SUPPORT OUR JOURNALISM: Please consider donating to keep our website running and free for all - thank you!

British Royals

The 1917 Letters Patent explained as the royal documents once again hit the headlines

It’s become one of the most talked about royal documents of recent times and it’s hit the headlines again as a baby girl is baptised in California. Announcing the christening of their daughter, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex referred to her as Princess Lilibet for the first time. And that’s put the spotlight on a decision taken by a king over a century ago.

It was George V who created the rules which are still being talked about today. In 1917, he decreed that ”the children of the sons of any such Sovereign….shall have and at all times hold and enjoy the style title or attribute of Royal Highness with their titular dignity of Prince or Princess prefixed to their respective Christian names or with their other titles of honour.”

In layman’s terms, it means that all the children of all the sons of any Monarch are HRH and Prince or Princess. However, the children of daughters of Monarchs don’t have the same entitlement.

When Harry and Meghan’s children were born, neither could be styled as HRH under these Letters Patent. In May 2019, when their son was born, he was entitled to use his father’s secondary titles of Earl of Dumbarton but was always known, at his parents’ request, as Archie Mountbatten-Windsor. Their daughter arrived in June 2021 and could have been styled as Lady Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor but her mum and dad decided she should be Lilibet in the first months of her life.

When Charles III became King in September 2022, the Letters Patent of the first King of the House of Windsor kicked in. Under George V’s rules, both were now HRH but the royal website kept them as Master and Miss. However, announcing that Lilibet Diana had been christened, a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said ”‘I can confirm that Princess Lilibet Diana was christened on Friday, March 3 by the Archbishop of Los Angeles, the Rev John Taylor.’

George V issued his Letters Patent at a time of great social change and in the darkest days of World War One. He renamed his royal house, which had been that of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha but became Windsor. And he removed a swathe of titles from relatives as well as the German titles his own family had used.

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.