In a follow on from my ‘Why Camilla must become our Queen’ post last week, a lot of comments raised the question of why Prince Philip isn’t king, despite the wife of a king being a queen. On the face of it, it seems bizarre, almost sexist, though in this post I’ll explain exactly why Prince Philip isn’t king and why the wife of a king is always a queen.
Under English common law, a wife traditionally takes her husband’s name and rank upon marriage and as a title legally forms part of one’s name in most cases, titles within the Royal Family work in much the same way as if an untitled couple were to marry and the wife took her husband’s name as her own.
Perhaps the best example of this in action is with Prince Michael of Kent and his wife. Upon his marriage to the then Marie Christine von Reibnitz in 1978, she assumed the female form of his title and became Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent.
Other titles in the Royal Family work on a similar basis. For example, the wife of The Duke of Cambridge is known as The Duchess of Cambridge. Had Prince William not been granted the Dukedom for his marriage, she would have become Princess William of Wales.
On the other hand, when a female Royal marries, the case is much different. If the woman’s title ranks higher than her husband’s already, she retains this title. This is the case for Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal. If she didn’t hold her own title, she would be styled as Lady Laurence as her husband is a knight though because knights rank (way) below the Royal Family, Princess Anne retains her title.
The instance of Princess Anne also demonstrates how the use of titles by marriage is very much a one-way-street. A husband cannot generally take the male form of his wife’s title on marriage, whatever her rank.
It’s a quirk of common law that goes right the way to the top. Prior to acceding to the throne, The Queen held the title HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh which was the female form of her husband’s title, though as the title of Queen ranks higher than Duchess (and because the Sovereign cannot hold peerages and the like), she no longer used the title of Duchess of Edinburgh, whilst The Duke of Edinburgh – to whom the title was issued – continued without any change to his own title.
Whilst this is not the only reason why the husband of a Queen isn’t a King, it is certainly the main one. There is also the issue of rank. Though it may not seem right, the title of Duke, Prince, King etcetera are regarded as ranking higher than Duchess, Princess and Queen – to the extent that Queen Victoria decided titles held by women in their own right should use the male form. This is why Her present Majesty is known as Duke of Lancaster and not Duchess.
Whether or not the status quo should be maintained in terms of titles is a matter which has reached right into Parliament on numerous occasions. A bill in the House of Lords at the moment, the Equality (titles) Bill seeks to give husbands of female peers their own courtesy title, though interestingly not one in parallel with their wife’s – rather they will receive the title of ‘The Honourable’ as things stand.
The issue of making the wives of Kings, Princess Consorts to equalise the issue was discussed during the Succession to the Crown Act readings in the Commons though never made it into the final bill.
As things stand, The Duchess of Cornwall will automatically become Queen when Prince Charles accedes to the throne – with Clarence House still pushing forward with the idea that legislation will be passed to reduce her to the title of Princess Consort.
The matter of titles and how the use of them is regulated is, however, ongoing and new questions are being raised over their use all the time. Who’s to say future consorts of Queens might not end up as Kings?
Give your view in the comments box below. Should the wife of a king be a queen? Or even, should the husband of a queen be made a king?
photo credit: Mikepaws via photopin cc
There seems to be no Equality
It seems throughout history that the female monarchs did not grant their husbands the title king for the simple reason that as the rightful successor to the throne they out ranked all others. Therefore granting their husband’s the title of King would put them in a lesser position and give them equal authority. Perhaps that was one of the reasons Elizabeth1 chose not to marry. Even as recently as the 1950s when the current Queen ascended the throne the notion that the wife was somehow inferior, and her father gave her her orders before Phillip so she would out rank him. It appearsthat the specific title is granted by the sovereign and is not automatic. Even Victoria did not grant her beloved Albert the title of King.
I admire him quite seriously! But frankly he’s lucky to be a prince and a duke. He’d be a long retired navy officer from a disenfranchised royal family, title of prince he had then actually meaning literally nothing, without King George and Queen Elizabeth II. All of his four sisters married Nazi’s and George VI and Queen Elizabeth weren’t all that fond of the idea of Philip marring their daughter. He has been a wonderful consort, however.
He was granted the title of Prince of the United Kingdom
Keep in mind, Victoria wanted Albert to be granted the title of King, but the government was very much against it.
Although there are always exceptions, Queen Mary granted Philip of Spain the title of King of England, and William of Orange was granted the title of King through his wife Queen Mary II, and continued to rule as King after her death
Queen Mary lived at a time where King Philip had equal rights to her so he was a sovereign king of England and had equal rights in ruling the country on their marriage as for William, he was King in his own right they were both given the crown not just Mary II
Philip didn’t have equal rights to the English Throne, she specifically had to grant him the Crown Matrimonial giving them to him, and they ended with Mary’s death. William was only invited BECAUSE he was married to the legitimate Protestant Heir Mary Stuart, they were invited to become Joint Monarchs because of her lineage, not his. His army was what they wanted and sweetened the deal for him.
