Many people assume that because the Duchess of Cambridge is a member of the Royal Family (and married to a prince), she automatically takes the title of ‘Princess Catherine’. In this post, I’ll explain why this isn’t the case and why, to the disappointment of many fans, she will – as things stand – never hold the title of Princess Kate.
The drama began with the declaration on Prince George’s birth registration back in 2013 that Kate was a ‘Princess of the United Kingdom’. A common royal description on such documents, yet this time the title aroused big questions for some who saw it as an indication Kate had been made a princess.
After consulting with Kensington Palace, we were told the reason why she was referred to as a Princess of the United Kingdom on the birth document is because she is one… but not quite as you think.
Through marriage she is ‘Princess William’, because she takes the female form of her husband’s titles. In the same way as when a commoner marries, the wife takes her husband’s name and rank, the same is very much true for titles.
Despite this title being held through marriage, it’s incredibly unlikely Kate will ever be made a princess in her own right. In Europe, there is a precedent for this – where in many of the European monarchies, those who marry into the royal families are, by default, made ‘prince’ or ‘princess’ in their own right. This arguably simple system is not used in the UK however where custom and usage has evolved so that the title is – almost invariably – only given to royals-by-birth or ‘blood royals’.
A special document known as the 1917 letters patent regulates the use of the title Prince/Princess for the most part, detailing that it is to be held by all children of any Sovereign, all children born to sons of any Sovereign and the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales. In 2012, The Queen created a new letters patent which now grants the title to all children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales. In practice, this part means that all children of Prince William will be Princes and Princesses now.
There have been very few occasions when those who do not fit the description of ‘blood royal’ have been given the title in their own right, and this mostly happens in the case of royal widows, such as Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester – allowed to use the title of Princess by The Queen and Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. Needless to say, Kate fits neither of those criteria.
Another side of this is the question ‘what about when William is Prince of Wales?’ If and when the title of Prince of Wales is granted to Prince William after Prince Charles becomes King, he would simply become HRH The Prince of Wales, whilst Catherine (currently Duchess of Cambridge) would adopt the title of ‘HRH The Princess of Wales’. But that would still not make her ‘Princess Catherine’ – the title of Princess of Wales is not the same as being a Princess.
For instance, even though people refer Diana, Princess of Wales ‘Princess Diana’, she never actually held that title and it was used by many as a shortened – though incorrect – version of her title. The same applies to Kate – if/when she becomes Princess of Wales.
In the normal way of things now, she’ll never become a ‘Princess’ in her own right. There’s no precedent for affording the title to royals in her position and there’s no reason to think that this tradition will be broken any time soon – or at all.
If you have any further questions about Kate’s titles or anything you’ve read here, enter them into the comments box below.
Photo Credit: Defence Images
I also seem to remember that at the time of their wedding it was said by either Buckingham Palace or Clarence House that there would be no objection to calling her Princess Catherine – I so wish it was adopted by one and all as I’m heartily tired oh hearing her referred to as Kate Middleton by commentators and newspapers!
Never say never. She could one day end up HRH Princess Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (Alice, Marina) due to unfortunate circumstances.
Both of them were Princess on their own right.
No, they were not. Princess Alice was born The Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott. Her father was the 7th Duke of Buccleuch & Queensberry. She was only HRH by marriage. The Queen allowed her to use the title Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester as a courtesy it did not make her a princess in her own right. Marina was a Princess of Greece and Denmark but that does not qualify one to use the title Princess before their christian name as a member of the British Royal Family. Princess Marina was never addressed as “Princess Marina” after her marriage until, during her widowhood, she sought and received HM’s permission to be known as Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. Marina was said to be very disturbed by not receiving higher precedence and the right to continue to be known as “Princess Marina” after her marriage. That is simply not how it works in the UK. Recall the problem with JFK’s sister-in-law and her husband not being addressed as Prince or Princess during the state visit because they had not received permission to use their foreign titles in the UK.
