal readers – my loved ones have often found my attempts to educate them on the intricacies of Royal and aristocratic titles objectionable.  Puzzling!

However, ever since the great Royal wedding of 2011, there’s one question which a number of those close to me have been keen to ask.  Namely, why was Diana ‘made a Princess’ when Kate wasn’t?

I can certainly understand why people ask.  After all, from 1981 until 1997, William’s mother was constantly referred to in the media as ‘Princess Diana.’  Yet when Kate got hitched the palace seemed to go out of their way to make it clear that it was not entirely appropriate to call her ‘Princess Catherine.’

A number of my friends have drawn their own conclusions as to why.  “It’s because Diana was married to the immediate heir to the throne,” said one, or “Diana was Princess of Wales and Kate is just a Duchess” speculated another.

Both quite logical, but both incorrect.  To get to the bottom of this, we need to understand two things.

  1. The later Princess of Wales was NEVER ‘Princess Diana.’

This might come as a surprise to some; the media heavily referred to her as such, both during and after her marriage.  But it is only Princesses by birth who use their Christian names in their title.  Diana was indeed the Princess of Wales and even The Princess Charles but technically never Princess Diana.

Sounds quirky doesn’t it?  But actually this isn’t unusual.  I remember when my mother was invited to the Buckingham Palace garden party, her invite was addressed to “Mrs Gary Streeter.”  But her name is not Gary.  It is Janet.  Similarly the wife of a younger son of a Duke or Marquess does not use her Christian name in her title (remember good old Lady Colin Campbell…?).

  1. But Kate is a Princess and during her marriage, so was Diana

Just because you can’t use your Christian name in your style (or more accurately, doing so wouldn’t be the most appropriate action in the eyes of the court) does not mean that you are not a Princess.  Anyone married to a Prince is a Princess.  This is as true for Camilla and Sophie as it is for Kate and was true for Diana and Sarah Ferguson during their marriages.  It is equally the case for the Duchesses of Kent and Gloucester and for Princess Michael of Kent.

So how can the great public tell which noble women are or are not Princesses?  Easy.  Three little letters: HRH (standing for Her Royal Highness).  Since 1917 the style of Royal Highness has been synonymous with the rank of Prince or Princess in the UK (yes, yes, yes I know there may have been an exception with the Duke of Edinburgh but exceptions prove the rule and I will write about this on another occasion).  Therefore The Duchess of Norfolk is not a Princess or member of the Royal family but HRH The Duchess of Gloucester is.

Make sense?  Don’t worry if it’s a little confusing.  No one ever sat down and made a list of rules that governed how Royal titles and styles fit together and operate.  Customs have emerged over centuries and in reality the current system is a hybrid of ancient English and Scottish practice that merged with the Germanic approach in 1714 and has been evolving in response to circumstance ever since.  But hey, let’s face it…that’s all part of the fun!

Okay geeks…over to you?  Is this system all a little archaic?  Should we just suck it up and call her ‘Princess Catherine’?  Do you think William will modernise Royal styles when he eventually gets to the throne?

Will Charlotte ever be Princess Royal?

Cambridges

The birth of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge brought joy to the nation last year.  But the changes to the laws of succession raise fascinating questions as to the Royal titles that she might bear during her life.

Before I started Royal History Geeks I used to pen a blog called ‘UK Royal Titles.’  Given the relative obscurity of the subject matter, it was fairly well read.  (It also proved, in case there was any doubt, that as a human being, I occupy the pinnacle of coolness).

Perhaps because of my expertise in such matters (LOL), a few people have asked me about what title our precious little Princess Charlotte of Cambridge will be entitled to as she progresses throughout her life.  The answer to this is slightly trickier than it might seem.

Certain title evolutions are easy to predict.  Short of some major change in approach she will always retain the style of Royal Highness and the titular dignity of Princess.  Upon her grandfather’s accession she will officially by styled HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge and Cornwall and, in the likely event of William’s creation as Prince of Wales, HRH Princess Charlotte of Wales.  When William finally reaches the throne she would lose the territorial designation and gain the definite article, becoming HRH The Princess Charlotte.  Should she ever marry, some documents will style her with her husband’s status following on from her title e.g. The Princess Charlotte, Mrs John Smith or The Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Norfolk.

But the real question I get asked is ‘will Charlotte ever be made Princess Royal?’  Because this is a title that can only be bestowed (by convention) on the oldest daughter of a sovereign, commentators have correctly noted that Charlotte is the most likely candidate to receive it; but we need to be clear – that doesn’t make it a done deal.  There are in fact, three factors that could come between Charlotte and the title:

  • The longevity of Princess Anne – As the eldest daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, Anne was granted the title in 1987.  However, despite the fact that (if all goes as it should) she will one day be the sister and then Aunt of the King, she keeps the title with her for life.  When the Queen ascended in 1952 her Aunt Mary was still Princess Royal.  She died in 1965 but the Queen left it over 20 years before dusting off the honour in favour of her daughter.  Anne could live well into William’s reign.  Should he decide that a respectful gap should be left between the death of one Princess Royal and the creation of a new one (which is perhaps what influenced the Queen’s decision) than the title could end up skipping Charlotte altogether.
  • William just might not decide to give it to her – It isn’t obvious what the reason for this would be, but – like most Royal honours – it is given only at the discretion of the sovereign.  Her father may simply choose never to give Charlotte the title.
  • Charlotte could, instead, be made a Duchess – This is something I’ve been thinking about ever since the succession laws were changed to give men and women an equal shot at ascension.  There is still a great deal of male-bias in the dishing out of Royal titles and perhaps William – or Charles before him – will seek to modernise.  Upon marriage, it is conventional for the sons of monarchs to be given Dukedoms – a title that will shape the eventual style of their descendants.  If William decides that his daughter, who will rank above any future sons of his in the succession, also deserves a Dukedom (and become, for example, ‘Duchess of Sussex’), than it is quite possible that the title of ‘Princess Royal’ could fall from favour all together.  Certainly it is safe to assume that eldest daughters of Kings and Queens who are also the eldest child will be Princess of Wales.  Perhaps ‘Princess Royal’ and even ‘Prince Royal’ could become the standard honour, when available, for the sovereign’s second child.

Anyhow, this is all speculation.  At the moment we cannot know.  But the great things is – unlike in so many of the cases this blog explores – one day, we should actually find out!

Okay geeks…over to you.  How would YOU like to see these Royal titles evolve in the future?