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History of Royal Titles: Why are male heirs to the British throne called the Prince of Wales?


Picture by i-Images / Pool

Aside from the historically important position of king or queen, the title of ‘The Prince of Wales’ has existed for the longest time. It originated in approximately 1223 when Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was given the title by the English King Henry III. Royal Central is taking a look at one of the most important royal titles and why it is given to the eldest son of the monarch.

The prophecy linked to ‘The Prince of Wales’ title stems from the belief that one day a prince will be presented from Eleanor’s Gate atop Caernarfon Castle and that he will be a true Welsh-speaking son of Wales. 

It became a convention to name the British male heir as the Prince of Wales when King Henry III’s son, the future King Edward I, murdered Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and gave the title to his son, the future King Edward II. From that point, the title has been passed down through generations of male heirs to the throne.

There have been twenty-six Princes of Wales, including the likes of King Henry VIII, King Charles II and King Edward VIII. The current titleholder has also set the record for being the longest-serving Prince of Wales, this being Prince Charles. The Prince was granted the title on July 26, 1958, at the age of nine – but was not officially invested at Caernarfon Castle until 1969. As of 2020, he has been the Prince of Wales for sixty-two years.

Others who have held the title for a long period include King George IV who was the Prince of Wales for fifty-eight years during the sixty-year reign of his father, King George III.

Historically, the incumbent of the title has had a bad reputation. Some of the most troubling Princes of Wales include the future king’s Edward VII and Edward VIII. The former was known to have committed various adulterous affairs, and it is rumoured he fathered many illegitimate children. The latter was recognised for not listening to Palace courtiers, making inherently racist remarks, behaving recklessly and carrying out many inappropriate affairs.

Following The Queen’s death and Prince Charles’s accession to the throne, the next Prince of Wales will be Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. While William will immediately become the Duke of Cornwall, as well as inherit the vast private estate of the Duchy of Cornwall, his father will have to bestow the title of Prince of Wales on him. Upon gaining this title, it is likely he will also be given the Earldom of Chester.