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“No requirement” for the wife of a king to be Queen

Frequent followers of Royal Central will be aware of our long-running debate on the Duchess of Cornwall’s titles and, especially, what she will be known as when Prince Charles accedes to the throne as King. In August, I researched into the matter to try and get a definitive and coherent answer. My findings showed that the title of Queen Consort actually has no legal standing beyond custom and usage – unlike, for instance, that of King regnant or Queen regnant which is established in law. Today, I received confirmation of this for the first time from the Government.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoyal watchers will remember that after their marriage in 2005, Clarence House announced that the Duchess of Cornwall would be known as HRH The Princess Consort when Prince Charles accedes. Many experts and commentators denounced this at the time and continue to do so, claiming that the title of Queen Consort could only be changed by an Act of Parliament.

Clarence House maintains this position still, despite some claiming that it was only said at the time of their wedding to placate negative feeling towards Camilla. However, a spokesman confirmed that ‘Princess Consort’ remains the official position, saying “it is intended that The Duchess will be known as HRH The Princess Consort when The Prince of Wales accedes to The Throne.”

The research I did in the article in August was fairly comprehensive on the subject and my conclusions from what I found persuaded me that it was correct that the title of Queen consort would, indeed, not require an act of parliament to change – rather it can be regulated through the Royal Prerogative.

As a means of gaining some authoritative closure on the matter, I also contacted the Cabinet Office for the official word on whether this was so. They responded:

There is no requirement for the wife of the King to use the title ‘Queen Consort’. As you are aware, it is intended that HRH The Duchess of Cornwall will use the title ‘HRH The Princess Consort’ when The Prince of Wales accedes to the Throne. Titles are usually conferred by the Monarch via letters patent.

Rather fortunately , they answered my question straight off – which is a world away from my usual experience with government departments, especially on royal matters where they prefer to remain coy, possibly out of lack of clarity on certain matters.

It’s a well-established constitutional fact that the Sovereign alone dispenses and regulates titles (though incidentally may not rescind peerages, which can only be done by an act of parliament) and that as a general rule, only the Sovereign’s own title is subject to the regulation of parliament. There remain, of course, some titles which are regulated by Parliament: the Dukedom of Cornwall, currently held by the Prince of Wales, can only go to the eldest son and heir of the Sovereign for example.

Of course, it’s worth noting the position of officials that Camilla will use the title of Princess Consort is by no means binding – Prince Charles could just as well opt for the traditional title of Queen Consort for his wife upon accession, and for the sake of this historic title, I and many other hope he does.

There’s very little precedent in the UK and around the world for a King whose consort isn’t a Queen. Aside from principalities where this is of course the norm, the Kingdom of Morocco is the only extant example of a country where the wife of the King is Princess Consort. The circumstances are somewhat different though as the title happens to be the first ever given to the wife of a King in Morocco and so there’s no former precedent to compare it to the prospective situation in the UK with Camilla as Princess Consort.

The position of Clarence House and the government remains clear, though in the past Prince Charles has been equivocal over his wife’s future title, remarking in an interview once to suggestions she could yet be Queen: “We’ll see won’t we? That could be.” The Duchess of Cornwall herself is apparently relaxed about the question – with some reports suggesting she’d prefer to be known as princess consort.

Give your view on whether Camilla should become Queen or Princess Consort in the comments section below.

photo credit: Broady – social documentary via photopin cc

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