Let’s Talk About Titles!

One of my absolute favourite things is that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex does not know how to write out her full name. It’s “Meghan, Duchess of Sussex” or “The Duchess of Sussex” but she and her PR team use “Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex.” As far as I can tell, I’m the only person (outside Buck Pal, maybe?) who has picked up on this.** (I have written to Buckingham Palace for confirmation of this, and have yet to receive a response.) But that got me to thinking about titles and styles and how confusing and weird and fun they are. And also that they can change multiple times during the course of your life if you’re royal. So let’s do a primer on titles and styles!

The first thing you need to know is that the Queen and/or King is called His/Her Majesty. High-ranking members of the family who are not the Queen/King are referred to as His/Her Royal Highness.

Titles and styles are not forever. For example, the title Prince of Wales is only used by the eldest living son of the Queen/King. This makes the Prince of Wales the heir apparent. The firstborn daughter of the Queen/King has not ever been called Princess of Wales because, until less than a decade ago, the royal succession rules skipped over firstborn female children.

Moving forward, any firstborn children of the heir will be the Prince/ss of Wales upon their parent’s accession to the throne, regardless of gender. Presumably the first time a Princess of Wales on her own right and not through marriage would be seen in practice would be if Prince George, now seven years old, remains heir presumptive after his father William and his father Charles, has a firstborn child who happens to be a girl. In this case, when Prince George becomes King, his firstborn daughter would become (given name), Princess of Wales, and the princess’s husband would become (given name), Prince of Wales.

A question you might have is why Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, is not King. He is, after all, married to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at the time of her accession to the throne, so why would he not have been given this title when Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth? The answer is complicated. Stay with me.

When he was born in Greece in 1921, Philip was named and titled Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. A few years later, in 1924, Greece became a republic and the royal family from the line of Greece and Denmark were exiled. As a baby, Prince Philip was whisked away to the United Kingdom, where he had family to take care of him. Philip maintained his title of Prince of Greece and Denmark through his youth (exiles sometimes cease and who knew, maybe at some point he would have been allowed to go home back to his home country). At the age of 18, Philip joined the British Royal Navy and decided to dedicate himself to his adopted country.

Philip began a romance with Princess Elizabeth during the 1940s, and upon their decision to marry, Philip became a naturalized UK citizen and renounced his Greek royal title. In recognition of Philip doing this and as a gesture of goodwill, Princess Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, made Philip a Duke and granted him the style of His Royal Highness just before his marriage to Elizabeth. So at the moment of Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage, Philip was not a prince, but a duke. (It is super confusing that some princes can also be dukes, but not all dukes are princes. Charles, Will, and Harry are both princes and dukes).

If Philip had been a prince at his wedding to Princess Elizabeth, then on her accession to the throne in 1952, he would have been made King Philip. However, he was not, so he was not. As a sort of runner-up prize, though, Queen Elizabeth made Philip back into a Prince in 1956, though too late for him to be named King. He was now a Prince of the United Kingdom named His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Take Diana. The first fun fact is that Princess Diana is not her proper name or title. She was never, ever titled “Princess Diana”. The people in the know (aka the people with too much time on their hands, aka me) know that at her death, Diana’s name was Diana, Princess of Wales. She had been given the honorific Her Royal Highness, but that was taken from her by Queen Elizabeth during her divorce from Prince Charles. Here is what Diana’s titles and styles were throughout her life:

DateNameReason for change
July 1, 1961 (Birth) – June 9, 1975The Honourable Diana Spencer 
June 9, 1975 – July 29, 1981Lady Diana SpencerDiana’s father inherits the title of Earl Spencer
July 29, 1981 – August 28, 1996Her Royal Highness Diana, Princess of WalesMarriage to Charles
August 28, 1996 – August 30, 1997 (Death)Diana, Princess of Wales (HRH removed)Divorce from Charles

If one speaks of Diana anytime after her death, she is supposed to be referred to as what her name was on the day she died. Therefore, she would be Diana, Princess of Wales.