King William had a legitimate claim to the throne being that in addition to being married to Mary Stuart he was also a grandson of Charles I. Therefore they were first cousins. That’s why he was able to rule in his own right after Mary died.
The reason the husband of a Queen Regnant is not a King Consort is pure sexism. It assumes that “king” is automatically higher than “queen” because “king” is masculine.
Don’t think so. The trouble is that a lot of men like to be head of their households. Having a ruling queen as a wife can go against the grain. Philip II was a king in his own right, and he was more interested in Mary Tudor for political advantage, which was against what the English wanted. Even William III, who did have a legitimate claim to the throne, tended to give orders. Of the three Prince Consorts, Prince Albert was probably the most influential in his day. Even the Duke of Edinburgh has protested against the limitations placed on him by his position.
When Mary I married, her husband Philip of Spain was known as king consort. When Mary Queen of Scots married Darnley, he was titled King. It wasn’t until Queen Anne that the English Queen’s husband was not styled king. (Mary II’s husband was actually offered the throne with her.) One (of many) reason attributed to Elizabeth I not marrying was that her advisers did not want any of her romantic interests to become king.
James Stuart, Lord Darnley, was officially King Consort, but had no actual power. Which rather pissed off the impetus lad. He got all hotheaded, and look where *that* got him? Philip of Spain was King Consort of England, but he was enormously unpopular and did little to rock the boat. Thought, he did help keep Elizabeth Tudor alive. Queen Anne husband, Prince George of Denmark and Norway, was a younger son. She wasn’t expected to be Queen, and thus, the marriage contract made no provision for a kingly title. Prince Albert was a second son of a very small German duchy. And not a popular choice. Lord Melbourne advised the Queen not to grant him the title of King Consort, and Parliament wouldn’t grant him a peerage.
I suppose the reason male royal consorts aren’t kings boils down to; it wasn’t a good idea at the time.
I think we may be starting to see some of these kinds of things phase out, and I certainly expect it to speed up as time goes on. I don’t know how Charles will be as King (though I suspect he’ll be more traditional – in today’s sense – like HM), but William has shown a desire to update these kinds of rules, starting with having the laws of succession changed so that his first born child, whether male or female, would be the heir to throne. I think that’s a fairly good glimpse into how William will run the monarchy.
There was a push to change succession laws, which started with Gordon Brown’s government, and which was a main topic at the 2011 Perth CHOGM. There was a bit of a sense of urgency before 23rd July 2013, when Prince George was born. But now everything has died down, since this baby is 3rd in line to the throne, whoever else is born . Could we please have an article on the current state of this bill of accession? I’d like to know if it has been ratified across the Commonwealth, for example.
The change in succession was not of William’s doing, actually, though I’m sure he’s happy about it.
Actually titles are not regulated by law or by Parliament, the monarchy, who is the “font” is in charge of titles, and requires nothing more than to issue Letters Patent in order to be able to decide on titles. For example, when Edward VII abdicated and was retitled “HRH The Duke of Windsor” upon marriage Wallis would have automatically became “HRH The Duchess of Windsor”, but King George VI, under pressure from his wife and his mother Queen Mary issued the letters denying Wallis the use of the HRH before her name but allowed her to be Her Grace instead. Just as Sarah, Duchess of York upon her divorce was for a short period of time still able to be HRH Sarah, Duchess of York, but on the day that Diana and Charles divorced, the Queen issued Letters revoking the HRH of Sarah, and not extending them to Diana, but effectively changed her title then to Diana, Princess of Wales (the first and so far ONLY time in British history of a non-royal title of Princess). Neither of those required the government to do anything. Just as the Queen legally still retains the right and power to issue a title to any person without consent of Parliament. That is her prerogative, and one of her remaining powers and no one can stop that. Just as she remade Philip into a Prince again- he was HRH Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, he renounced the title to become Lt. Philip Mountbatten, on his wedding day he was given the title HRH The Duke of Edinburg- making him royal again, but not a Prince, after she became Queen, HM issued letters and renamed him Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh. A courtesy she also extended to two of her aunts, once their sons had married instead of remaining the dowager duchess of ….. She allowed them to be called Princess Marina Duchess of Kent (which she legally retained the right to be Princess anyway as she was born Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark) and Princess Alice Duchess of Gloucester, both were allowed to use change their name with the Queen’s blessing only.
