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Tell Me More About… British Royal Titles

In this first instalment of ‘Tell More More About’, we cover the history and present of British Royal titles, going into degrees on intricacy about the correct way to use and identify them.

Royal titles are something we occasionally touch upon on Royal Central, covering certain types of title in detail in previous posts; we thought we’d give a general overview with degrees of depth to help you understand just who gets what title and what it means these days.

Firstly, all titles and honours come from the crown, that is they’re all issued in Her Majesty’s name and with her authority, she is ‘the font of all honour’ in the United Kingdom. The Queen holds the title of ‘Her Majesty The Queen’ in short, and this title has many variations and long forms, but most people call her The Queen for short or, respectfully ‘Her Majesty’. In order to distinguish sometimes between The Queen of the United Kingdom and other Queens, The Queen of the UK is sometimes referred to as ‘Her Britannic Majesty’, especially on British Passports.

There are certain royal titles which are associated only with members of the Royal Family relating to their proximity to the throne or relation to the Monarch. For example, certain titles are traditionally held by the heir. Here is a list of titles associated in this way and whom they are usually owned by.

  • Duke of Lancaster – Title held by the Monarch. Remains ‘Duke’, even when Monarch is female.
  • Duke of Cornwall – Automatically held by the eldest son of the Monarch.
  • Duke of Rothesay – Automatically held by the heir to the throne (title only used in Scotland).
  • Prince of Wales – Usually held by the heir to the throne; is not automatically assumed and must be issued especially by the Monarch.
  • Duke of York – Title traditionally held by the second son of the Monarch, currently held by The Queen’s second son; Prince Andrew. Again, not automatically assumed; must be issued especially.
  • Princess Royal – Title traditionally issued by the Monarch to his or her eldest daughter. Currently held by Princess Anne, only daughter of The Queen.

The 1917 letters patent determines which members of the Royal Family can hold the title of Prince or Princess and the style of HRH. The instrument was created by George V in 1917 to restrict the privileges held by many people that were no longer closely related to the Monarch. The following chart shows who in a royal family, according to the 1917 letters patent can hold the title of Prince or Princess and style of HRH. ‘X’ on the chart below represents the child’s first name. ‘Y’ represents the respective Royal’s father’s territorial designation, e.g. York. In blue and brackets on each strand, where applicable, is an example of a present holder of this position and title.

  • The Monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) 

    • All Sons of the Monarch – HRH The Prince X (Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward)
      • All sons of sons of the Monarch – HRH Prince X of Y (Prince William (Duke of Cambridge), Prince Harry of Wales)
        • Son of the son of the Prince of Wales – HRH Prince X of Y
        • All other male line great grandchildren of the Monarch – The Lord X / The Lady X
      • All daughters of sons of the Monarch – HRH Princess X of Y (Princess Beatrice of York, Princess Eugenie of York)
    • All daughters of the Monarch – HRH The Princess X (Princess Anne)
      • All children of daughters of the Monarch – Styled as commoners (Mr, Miss) (Peter Phillips, Zara Phillips)

Of course, the 1917 letters patent does restrict titles and styles from people in close proximity to the throne, as a result the Monarch frequently will issue ‘letters patent’ to specifically grant titles to members of the Royal Family. For example, The Queen recently issued a letters patent to make all children of the Duke of Cambridge (whatever gender) Princes and Princesses.

Here is a ranking table for British Royal Titles, though this is not how rank is determined in the Royal Family; that is decided by the Order of Precedence.

  • Royal Dukes / Royal Duchesses
  • Princes / Princesses
  • Royal Earls / Royal Countesses
  • Royal Viscounts / Royal Viscountesses
  • Royal Barons / Royal Baronesses

photo credit: nsub1 via photopin cc

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