Even if HRH Princess Alexandra of Luxembourg married Prince Harry she would not be entitled to style herself as Princess Alexandra of Wales or as Princess Alexandra, The Duchess of Sussex after their marriage. She would become HRH Prince Henry of Wales or HRH The Duchess of Sussex (the title Harry is said to be promised). She would have to seek the Queen’s permission to style herself as Princess Alexandra (of anything or nothing) after the marriage. I suspect that HM would not allow grand her permission to use the title of Princess before her christian name because it is the British custom that only females of British blood royal are permitted to use the title before their names during their marriages. During her widowhood she would likely follow HM’s new tradition of being styled HRH Princess Alexandra, Duchess of Sussex.
If Princess Alexandra of Luxembourg married Prince Harry, she would take the title of HRH Princess Henry/Harry, and/or Duchess of Sussex; not Prince Henry of Wales (as your comment said).
Princess Alexandra could choose to keep her title after marriage as she is in line to the Luxembourg throne so she can keep calling herself Princess Alexandra of Luxembourg if she chooses to retain her rights in place of becoming a “Duchess of Sussex” in other words she would remain part of the Luxembourg nobility rather than British
If she married into the British Royal Family, she would have to stop using her Luxembourgish titles. She would not have a choice in the matter. Carolina’s post above explains in detail the same kind of situation that disturbed Princess Marina so much.
She was born a princess of a foreign royal house, but could not continue to style herself as a princess after marrying Prince George, Duke of Kent. It would be exactly the same today for a hypothetical marriage of Princess Alexandra of Luxembourg to Prince Harry.
Oh, but what to call Camilla when her husband predeceases his mother?
If Prince Charles died before the Queen, Prince William would become the Prince of Wales, with several subsidiary titles including Duke of Cornwall. As his wife, Catherine would become the Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, and all the corresponding titles according to William’s elevated status. Camilla would then be known as the Dowager Duchess of Cornwall —- unless the Queen published a Letters Patent indicating otherwise.
Not so. The Prince of Wales title must be granted…while the Dukedom of Cornwall is automatic. Were Charles to die before the Queen, she could decide to grant the Prince of Wales title to William. However, Cornwall is limited to the “eldest living son and heir” of the sovereign – meaning, if Charles dies while QEII is still on the throne, William will never become Duke of Cornwall.
Thank you, Scott. I stand corrected!
It isn’t really likely that we’ll ever again see a royal “dowager” since The Queen has instituted the tradition of styling royal widows as HRH Princess HerName, Duchess of Husband’sPeerage. It is an elegant modernization of how royal dowagers are styled. HRH Princess Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall is the most likely title for Camilla in this sad scenario.
I think Camilla would much rather have the title you mention, Carolina. That was also the case for Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, wasn’t it?
Mary, like all other queens, stopped being HM The Queen and used the title HM Queen Mary after she was widowed. She never used dowager because ‘Queen Mary’ instead of THE Queen is how it is customarily done. The Queen Mother decided to use the style HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother to avoid confusion with her namesake daughter.
Yes, it was the case with Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester and Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. I rather like using this for dowagers.
When the Queen granted special permission to her aunt, the late Princess Alice, Her Majesty established a precedent but I think it’s going a bit far to call it a “tradition”. It will be interesting to see what happens if the current Duke of Kent, for example, were to predecease his wife. Given her professed distain for continued use of her royal style (she purportedly prefers to be addressed nowadays simply as ‘Katharine Kent’), I think it unlikely that the Duchess of Kent would petition the Queen to style herself ‘Princess Katharine’. So I would bet that, in due course, she would come to be known as ‘HRH The Dowager Duchess of Kent’.
As for the Duchess of Cornwall, as has already been said, if the Prince of Wales were to predecease his mother then, all things being equal, she would become ‘HRH The Dowager Duchess of Cornwall’.
If Prince Charles passed away before his mother, The Queen. The Duke of York would be King surely?
Thanks for your question, Charles. This is a lot of fun, isn’t it?
