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The five women who have been Duchess of Edinburgh – from a forgotten princess to a truly historic monarch

Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh

The title of Duke of Edinburgh is one of the best known in the modern Monarchy. Held for almost 74 years by Prince Philip, it was recreated in March 2023 for his youngest son, Prince Edward. However, the dukedom was first given out almost three hundred years ago and, in those three centuries, five women have held the title of Duchess of Edinburgh.

The Hanover’s missing queen

The first Duchess of Edinburgh is one of Britain’s missing queens. Augusta had every expectation of a consort’s crown until the early death of her husband changed everything. Instead, her son became Britain’s longest reigning King.

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg married Frederick, heir to the British throne, in 1736. He had been made Duke of Edinburgh in 1726 by his grandfather, George I, and had become Prince of Wales in 1728, soon after his father became King George II. Therefore, although Augusta was Duchess of Edinburgh, she was always known as Princess of Wales.

Frederick and Augusta set up their own court and were rather popular, sometimes more than George II. But Frederick died in 1751 and Augusta never became queen. Her son became King George III in 1760. Augusta died in 1772 and is buried at Westminster Abbey.

A very grand duchess

The Dukedom of Edinburgh was recreated in 1866 by Queen Victoria for her second son, Alfred, but his choice of duchess left her far from amused. Against many peoples wishes, Alfred married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna , daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. She arrived with a huge dowry, jewels belonging to Catherine the Great and an inbuilt disdain for her new in-laws who she thought beneath her. However, her marriage made a big impression and a biscuit was even created in her honour, known as the Marie.

In 1893, Prince Alfred inherited the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Marie joined him there. She was much happier in Germany but within a few years she had been left grievin gby the death of her only surviving son, in 1899, followed by the loss of her husband in 1900. The devastation of World War One hit her hard. The fall of the Romanov dynasty saw her lose relatives as well as much of her income. She died in Zurich in 1920.

The longest reigning Monarch in British history

Queen Elizabeth II is known as the longest reigning Monarch in British history, the only one in Europe to mark a Platinum Jubilee and one of the greatest rulers of all time. But, for a brief part of her historic life, she was also known as Duchess of Edinburgh.

On the day she married Prince Philip, her father made the groom the Duke of Edinburgh meaning that Elizabeth, then heir to the British throne, walked out of Westminster Abbey as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh. She carried that title for just over four years and when she gave birth to her first child, he was known as Prince Charles of Edinburgh.

On February 6th 1952, everything changed with the death of King George VI. From that moment, The Duchess of Edinburgh was Queen Elizabeth II.

The unexpected consort

One of the shortest holders of the title of Duchess of Edinburgh is Queen Camilla. Following her marriage to the then Prince of Wales in 2005, she was known as the Duchess of Cornwall. But on the death of Prince Philip, in April 2021, the title of Duke of Edinburgh passed to his eldest son, Charles, and Camilla became Duchess of Edinburgh. Her Majesty was never known by that title for the brief time she held it, and was still referred to as Duchess of Cornwall.

Edinburgh’s new duchess

On March 10 2023, The King announced that he had conferred the Dukedom of Edinburgh on to his younger brother, Prince Edward, to celebrate the occasion of his 59th birthday.

After holding the titles of Earl & Countess of Wessex for over 23 years, Edward and Sophie are the new and present holders of the Duke & Duchess of Edinburgh titles.

Sophie was always destined to become Duchess of Edinburgh, with Prince Philip deciding on their wedding day in 1999 that they would inherit the title after his death.

Her Royal Highness is the first Duchess of Edinburgh to be known by that title since Queen Elizabeth II’s pre-monarch days.

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About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.