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Royal News

Two kings and a consort: the men who have held the title of Duke of Edinburgh

The title of Duke of Edinburgh was made famous around the world by Prince Philip and it’s been passed on to one of his sons in an extraordinary way. The latest duke, Prince Edward, is one of only six men to have held the title. And each has a very important role to play in the history of the modern Monarchy.

The unfortunate heir

Frederick Louis was born as the grandson of the Elector of Hanover but at the age of seven, his life changed forever when his grandfather became King of Great Britain. Frederick was now second in line to the throne but he remained in Hanover while his parents headed to Britain. When he joined them, over a decade later, he was given a new title for his new home. Frederick became Duke of Edinburgh.

Frederick, Prince of Wales was also Duke of Edinburgh
(Wiki Commons)

He wasn’t known as such for long. The dukedom was given to him in 1726 but the following year, his grandfather died and his father became King George II. Frederick was now heir and in 1728 received the traditional title of Prince of Wales. He was never close to his father and ended up forming a rival court with the heir much more popular than the monarch. However, Frederick died in 1751 at the age of 44 and never succeeded to the throne.

The longest reigning king in British history

Frederick’s early death made his teenage first born son, George, heir to the throne. It also made the youngster Duke of Edinburgh as he inherited his father’s title. However, George was never known as such. Just weeks after Frederick’s death, George was made Prince of Wales by his grandfather, King George II.

George III was Duke of Edinburgh but never used the title publicly
(By Allan Ramsay, Wiki Commons)

He went on to succeed to the throne in 1760 and his reign of almost 60 years remains the longest of any male Monarch in British history. His title of Duke of Edinburgh returned to the Crown on his accession. He created the Dukedom of Gloucester and Edinburgh for his brother, William, in 1764 and that title passed to William’s son, William Frederick, in 1805. However, he died without issue and the dukedom once again fell emplty.

A sometime spare

Alfred Ernest Albert, born in August 1844, was the second son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and spent the first twenty years as spare to the throne. However, the birth of a son to his elder brother in January 1864 changed his standing. Alfred, a keen naval man, was freer to pursue his seafaring career. In 1866, his mother made him Duke of Edinburgh and he became the first man to hold that title to excel on the ocean wave.

Alfred was known as Duke of Edinburgh for 27 years until he inherited the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He moved to his new realm where he became a popular ruler. However, he died just seven years later. His only son, Alfred, had died the previous year and so the Dukedom of Edinburgh was vacant again.

The longest serving consort in British history

Prince Philip held the title of Duke of Edinburgh longer than anyone else in its history. He was given the Dukedom on November 20th 1947 on his marriage to the then Princess Elizabeth by her father, King George VI. He would hold it until his death in April 2021, just short of 74 years in total.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Prince Philip, the most famous Duke of Edinburgh of all (i-Images/ Pool)

It became one of the most famous titles in the world during his lifetime, its reach expanded by his decision to use it in the name of the scheme he set up for young people. The Duke of Edinburgh Award encourages young people around the world to expand their skills and help others. It is one of the most successful schemes of all time. And it has become a lasting legacy for perhaps the most famous Duke of Edinburgh of all.

The first King in seven decades

King Charles has had many titles in his lifetime and among them is Duke of Edinburgh. The dukedom created for Prince Philip ran along the same lines as many other titles and was to be inherited by his eldest son. And so, on April 9th 2021, on Philip’s death, Charles automatically became Duke of Edinburgh.

King Charles and Queen Camilla were Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh between April 2021 and September 2022 but never used the titles publicly
( Photo by Andrew Parsons MOD © Crown copyright 2022 )

He never used the title publicly – by then, he had been Prince of Wales for 63 years, having been given that title by his mother in 1958. He had been Duke of Cornwall since her accession in 1952. In Scotland, he was always known by the traditional title for the heir to the throne there, the Duke of Rothesay. However, it brought his royal story full circle. For on his birth, in November 1948, he was known as Prince Charles of Edinburgh. On September 8th 2022, he became King and his other titles were returned to the Crown. And that meant a promise made almost a quarter of a century earlier could be fulfilled.

The Duke of Edinburgh

The return of the title to the Crown meant that King Charles was free to recreate the dukedom and bestow it on whoever he wished. The recipient was no secret. On June 19th 1999, it had been announced that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip wished their youngest son, Prince Edward, to one day become Duke of Edinburgh.

They shared the news on the day he married Sophie Rhys-Jones. The newlyweds were made Earl and Countess of Wessex but Buckingham Palace said that the groom’s parents along with his older brother, Charles, had all agreed that one day, Edward would be Duke of Edinburgh.

Edward and Sophie, Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, made an emotional visit to the city as it was announced they had been given their new titles (i-Images / Pool)

That couldn’t happen until the title returned to the Crown. Once Charles was King, the dukedom given to Prince Philip ceased to exist and the title was revived in the new reign and created all over again. On March 10th 2023, Prince Edward’s 59th birthday, he was made Duke of Edinburgh.

However, it will return to the Crown again. For King Charles stipulated that the Dukedom of Edinburgh would be held by Prince Edward for his lifetime. Edward’s son, James, will inherit his titles of Earl of Wessex and Earl of Forfar but the Dukedom of Edinburgh will once again cease to exist, tucked away in a royal cupboard for another new creation to add a fresh chapter of history to it again.

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.