Prince Andrew, the present Duke of York, was indeed second in line for the throne for many years, but that changed with the birth of his nephew, Prince William, in 1982.
Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, is of course first in line. Prince William is second; after him comes his newborn son, Prince George of Cambridge, who is third in the line of succession. Prince Harry is fourth at present.
Because of a recent change in the rules of succession, Princess Anne is fifth. Only then comes Prince Andrew, now sixth in line. He will be farther down the list if and when William and Kate have any more children.
I hope this is helpful (and not too much information!).
Princess Anne is most certainly not 5th in line to the throne. Firstly because the Succession to the Crown act hasn’t come into force yet and secondly, the clause on primogeniture is only retrospective to those born after 28th October 2011 – Princess Anne was born in 1950! Prince Andrew is and will remain 5th in line to the throne, even when the Succession to the Crown Act is in force. Princess Anne remains 11th in line.
Once again, this brash American has learned something new on this fascinating subject, and stands corrected. But I hope you will agree I was right about one thing: This really is a lot of fun!
I don’t think the recent change bumped Anne up in line. I think it went into effect for George’s generation
You’re correct. I’ve done some research into this since I posted my earlier comment, and I have to retract that part of my post.
Lets not go there for the way she has done to Prince Charles and the rest of the Royal family. The only thing she is deserving is the title is Divorcee for treating Prince Charles like she over ranks him and orders him around!
I dislike hearing talk of the death of Her Majesty, The Queen. She is a wonderful woman and Queen and I pray that she lives many more years. Everyone seems to be in the planning stage. LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!
Catherine can become a princess in her own right, by letters patent as a gift of the Sovereign, just as the Duke of Edinburgh was granted the title Prince of the United Kingdom
The only difference is that Prince Philip was already a Blood Prince (he was born a Prince of Greece and Denmark), so granting him the title, while a wonderful gift, was not a surprise since he was already royal in his own right.
He first had to renounce his non-British princely titles, then become a commoner as Philip Mountbatten. King George gave him the title Duke of Edinburgh just before his wedding, but he wasn’t a prince anymore.
He didn’t become a prince again until ten years later, when in 1957 the Queen issued a Letters Patent giving him the designation of Prince of the United Kingdom.
That is not totally correct. In the 1948 Letters Patent, King George VI stated: GEORGE THE SIXTH by the Grace of God of Great Britain Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King Defender of the Faith To all to whom these Presents shall come Greeting Whereas His late Majesty King George the Fifth by His Letters Patent dated the thirtieth day of November in the eighth year of His Reign did declare His Royal Pleasure that certain members of the Royal Family therein more particularly mentioned should have the style title or attribute of Royal Highness And Whereas We are desirous of defining and fixing the style and title by which the children of the marriage solemnised between Our Most dearly beloved Daughter Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Duchess of Edinburgh and His Royal Highness Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh shall be designated And Whereas for that purpose We deem it expedient that the aforesaid Letters Patent should be amended and extended la manner hereinafter declared Now Know Ye that in the exercise of Our Royal and undoubted prerogative and of our especial grace we do hereby declare Our Royal Will and Pleasure that the children of the aforesaid marriage shall have and at all times hold and enjoy the style title or attribute of Royal Highness and the titular dignity of Prince or Princess prefixed to their respective Christian names in addition to any other appellations and titles of honour which may belong to them hereafter And We do further declare Our Will and Pleasure that our Earl Marshal of England or his Deputy for the time being do cause these Our Letters or the Enrolment thereof to be recorded in our College of Arms to the end that Our Officers of Arms and all others may take due notice thereof In Witness Whereof We have caused these our Letters to be made Patent Witness Ourself at Westminster the twenty-second day of October in the twelfth year of Our Reign.”
So, as you can see, in 1948 he was considered Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh.
