British Royal Titles

British Royal Titles are often misunderstood! That’s not to say they are extremely complicated, but the rules regarding titles are not exactly simple. Following the recent interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the rules around Titles have been further misinterpreted so assistant editor Gabriel Aquino has written a guide to British Royal Titles!

As Sovereign, the Queen’s Official Title is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. In addition to being Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, she is also the Queen of sixteen Commonwealth Countries.

The late Duke of Edinburgh was never given the formal title of ‘Prince Consort’. Having given up his title of Prince of Greece and Denmark, he was made HRH The Duke of Edinburgh on his marriage in 1947, and a Prince of the United Kingdom by the Queen 10 years later. Traditionally, Queen Consorts are anointed alongside Kings at Coronations, but there was no such ceremony in place for Prince Consorts.

As the Heir Apparent, Prince Charles was born ‘Prince Charles of Edinburgh’, and automatically became Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay (in Scotland), Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland upon the Queen’s accession. In 1958, he was made the Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, the traditional titles of the Heir to the English Throne, having a formal Investiture in 1969. In 2021, he also inherited the titles Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich upon the death of his father, which will be passed onto Prince Edward after his accession to the Throne.

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Members of the Royal Family who are born into the Family have their titles regulated by Letters Patent issued in 1917 by King George V, the grandfather of the current Queen. Following those rules, the style of Royal Highness and the title of Prince or Princess of the United Kingdom is reserved to the children of the Sovereign and the grandchildren in the male line, i.e., the children born to the sons of the sovereign.

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When it comes to members of the Royal Family being elevated to the title of Dukes, or other peerages, the traditions is that only sons of the Sovereign or sons of the Prince of Wales will be granted these titles. Thus Prince Andrew became the Duke of York, Prince Edward the Earl of Wessex (and future Duke of Edinburgh), Prince William the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry the Duke of Sussex. The Dukedoms are usually English Titles, and are granted alongside a Scottish Earldom and a Northern Irish Barony, which are then the titles used by those individuals in those countries.

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As the eldest daughter of the Sovereign, Princess Anne was given the title of Princess Royal in 1987, a title which has its origins in the 17th century and is customarily (but not automatically) awarded by a British monarch to their eldest daughter. It is held for life.

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It’s also interesting to note that, to differentiate between children of the Sovereign and male-line grandchildren, children of the monarch are styled ‘The Prince/ss X’, where X is his/her name, and male-line grandchildren are styled as ‘Prince/ss X of Y’, where X is their name and Y is the title of peerage held by their father. This style is maintained until a grandson is granted a peerage of his own or a granddaughter is married.

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Thus, before they received their Dukedoms, Prince William and Prince Harry, were ‘of Wales’ and Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie were ‘of York’ until their marriages. While technically entitled to the style of Prince/ss, the children of Prince Edward and the Countess of Wessex, use the style of the children of an Earl and are Viscount Severn and Lady Louise Windsor, while Princess Anne’s children have no titles. It’s also worth remembering that if a Princess, born into the family, marries, she simply adds her husband’s name to her princely title, thus Princess Eugenie became HRH Princess Eugenie, Mrs Jack Brooksbank.

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That’s all to explain the titles of those who are born members of the Royal Family. Another way to acquire royal titles is through marriage. As a general rule, in Anglo-Saxon cultures, a woman takes her husband’s name on marriage – the wife of Mr John Smith becomes Mrs John Smith. That’s also what happens with the Royal Family. Let’s take the current Duchess of Gloucester as an example: at the time of her marriage, she became Her Royal Highness Princess Richard of Gloucester, assuming the exact female version of her husband’s title. However, her husband later succeeded his father as Duke, at which point she became HRH The Duchess of Gloucester. An exception to this rule is the Duchess of Cornwall, who as the wife of the Prince of Wales is technically the Princess of Wales but uses the secondary title out of respect to the legacy of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

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The 1917 Letters Patent also made provisions regarding the direct male line great-grandchildren of the Sovereign. The direct Heirs of those grandsons who held the HRH Princely title and Dukedoms, took on the Dukedom and its associated courtesy titles. Those previously entitled to the title of Prince or Princess with the style of Highness were demoted to the title of younger children of Dukes. That’s the case with Lady Helen Taylor, Lord Nicholas Windsor, Lady Rose Gilman, Lord Frederick Windsor, Lady Gabriella Kingston, and others.

The 1917 Letters Patent further provisions, regarding the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, were amended by Letters Patent issued on 31 December 2012 by Queen Elizabeth II, to enable all the children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales to carry royal titles. These changes were necessary because alterations had also been made to the line of succession, which meant that if the Duke of Cambridge’s firstborn had been a girl, she wouldn’t be a Princess, despite being ahead of any future brother in the line of succession.

Thus, as a great-grandchild of a Sovereign who was not the child of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, Archie Harrison Mountbatten Windsor is not entitled to be styled as ‘Prince Archie of Sussex’ until his grandfather succeeds to the Throne, and should have instead adopted the courtesy title of Earl of Dumbarton as the Heir to the Dukedom of Sussex.

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