The Order of Precedence

What is an Order of Precedence?

In Monarchy, the Order of Precedence is the term used to classify the ranking and position of each member  (aristocrats/royals) within the royal court or the social class system. This is different from the position of the members in the Line of Succession to the throne.

Unlike the Line of Succession which is based on decent and regulated by Parliamentary statute, the Order of Precedence in the realm is determined both by customs, traditions, laws and the sovereign’s discretion. By practice, Order of Precedence for gentlemen and ladies in the realm are separated. The ruling sovereign has the right to decide the order of precedence of the current members of the royal family.

Order of Precedence in layman’s term means the order/placement of rank, status and classification of titled person in the social system of the establishment.

But the Order of Precedence sometimes can be very confusing. In the case of a male sovereign, his Queen Consort automatically takes first in the order of precedence among women in the realm but not if the sovereign is female, since there’s no specific law defining the constitutional function of the Queen’s husband in the monarchy, his rank in the order of precedence also is not clearly defined, thus, it is the sole discretion of the sovereign to decide where to put such distinction.

British Queen Consorts like Queen Elizabeth (wife of George VI), Queen Mary (wife of George V), Queen Alexandra (wife of Edward VII), etc. take precedence above all females in the United Kingdom but not in the case of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. When his wife ascended the British throne in 1952 as Queen Elizabeth II, his position was subject to many discussions in the royal court.

Born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, howeverm Philip gave up his royal status and his place in the line of succession to the Greek throne in 1947 in order to marry the future British monarch, but in 1953 after his wife’s accession, he was granted through the Queen’s Order-in-Council a place “pre-eminence and precedence over all men in the United Kingdom", through a letter patent issued by the Queen, Prince Philip will take precedence over all men in Britain on private occasions, meaning he would take his place next to the Queen, except on official state occasions where he would take only second in the order of precedence over his son, Prince Charles, because the Prince of Wales is the heir-to-the throne.

The Queen also changed the Order of Precedence for females on private occasions making Charles’s second wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, ranked below Princess Alexandra of Kent, the Queen’s first cousin. When Diana, Princess of Wales was still alive, she was third in rank of precedence after the Queen and the Queen Mother.

In the case of Camilla Parker Bowles, her status is lower in rank among senior female royal family members because she does not carry a status of a Princess and through debate and discussion on moral issues, she would not take a title of a Queen Consort when Prince Charles becomes King, she is divorce when she married the heir-to-the-throne in 2005 and the Church of England strongly prohibited a divorce woman from becoming a Queen Consort.

The Present Order of Precedence in the British Royal Court (for private occasions)

MALES (Top 10)

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (the Queen’s husband)
Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales (the heir to the throne)
Prince William of Wales (second-in-line to the throne/Prince Charles’ eldest son)
Prince Andrew, the Duke of York (fourth-in-line to the throne/the Queen’s second son)
Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex  (7th in line to the throne/the Queen’s youngest child)
Prince Harry of Wales (third in line to the throne/Prince Charles’ youngest son)
Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester (19th in line/the Queen’s first cousin)
Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent (27th in line to the throne/the Queen’s first cousin)
Prince Michael of Kent (removed in the line of succession because he married a Roman Catholic/younger brother of the Duke of Kent)
The Lord David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley (13th in line/the Queen’s nephew)

FEMALES (Top 10)

The Queen
Princess Anne, the Princess Royal (the Queen’s only daughter)
Princess Alexandra of Kent, the Lady Ogilvy (the Queen’s first cousin)
Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall (second wife of the Prince of Wales)
Sophie, The Countess of Wessex (wife of the Earl of Wessex)
Birgitte, the Duchess of Gloucester (wife of the Duke of Gloucester)
Katharine, the Duchess of Kent (wife of the Duke of Kent)
Marie-Christine, Princess Michael of Kent (wife of Prince Michael of Kent)
Princess Beatrice of York (eldest daughter of the Duke of York)
Princess Eugenie of York (youngest daughter of the Duke of York)

Dilemma over Precedence

The Order of Precedence in British nobility is slightly complicated to the “outsiders” which requires a thorough understanding. When a woman marries a nobleman, she would automatically acquire the precedence like that of her husband (example Diana’s sister, Lady Jane Spencer whose husband, Robert Fellowes, was made a Baron by the Queen in 1999. As a daughter of an Earl, Lady Jane’s precedence is above the rank of a Baron's wife but in this case she would take her husband’s precedence and not as a daughter of an Earl) but not in the case of a male marrying a royal or a titled lady (Princess Anne’s husband, Timothy Lawrence. could not take precedence similar to her rank), if the man is a commoner, he couldn't take his wife's status.

Children of peers (aristocrat) always acquire the order of precedence by virtue of their father’s title (example Diana and her siblings), but children of a Lady do not gain any precedence unless that lady is a member of the royal family. If a daughter of a nobleman marries a commoner she will retain her title and precedence as a peer’s daughter (example Diana’s older sister, Lady Sarah, who married a commoner), but if she marries a nobleman, her precedence is based on her husband’s rank and not on her father’s rank (When Diana's mother, The Honourable Frances Burke-Roche, daughter of the 4th Baron Fermoy, married the Earl Spencer who was then Viscount Althorp, she assumed a rank of a Viscount wife, hence known as Viscountess Althorp, which ranked above a Baron's daughter).


Burke's Peerage: the Bible of British Aristocracy
Encyclopedia Brittanica
The Official Site of the British Monarchy:
The Royals by Kitty Kelly
The Royal Sisters by Anne Edwards 

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