There’s a lot of confusion over the Duke of Edinburgh’s title at this time because of this reference to him as a Prince in the 1948 letters patent. Whilst he is referred to as ‘Prince Philip’ in this document, all subsequent documents and official communique thereafter until 1957 refer to him without the Princely style. Additionally, the King himself amended a reference to ‘Prince Philip’ on Prince Charles’s birth certificate in 1948 to just ‘Philip, Duke of Edinburgh’.
I was hoping Royal Central would see this discussion so we could be sure about Philip’s titles. I’ve read about this issue from many different sources and was pretty sure of my facts.
And while I have your attention, I’d like to say this:
I sometimes post comments in other forums, and I often see posts that are so vicious they make me cringe. How I wish they could be as civil as the discussions here at Royal Central.
We can discuss issues here with courtesy and respect for each other, even when we might disagree. We can justly be proud of ourselves and our site, and other blogs could take a lesson from Royal Central.
Many thanks to the editors, writers, and other staff at Royal Central for the education and enjoyment they provide. I think we have something very special here, and their work is much appreciated.
Amen Ricky. I think the civil discourse is evidence that we Royalists truly understand the concept of discussion without rancor!
The easy way to explain this is to say that she is a princess by marriage, as all royal duchesses are, but not a princess by birth, so she cannot use the title “Princess” before her own given name. Only princesses by birth can do that. She is also not a duchess by birth (very few women have ever been duchesses by birth), and the title “Duchess” is simply never used before a given name.
There was one notable exception of a royal duchess who was also a princess by birth. Before the death of King George VI, the present queen was known as HRH the Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh.
It was Philip though that was made Duke of Edinburgh so Elizabeth was Duchess by marriage she was not invested with the title herself
Yes, Philip was given the title by King George VI. Common law directs that as his wife, Elizabeth takes the title, too. It’s the same with his children’s titles before his wife’s accession; when Prince Charles was born he was known as Prince Charles of Edinburgh (plus the other titles).
It’s the same today; Prince William’s son is styled “Prince George of Cambridge,” taking his title from his father.
This is true. To refer to her as Princess Catherine is incorrect just as it was when Diana was referred to as Princess Diana The correct title would be HRH The Duchess of Cambridge. That is why when she is not with William she has to courtesy to Princess Beatrice as she was born and styled Princess. When Catherine is with William Beatrice would have to curtesy to her as she than ranks higher with her husband
If the Duke and Duchess have a daughter and name her Catherine, there will be a Princess Catherine.
A reasonable article, though I would contest that referring to the Duchess as ‘HRH Princess William’ is ‘correct’ in the strictest sense. While it is technically one of her titles, I don’t think it can ever be ‘correct’ etiquette to address/refer to her by that title instead of as the Duchess of Cambridge.
The whole world are assuming that HRH Prince George will one day be King, but if HM The Queen outlives Prince Charles then the current Duke of York would be King and as such, his daughter would on his death become Queen
No, if The Queen outlives Prince Charles, Prince William will be King. That’s how the line of succession works. After Prince William is Prince George, this is how it will always be. Prince George will be King bar any unfortunate incident or converting to catholicism etc.
Charles 742, I am confused by your assertions regarding the Duke of York’s claim to the throne. Do you think that Princes William, George, and Harry do not have precedence in succession? If you recognize the succession rights of the Duke of York’s daughters, why not that of Prince Charles’ sons? Is this merely an oversight or are you trying to make a point of some kind?
Since you have made this statement more than once, I am curious as to your reasoning.
I think he is going on the custom of some other European monarchies from the dark ages like the Russian and Kieven monarchies where only the decedents of the Grand Prince could inherit the throne so if your father died before becoming grand prince then all his decedents are removed from the line of succession. Not something that has been used anywhere in centuries and centuries anywhere as far as I know. That is the only place I think he could have gotten it from
The Duke of York could be king if Prince Charles and his descendants would die.
even if you are born of the blood royal it is your mum and dad who decide ask princess zara phillip
Well Zara Phillips isn’t a Princess – she was never entitled to the title of Princess, even by birth.