As a gesture of respect to Diana (and with the knowledge that the public may tear them limb from limb), Charles and Camilla declined, and still decline to this day, to use Camilla’s title, Princess of Wales even though that is her proper title.

Upon Diana’s death, the role of Princess of Wales became “vacant”. This means that if Charles chose to marry, his new wife would automatically assume the title of Princess of Wales, as it is a title that is given to whomever is married to the Prince of Wales. It’s automatic. So, when Charles and Camilla were married in a civil ceremony in 2015, Camilla did, in fact, become Her Royal Highness Camilla, Princess of Wales.

However, approval for Camilla in the United Kingdom and around the world was not widespread. This is the woman with whom Charles had cheated on Diana, the woman who had given Charles “C+C” cufflinks as a wedding gift to another woman. When Diana did an interview with BBC’s Panorama in 1995, she famously said “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” Camilla was the adulterer, the woman who had wooed Charles away from Diana and her fairy tale. And when Diana died in a tunnel in Paris two years later, Camilla was seen as at least partly to blame. If Diana hadn’t been cheated on by Charles (with Camilla), she wouldn’t have divorced and she wouldn’t have been on a date night in Paris with Dodi al Fayed on August 30, 1997.

A marriage between Charles and Camilla, then, was a tricky line to walk. Just eight years after Diana had been Princess of Wales, it didn’t seem appropriate for anyone to be able to use the title used by Diana, let alone the woman who had helped break up Diana’s own marriage. So Charles and Camilla devised a compromise. Charles would continue to be known as Prince of Wales, while Camilla would only ever publicly be known as Duchess of Cornwall. The Duchy of Cornwall is given to the heir apparent of the British crown, but it is a secondary title to Prince of Wales. Diana was also Duchess of Cornwall, but no one really called or knew her as that. So, although Camilla’s formal title is actually Her Royal Highness Camilla, Princess of Wales, she is always publicly styled as Her Royal Highness Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. It will remain that way until she is made Queen Camilla.

It was stated on Charles and Camilla’s new joint website when they were married that Camilla would never be queen. It was stated that she would be given a title called “Princess Consort”. However, this is a load of garbage. As quoted from an expert in the Guardian’s article on the future death of Queen Elizabeth, the term Princess Consort “is bullshit.” It has no legal meaning. But it calmed the public anger toward Charles and Camilla when Diana’s death was still fresh in their minds. That web page, the one on Charles and Camilla’s royal website indicating that Camilla would never be queen, was quietly removed some years after the marriage.

However, tabloid media does not care about these titles or styles. People Magazine regularly calls Kate “Princess Kate”. It also calls Meghan “Duchess Meghan”. People who know (in a minute that will be you! Can’t you wait to be annoying at dinner parties?!) know that these are not strictly correct.

DateNameReason for change
January 9, 1982 – April 28, 2011Miss Catherine Elizabeth Middleton 
April 28, 2011 – presentHer Royal Highness Catherine, Duchess of CambridgeMarriage to Will
When the Queen dies and Charles becomes KingHer Royal Highness Catherine, Princess of WalesDeath of Queen/Accession of Charles as King/Rising in Line of Succession to Wife of Heir Apparent
When Charles dies and Will becomes King and Catherine becomes QueenHer Majesty Queen CatherineDeath of King Charles/Accession of her and her husband William to King and Queen of United Kingdom
When Will dies (if he dies first)Her Majesty Catherine the Queen MotherDeath of King William (if Will dies first and George becomes King and has a wife who will become Queen)
DateNameReason for change
August 4, 1981 – September 10, 2011Miss Rachel Meghan Markle 
August 2013 – May 18, 2018Ms. Rachel Meghan MarkleMarriage to Trevor
May 18, 2018 – March 31, 2020Her Royal Highness Meghan, Duchess of SussexMarriage to Harry
March 31, 2020 – presentMeghan, Duchess of SussexDecision to resign as a senior working member of the British Royal Family

When Meghan Markle married into the royal family in 2018, she went from being a commoner to the important-sounding Her Royal Highness Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

In the in-between period between the announcement of Harry and Meghan’s departure from the royal family and April 1, the actual day they left for their one year review period, it was announced that Meghan had partnered with Disney Nature to narrate its new elephant documentary, helpfully named Elephant.

