For over twenty years, it was accepted that Prince Edward would one day be Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Philip’s youngest son was lined up for the title by the man himself and the decision was shared on the day that Edward got married, in June 1999. However, it’s now been reported that Prince Charles might be having second thoughts and that Edward might never become Duke of Edinburgh. So what is the status of this famous royal title?
Right now, it belongs to Prince Charles. As Prince Philip’s eldest son, he inherited his dukedom on the day his father died, April 9th 2021. He could be known as the Duke of Edinburgh but his title of Prince of Wales outranks that. Charles is also Duke of Rothesay, the traditional title of the heir to the Scottish throne, and is known by that when in Scotland. All that makes it very unlikely that Charles will ever call himself Duke of Edinburgh. However, the title remains his until he becomes king.
At that point, it merges with the Crown and can’t be passed on anymore. However, Charles can recreate it. That was always the understanding, outlined on the day that Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys-Jones, when it was announced that the Queen and the Prince of Wales had agreed to Edward becoming Duke of Edinburgh in due course. The new Monarch would give assent to the fourth creation of the Dukedom of Edinburgh and bestow it on his youngest brother, thus fulfilling his father’s wish. And even if Charles never succeeds to the throne, the Dukedom of Edinburgh is like the majority of hereditary titles in Britain. It can only go to men. So if Charles dies before taking the throne, the dukedom would go to his own heir, William. Once he was king, the same process would unfold.
So one question hanging over the Dukedom of Edinburgh now is whether it will be recreated. For once Charles is king, he is no longer Duke of Edinburgh. The third creation, bestowed on Prince Philip, will cease to exist. The report, in the Sunday Times, outlining the chance that Charles won’t hand it back out didn’t mention why he would leave the title in the cupboard. Edward is the only senior male royal without a dukedom and no one else can use the title once it merges with the Crown.
That raises the question as to whether Charles might want to hand it to someone else although that seems unlikely given his father’s publicly expressed wish for Prince Edward to have the title. The chances of the Prince of Wales leapfrogging his own brother to pass their father’s title to a more distant relation seems remote as does the possibility that he would hand it to either of his other siblings.
However, Charles has long been known to want to slim down the Monarchy and so another question appears. Does the Prince of Wales also want to cut the number of senior titles being used? Within a generation, two royal dukedoms will pass out of the immediate Royal Family. The Duke of Kent and the Duke of Gloucester are both grandsons of a Monarch (George V) and have carried out royal duties for decades. But their families are different. Both have male heirs with their own male heirs. The succession to their titles is secure. However, none of their descendants have royal roles and won’t take on royal duties when they inherit their dukedoms. Could Prince Charles be considering the impact of a new wave of dukes with no duties?
After all, his brother has an heir. Edward and Sophie’s son, James, was born in 2007. He is currently known by his father’s secondary title, Viscount Severn, as is traditional. But Edward as Duke of Edinburgh would see James, in time, succeed to a dukedom. Would this fit with the Prince of Wales’ vision of a drastically reduced Royal Family?
In the weeks following his death, Prince Edward gave an interview in which he described how his father had decided that he should carry on the title. Edward and Sophie recalled how Prince Philip came to see them two days after they announced their engagement and asked if they would consider becoming Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh in due course. The deal was done and for the past two decades, it’s been understood that Edward will one day follow his father. Since then, both Edward and Sophie have taken on a wide range of work for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, further underlining their links with Prince Philip and his legacy.
There is no doubt that their work and those links will continue, even if they never take on the title so associated with Philip for so long. Clarence House says it doesn’t comment on matters to do with the accession and it’s unlikely anyone will break royal ranks and reveal whether the family has had a rethink on something that seemed set in stone for so long.