Not necessarily in every case. Titles are passed through the father, not the mother. When Princess Anne married Captain Phillips, the Queen had to issue a special proclamation to re-title her as Anne, Princess Royal. If she wouldn’t have done that, Anne would have lost her title due to her husband being untitled. HM also offered a title to Captain Phillips so that their children could inherit titles, but the couple turned it down.
I thought that women inherit their husbands title (or lack of title) only if their current title is below that of their future husbands.
Yes, this is correct. A wife takes her husband’s title unless her own title is higher, thus Princess Anne’s title was unaffected by her marriage to Captain Phillips.
Anne didn’t receive the title of Princess Royal at the time of her marriage to Mark Phillips; that came in the late 1980’s.
Her Majesty could have given Anne this title anytime after 1965, when the previous holder died. This was the Queen’s aunt, Princess Mary, who was King George V’s only daughter. There can only be one living Princess Royal at any given time.
When this title was bestowed on Princess Anne, the media reported the Queen did this this because of Anne’s many years of royal duties and her work on behalf of charities, especially Save the Children.
Princess Anne was created Princess Royal in 1987, not when she got married.
If Will became king tomorrow he would be HM King William V…. And kate would be ?? HRH Queen consort Katherine, or something? And the baby, HRH Prince George?
Prince William would become His Majesty King William V and his wife would become Her Majesty The Queen or Her Majesty Queen Catherine – Prince George would become HRH The Prince George, Duke of Cornwall.
Is it not true that William can choose to use a different name as king, as Elizabeth’s father, Albert, did when he became George? He will not necessarily be “His Majesty King William V,” though that seems most likely.
Each Monarch can choose their regnal (ruling) name. Albert chose George to give some familiarity and stability to his reign after the Abdication Crisis. William could choose something else if he wanted, but for many of us, it would sound wrong to call him anything other than William. Doubt this will happen again in future.
William could choose any of his 4 names (William Arthur Philip Louis) as a regnal name, but it’s unlikely he would choose anything other than William V.
The Queen’s father chose not to be known as King Albert because it was thought that it sounded too German. This is understandable in the context of the times, when relations between Hitler and the rest of Europe were very tense.
This is great! I’m sharing it with my American friends, so I don’t have to explain it again!
Why was Diana allowed to be called “Princess Diana”? She also had the title, “HRH Diana Princess of Wales”.
That was a concession made by the Queen and Prince Charles during the divorce negotiations. As the mother of a future monarch, Buckingham Palace agreed that she needed to have some sort of title, even though she was having HRH stripped. They settled for ‘Princess’. Same thing actually happened to Prince Philip when he married HM. His previous title of Prince was removed once he married (I can’t remember why just now, but I know it’s easy to find if you wish to look into it), but the Queen issued a proclamation declaring that he still be known as Prince Philip.
She wasn’t. That is what the media and the public called her but that was never her title. Before the divorce she was HRH The Princess of Wales (no use of her first name). After the divorce she was Diana, Princess of Wales.
Simple, “commoner” example – the traditional British way, if you like.
Miss Anne Smith marries Mr Alan Brown and her formal title is Mrs Alan Brown They divorce She is now Mrs Anne Brown.
Why do the Royals allow the name Kate Middleton to be used instead of Catherine? Do the Royals not like Catherine? Some proclamation needs to be made by some higher royal as to the correct use of her name or punitive damages will be put of those magazines that call her Kate Middleton which is not her name by any means. The Royals and the public are bullying Catherine again!
No matter what anyone says on the subject, the media is still going to call her Kate Middleton even though she has been a married woman for almost 3 years now. Kate Middleton, Princess Kate and Princess Catherine sell papers and magazines rather than her proper title The Duchess of Cambridge or Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge. I personally tend to ignore any magazines that refuse to use her proper title when they use her image on the front pages.
No, no one is bullying her. It has to do with SEO (Search Engine Optimization). People search for things online based on certain words. The average person on the street knows who Kate Middleton is but they may not know who The Duchess of Cambridge is.