However, in the press release from Disney as well as on film posters, Meghan was listed as “Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex”. I caught it right away. That’s not actually Meghan’s name. This is hard to explain and I swear that more people than just me care about it. Meghan can be called two things: either Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, OR The Duchess of Sussex. If someone uses her given name, Meghan, then the “the” becomes unnecessary and is removed from the title. Try it yourself. If you look at any official PR from the royal family, Kate is called either Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, OR The Duchess of Cambridge. Never “Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge”. It just doesn’t make sense. So either it was a typo, a pretty glaring one, that should have been caught; or it was a signal that Meghan had given this styling to Disney and actually didn’t know how to correctly write out her own name.

Coronavirus happened just as Meghan and Harry left the royal family for greener pastures in California. This is also the time when making money became integral for their survival as independent, self-funded former senior royals. So when the speaking engagements (both in person and virtual) began, I kept an eye on the titles that had clearly been given from Meghan to whomever she was being paid to speak by.

Over and over, it was the same thing. “An intimate conversation with Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex.” An in-person talk on women’s empowerment with Gloria Steinem and “Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex.” A Zoom call between Fortune Magazine and “Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex.” The first time wasn’t a fluke. It had become clear that Meghan (or Meghan’s team, led by Meghan) had been giving her own name to people for promotional purposes without knowing that she was messing it up consistently every time. This had never been an issue for Meghan during her time as a senior member of the royal family (with a press office that knew what it was doing). It had only become an issue when she alone was responsible for it. I wish I had the problem of being so rich and famous and royal that I don’t know how to write out my own name. Can you imagine?! But it appears no one has corrected her, and it’s been more than six months at the writing of this.

If her name or title or style changes again after the one-year review in March 2020, will she continue using this incorrect name for publicity? Or will she find a way to incorrectly state her new name? As I’ve suggested on Instagram, Meghan and Harry could hire someone (they could hire me! I have reasonable rates!) to navigate them through this. Give me a week and a copy of Debrett’s Peerage and I promise these mistakes will never happen again! But then again, it could be deliberate. She could be thumbing her nose at the notion of the BRF and their archaic styling and naming conventions. And that’s cool. But it would be more cool if she did it in a way where people weren’t able to question whether she actually knows how to write her name out.

Of course, it’s hard to call someone by their proper name when it’s a mouthful. So the media calls the royals Prince William, Prince Harry, Princess Diana, Duchess/Princess Kate, Duchess Meghan, etc. Queen Elizabeth’s mother’s title was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, but that’s quite a mouthful, so the press shortened it to simply The Queen Mother. Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth’s youngest child, is married to Sophie, Countess of Wessex, but members of the UK press pack sometimes refer to her as Sophie Wessex. But it’s pretty wild when people can’t give their own name properly.

The issue of royal names came up once again in 2019 when Meghan delivered a healthy son on May 6 of that year. There were rumours that the Queen had been hesitant to give their firstborn child and any subsequent children a title befitting a senior member of the royal family at this time. However, days after the birth, Meghan and Harry announced that it was their intention to name their son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, foregoing the HRH and any title.

Whether this decision to have Archie be a normally named child was actually his parents’ or his Queen’s, we do not know. However, Meghan and Harry left some wiggle room, indicating that this was just for the time being, and that Archie may elect to have a new title in the future when he is old enough to make that choice. They are presumably referring to the future deaths of Queen Elizabeth and/or King Charles. When Queen Elizabeth dies and Charles becomes King, Archie and any siblings would be entitled to an HRH style and the title “Prince/ss ______ of Sussex”.