Whilst you’re right that the Sovereign is the font of all honour, Parliament does regulate titles (as Parliament can regulate for anything) and has done in the past. For example, the title of Duke of Cornwall is legally ascribed the the heir & eldest son of Sovereign, Queen cannot change this herself. The title of Queen Consort is also laid down by law.
If you ever get old demon camilla as queen, I will feel sorry for you all, I notice that you put such nonsense on prince philp page and not on the queen page! old demon camilla parker bowles most had her touchcy friend prince philip to do it. and poor hen peck charles jush follow. most of all charles mistake is because he does what demon camilla tell him to ! He look like he is honor his mother trying to get on the good side but when he get in he will be like a warlock and put both queen elizabeth and prince philp away
Well, it is a hereditary title. Don’t suppose Parliament can change it either…
Like I said, Parliament can regulate for anything – including titles.
Wow, quite insightful and brilliantly researched.
When Charles accedes the throne his wife should be the Duchess of Cornwall.As leader of the Church of England he needs to lead in Church behaviours-. He took Camilla to wife,in the physical sense when his wife, Diana was alive. While recognising that this kind of behaviour seems acceptable these days, the leader of a church….whther queen,pope or whatever,needs to uphold the standards of that church.
British Idiots F the queen that ugly old bat
“Whilst this is not the only reason why the wife of a Queen isn’t a king, it is certainly the main one.”
The jump to same sex marriages was sudden.
I would have thought the wife of a Queen would be a Queen however this wouldn’t be the case. However the husband of a King would have to be a King – this could get complicated as it could mean two houses being in power at same time.
A bit more serious observation is that I believe the husband of Queen Mary I was known as King Philip although I believe that was because he already had the title King Philip II of Spain. Elizabeth I was never married, Queen Anne’s spouse was Prince George and Queen Victoria’s spouse was Prince Albert. It is an eccentricity in the law that needs to be corrected at some point.
The reason that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is not “King” is merely because his wife is “King”. That sounds strange to a PC generation .. but it is a fact. The sovereign can be male or female but the office remains the same.
First of all, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, who is also legally The Princess of Wales, should be styled as HM The Queen, should her husband accede to the throne. All this public rancor over what should be a private matter between Diana, Charles, Camilla and Tom is silly and accomplishes nothing. Their marriage received the blessing of the Church of England following the civil marriage, so that settles any religious questions. If previous monarchs had been held to the strict morality so many seem to want to impose on HRH The Prince of Wales, the UK’s last monarch would have been Victoria, assuming we excuse the sexual peccadilloes of her predecessors on the throne.
Secondly, Scottish tradition allowed for Lord Darnley to become King Henry, but only in right of his wife. Upon her death, he would have ceased to be king, unless she granted him the crown matrimonial, for which he hankered, but which Mary denied him (smartly).
She should be queen that is the proper protocol regardless of the church of England! Religion is a choice unlike being born a royal. Theoretical the church of England doesn’t agree with me my husband and child and look we are living a perfectly good life. So yes why should she have to resort to a lower title. If Charles had married as a widow the we wouldn’t be having this conversation!
My question is, if a man becomes king because of his wife’s title as queen, would they be of equal standing?
Doesn’t a Princess outrank a Duke or Duchess? If so, before ascending to the throne, why was Princess Elizabeth HRH The Duke of Edinburgh?
Before her ascension, she was titled HRH The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh
Not always. Duke/Duchess is also the title of a sovereign (and sovereign is the highest rank) just like King/Queen in a Monarchy/Kingdom when the country is consider a duchy. The Queen of England is also the Duke/Duchess of Normandy. In Normandy not being part of England, the Queen is the Duchess (Duke) not the Queen in a manner of speaking. It is confusing because the title Duke is used for a rank less than sovereign in a Monarchy/Kingdom. Its kind of like asking which is higher King or Emperor (or Archduke)?
It was my understanding that there are two forms of “queen” a queen in her own right is in fact King (using the female version Queen) a consort is queen but subject to her King.
Great post with wonderful insight. Thank you! xo
there is only one real KING that believe in – King Lebron James, or “King James”….and if he marries, the wife will be called, “Lifetime Ticketholder” to the King’s games.
It is correct that Prince Philip should be Prince Consort, and he has done a wonderful job supporting the Queen. I can’t see this a problem. I wouldn’t like to see the Duchess of Cornwall as Queen, there are a lot of problems that come with Prince Charles and for the good of the Monarchy I wish there was a way to make William the next King as it is much less controversial and world wide the Monarchy would go down a lot better.
You can not compare the Queen with Prince Charles. Yes he will become king but Camila should be Princess Consort. She is the second wife and therefore should not be entitled to the title of Queen. That title was for Princess Diana. I only hope parliament thinks the same way. Camila booted out Princess Diana by making Charles an adulterer. Camila was no better in her role in this either.
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