It’s not a sign of disrespect. People seem to get overly emotional about this issue when there is no reason to. It is a simple case of addressing her in a way that people recognize. And there is no insult in calling a married woman by her maiden name. Many women keep their last names.
Perhaps we use “Kate Middleton” due to several reasons. Her name appeared for many years in the press as such. But more than that, I would never assume any woman changes her name at marriage. As persons delay marriage, especially educated ones, to about age 30, a woman’s life is established, and thus her indentity, which includes her name. Changing one’s ID, banking, pension, et al is a pain, and often costly. Not that Kate has to personally process those changes. But real women do. I don’t believe the royals have anything to do with “Kate Middleton” being of common usage in most press. Name-changing at marriage is primarily a Western-Anglo convention.
I think the use of “Kate Middleton” as more to do with SEO than anything else. That is how most people know her & they are more inclined to click on a link that says “Kate Middleton” than if it said, “The Duchess of Cambridge”. And I agree that these days a lot of women don’t change their names & it shouldn’t be seen as a sign of disrespect when she is referred to as KM.
The Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine gave birth to a Prince and is a distant cousin to her Prince husband and must do the duties of a Princess. She deserves the right to be Princess Catherine and all of these politics around it should end. She married a prince and is the mother of a Prince. Give her the rightful title. Her son out ranks her. I can see her son ordering her around if he became a belligerent child. SO WRONG!!!!!! Please reconsider this. Then there is the possibility of Prince Charles advocating his son Prince William to King what will Catherine be then? I just do not see this as fair. She’s a Princess in her every right. Let the Queen give her what is is rightfully hers.
Diana wasn’t really Princess?
She was whilst she was married to Charles, but she lost the title HRH Princess of Wales when she divorced him. She was allowed to continue to have the title ‘Princess’ as part of divorce negotiations, but she was no longer a Princess in anything but name.
No, actually even when she was married she was never ACTUALLY a Princess. Only in title.
While she was married she was Princess Charles, plus other titles like Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Chester, Princess of Wales, and one or two others. But at no time was she ever “Princess Diana.”
The references to Prince Phillip were, and still technically are, a courtisy afforded due to his not unique, but certainly rare, instance of birth. Prior to his marriage to the present soverign, Prince Phillip was Prince of Greece and Prince of Denmark. Although he renounced these titles upon his marriage to our present Queen, he is often refered to as Prince Phillip because of his former enoblement under other Crowns; it’s not concidered good form to demote a Royal! Rather like deposed monarchs, the titles of King, Queen, Prince, and Princess, are the personal possession of the bearer, even though they may no longer reign. The European Court ruled that King Constantine of the Hellenes was fully entitled to retain the title, even although he was no longer the Head of State, there are numerous other examples.
Excellent post, and very well thought out.
I see you describe yourself as an Englishman who will one day live abroad. I’m an Atlanta Anglophile American, so let’s switch residences and we’ll both realize our dreams!
I do hope you’re in central London!
I believe that Prince Charles Will bestow on Catherine the title of Princess when he is king George the 6th or 7th….(or on the slim chance he keeps King Charles). It will curry favor of the world who adore Catherine.
Catherine became a princess the day she said “I do” in Westminster Abbey. The Duchess of Cambridge has several titles, one of which is “Princess William.”
Charles has no intention, as far as Royal reporters are aware, of taking any regnal name other than his own. Catherine will be made Princess of Wales eventually, but I highly doubt she will be made a Princess in her own right for the reasons stated.
Royal by birth, which means blue blood, it is God’s grace. (people can’t afford it by themselves) and when you are someone with a blue blood but not in this era anymore, which is extinct, which means no more about it, you only have it by birth like the ancestors, yes, you feel something which can’t be understood and can not be explained in words, but it’s true, you feel it, when you have it in blood.
Therefore i respect the UK Royals that should be strictly maintained.
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