The Complexities of British Royal Titles

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge 

People have been asking questions regarding the correct style and title of Kate Middleton, the commoner wife of Prince William.

 Is it right to call her Princess?

The answer is no. There's no provision in the British law granting a woman marrying into the British royal family the title princess unless she is royal by birth.

Technically, Kate Middleton is not a princess. Her correct style is Duchess of Cambridge. She should not also be called Duchess Kate because she was not born a duchess, the title is only derived from marriage and it's a reference of a geographical name not a birthright title.

But people outside Great Britain who are not familiar with the royal titles and its subtleties, continue calling her Princess Kate or Duchess Kate, which is politically incorrect.

The Prince and Princess of Wales.

In July 1981, following the wedding of William's parents, Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles, the press office of Buckingham palace made it clear that the bride should be known as "Diana, the Princess of Wales" and not Princess Diana because she was not born a princess.

If ever people would call her princess,  she should be called Princess Charles and not Princess Diana. Same with William's wife. If she is princess at all, she should be called Princess William and not Princess Kate.

Just like the wife of Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen's first cousin, who is known as Princess Michael of Kent and not Princess Marie Christine.

If time will come for Prince Charles to ascend the British throne, William will inherit his title as Prince of Wales, but this title would never make Kate Middleton a newly created Princess, she would be known only as Catherine, the Princess of Wales but not Princess Catherine.

In Britain, a marriage to a prince does not automatically make one a princess. She will only take the status of being the wife of a peer but not a peer in her own right, thus, Duchess of Cambridge is only a courtesy style.

There's a huge difference between a titled name and a courtesy title. A courtesy title can be acquired through birth or through marriage but a titled name or a titular dignity can be solely acquired only by birth.

For example, you cannot call Kate Middleton as "Duchess Catherine" that's a huge mistake and ignorance to protocol. You cannot simply use a title of nobility followed by a Christian name, it is always followed by a place where the title is honorary given and because Kate Middleton is not a duchess in her own right, she should be addressed with the style she acquired through marriage-Duchess of Cambridge.

Elsewhere in Europe there are aristocrats who were born with a Duchess title and it's okay to call them Duchess followed by their Christian names, like Duchess Sophie of Bavaria or Duchess Isabelle of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

In the case of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The title she acquired through marriage was Princess of Wales, therefore should be used when addressing her but not Princess Diana because she was not a princess in her own right.

In Britain, only daughters and granddaughters in a male line of the ruling British sovereign can be rightfully called "Princess".

Children cannot inherit the title of their mother. For example the children of Princess Anne, though she is a daughter of the Queen, her children belong to the house of her husband, thus, cannot be addressed as Prince and Princess.

For example in the case of Princess Mary, only daughter of King George V. Her children belonged to the House of Lascelles (she married the 6th Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles) and not to the House of Windsor, therefore would assume the courtesy title related to their father.

Daughters of the British Dukes not born of royal blood, Marquesses and Earls are properly addressed individually as "Lady" while their sons "Lord" but younger sons of an Earl are addressed as "The Honorable".

In the order of precedence, a daughter of a Duke is always ranked higher than a daughter of a Marquess or Earl, even if she married a man with a rank lower than that of her father, she always takes precedence ahead of an Earl's daughter or wife. But if a daughter of an Earl married a Duke, she will take the precedence equivalent that of her husband.

Commoner women leaped higher in the order of precedence when marrying a titled man. But in the royal family, the order of precedence is solely determined by the Queen.

Traditionally, a wife of an heir apparent is always ranked higher than any titled woman in the realm just below the Queen.

When Diana was still alive, her rank was higher than Princess Anne (the Queen's daughter) and Princess Margaret (the Queen's sister) just below the Queen Mother.

But when Charles remarried to Camilla Parker Bowles, the Queen changed the ranking in the order of precedence, placing Camilla just below Princess Alexandra of Kent, the Queen's first cousin.

The reason of this is because Camilla doesn't hold a Princess courtesy title. Duchess ranks below a Princess.

Wives of British peers upon divorce retained the style they enjoyed during the marriage provided they will not remarry, but there's a huge difference already with the degree of the style. The very important "the" would be stripped.

Example, Diana, after divorce, became known only as Diana, Princess of Wales but no longer "the" Princess of Wales, meaning the title will be used only in public as a courtesy style.

If in case she remarried after divorce, Diana's status would be back to an Earl's daughter, example if she married Dodi Al-Fayed, she will be known as Lady Diana Al-Fayed.

Contrary to suggestions that Diana would be given a title of her own, the Queen did not, and the HRH status was stripped from her even if she was the mother of a future British king.