There are lots of unanswered questions about what will happen at the one year review of Meghan and Harry’s departure as senior working members of the royal family. At the beginning of the test year, as some have called it, the couple were told by the Queen that they would retain their styles of His and Her Royal Highness, but that they were not to use them publicly. The idea was that they were not to make money or publicity from their HRHs. For now they are still allowed to be called the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, although they are not allowed to use the term “Sussex Royal” in any branding. This scuttered the Duke and Duchess’s plans for a non-profit called “The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex”, of which trademarks had been filed for educational activities, clothing and paper products for sale. Once the Queen made her decision on them not being able to use “Sussex Royal” or the word “royal” in their new lives, these trademarks were abandoned and a new non-profit called Archewell, named after their son, was created. This seems to have been done on a whim and with not much thought, the charity name equivalent of the meme on the internet that shows a picture of the actor Penn Badgley with the quote “What’s your name, son” ‘Uhhhh…’ (looks at cop’s shirt pocket) ‘Penn Badgley?’

Another possible implication from the one year review is that the Queen could choose to take away Harry and Meghan’s HRH styles officially, or they could lose their titles (Duke and Duchess of Sussex). If this were to happen, they would still be considered a Prince and Princess of the United Kingdom, and their names would then be Prince Henry/Harry of Wales and Princess Harry/Henry of Wales (Harry’s birth name is Henry, so it could be either Henry or Harry depending on the Queen’s preference).

Meghan prides herself on being a feminist and not needing a man to accomplish what she wants to in the world. So there would be a certain level of sheudenfraude for her if her name, through no choosing of her own, became (her husband’s name), Princess of (her husband’s family). If that were to happen, it would be a level of pettiness that has scarcely been attained in my decades following the royal family. For the record, I believe that after the review Meghan and Harry will continue to be Duke and Duchess of Sussex. I am not sure if they will continue to hold their HRH styles or if they will be revoked.

I think they will retain them, as Prince Andrew still has his HRH, and he’s a criminal and a flaming piece of garbage human being. By the way, if anyone is asking me, I would say “please for the love of all that is good in this world, strip Andrew of his style AT THE VERY LEAST. Also, send all information of his criminality to the FBI. Thanks so much, kisses.”

There is a precedent for removing styles from members of the royal family. Upon their divorces from sons of the Queen, both Diana and Sarah Ferguson lost their HRH styles but retained their titles as Princess of Wales and Duchess of York, respectively. In 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne to marry a twice-divorced American woman named Wallis Simpson. Upon King Edward’s abdication, his title changed from His Majesty King Edward VIII to His Royal Highness David, Duke of Windsor. As a fuck-you to his wife and the reason for the abdication, upon their marriage Wallis was titled Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, but she was not given a style.

This ate at both the Duke and Duchess for the rest of their lives, and it is said that David and Wallis made their house staff refer to her as Her Serene Highness the Duchess of Windsor. Talk about drama.

Something similarly petty could happen to Harry and Meghan, though I doubt it actually will. The Queen, at the review period, could choose to let Harry keep his HRH title while taking Meghan’s HRH away. This is an outright level of pettiness that I doubt will ever happen again (Wallis Simpson was the last person this happened to, and that was in 1937), but it’s fun to think about.

Thanks for reading!

Sources

https://www.debretts.com/the-royal-family/

https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/protocol-guidelines-special-event/styles-address.html#a1

https://www.royal.uk/

2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Titles!

  1. Hi! I am so glad I have found your website and am catching up, reading old posts.

    Two points though, the heir does not automatically become the Prince of Wales. This is the decision of the sovereign — Charles’ investiture happened 1 July 1969 when he was 19.

    Also, Philip would never have received the title king. He did not inherit the thrown, so he would not inherit the title of king. Yes, there was worry about what his title/influence should be, just as there was with Prince Albert. This is one of the many reasons why Elizabeth I never married — a husband would think & act as if he were a king even when not.

    Again, am enjoying your analysis across all platforms!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to ra Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s