Prince Joachim of Denmark and Alexandra, now the Countess of Frederiksborg during happier times. They were married in 1995 and divorced ten years later. She retained her title of Princess of Denmark but when she remarried in 2007, the title was stripped from her and she was created by her former mother-in-law, Queen Margrethe II, as Countess of Frederiksborg.

But in Denmark, the case was very different. When Prince Joachim, the second son of Queen Margrethe II, divorced his wife, Princess Alexandra, the monarch allowed her to retain her Princess style, but when she remarried, few years later, Queen Margrethe II created her a noblewoman in her own right granting her the non hereditary title "Countess of Frederiksborg".

In the case of Camilla Parker Bowles, the second wife of Prince Charles, she is legally the Princess of Wales. But due to sensitive issues in the past, Camilla avoided the title in order not to attract resentment of Diana's supporters. She chose to be known as Duchess of Cornwall taken from Charles's secondary title, Duke of Cornwall.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Camilla avoided the title Princess of Wales, even if legally she is, because it is closely associated with Diana. She chose to be known instead of Duchess of Cornwall, assuming the secondary style of Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall.

Traditionally, all sons of the ruling sovereign were given the title of a Duke upon marriage. In the case of Prince Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II, he was not created a Duke because he would be inheriting the title of his father, Prince Philip, which is the Duke of Edinburgh.

While his father is still alive, Edward will be temporarily known with his secondary noble title, Earl of Wessex. His children are the only grandchildren of the British sovereign who are not carrying a titular dignity of a Prince and a Princess but assumed the honor and style of being the children of a British Earl, thus, Edward's daughter Louise is known as Lady Louise Windsor and his son, James, Viscount Severn. But legally, she is Princess Louise as the Queen did not issue a Letter Patent authenticating the "Lady" courtesy title.

In British nobility and royalty, the children always belong to the house of their father, meaning they will be known with the titles, names and ranks originating from their father's family. A wife, even if royalty, assumes the style of her husband, but if she marry a man whose title ranks lower than her father, then she will retain her courtesy title at birth.

Diana's mother retained the title she enjoyed during her marriage as Viscountess Althorp (at that time, Diana's father was still Viscount Althorp) but when she remarried to a commoner, Peter Shand-Kydd, she returned to her maiden style as a Baron's daughter, hence, she was known as The Honourable Mrs. Frances Shand-Kydd (The Honourable is a title given to the children of Viscount and Baron and to the younger sons of a British Earl). 
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh during their wedding day in 1947
From November 1947 to February 5, 1952, she was known officially as HRH Princess Elizabeth, the Duchess of Edinburgh

In 1947, King George VI created Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten (originally, he was Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark and was sixth in line of succession to the Greek throne but he renounced his Greek royal status in order to marry the future British Queen) as Duke of Edinburgh, so after their wedding in November 1947, Elizabeth became Princess Elizabeth, the Duchess of Edinburgh. She was not given a title of Princess of Wales even if she was the next monarch because that title is reserve only for the wife of the Prince of Wales.

Normally, male commoners who will marry into the British royal family, are being offered with an Earldom, but they could never assume the title of their wives.

In 1960, the commoner royal photographer, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, accepted the Earldom offered by the Queen when he married her youngest sister, Princess Margaret, thus becoming the Earl of Snowdon, this is a lifetime title, not even divorce could take it away from him. So when Margaret and Armstrong-Jones divorced in 1978, he retained his peer title. Princess Anne married a commoner Captain in 1973, Mark Phillips, but he refused to accept the Earl title offered by the Queen, thus, children of the Princess, Zara and Peter, have no titles and remained commoners.
Princess (Infanta in Spain) Cristina of Spain, the Duchess of Palma de Mallorca and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, the Duke of Palma de Mallorca

But the case is quite different from other European royal courts. In Spain for example, a husband of a titled lady can assume his wife's title. Princess Cristina, the youngest daughter of King Juan Carlos of Spain, has her own title of Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, when she married a commoner, Inaki Urdangarin, a former handball player, her husband became Duke of Palma de Mallorca.

In Netherlands, we need to understand the complexities of royal titles too. Traditionally, an heir to the throne is given the title of Prince of Orange but his wife could never take the title Princess of Orange. The heir apparent of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Prince Wilhelm Alexander is known as the Prince of Orange but his wife is known as Princess of the Netherlands because the title Princess of Orange is reserve only for the heir apparent to the Dutch throne.

So their eldest daughter, Princess Catharina Amalia, in due time will be known as the Hereditary Princess of Orange because she is her father's heir apparent.

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