How The Princess Royal Title Came into the British Monarchy

Updated today: August 15, 2021

Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne, the Princess Royal turns 71 today. She is the second child and only daughter of Her Majesty, the Queen and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

As a direct descendant of King Christian IX of Denmark on the male line (through Prince Philip), she belongs, by bloodline, to the House of Glucksburg.

The young royal family in 1950s

She has two children, Peter and Zara, from her previous marriage to Captain Mark Phillips. 

In 1992, after her divorce to Mark Phillips was finalized, she remarried to Commodore Timothy Laurence.

With her mother, the Queen
With her father, the Duke of Edinburgh
Princess Anne as a child with her parents, the Queen and Prince Philip 
and older brother, Prince Charles

Her Royal Highness is known as the hardest working royal among the Queen's family, performing royal engagement in a year more than her siblings and nephews (the Queen's granddaughters are not working royals).

Princess Anne with husband, 
Timothy Laurence

She has many patronages and supported many charities. The Princess Royal also assumed regimental in the military. 

She is an accomplished horse rider and became the first member of the British royal family to compete in the Olympics in 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.

The Princess Royal and her mother, The Queen
Princess Anne helping her father, Prince Philip, in a family barbeque in Balmoral castle

Her daughter, Zara Phillips, followed her parents' footsteps as Olympians when she competed in the 2012 London Olympics in the Equestrian event.

Princess Anne's children, Peter and Zara

In an interview, Zara revealed the hard working nature of her mother. Once she saw the Princess Royal arrived at their family home in Gatcombe Park after a public engagement, and directly went to her farm, picked fresh chicken eggs while still on her makeup and dress.

Princess Anne and her parents at Trooping the Colours

Princess Anne was bestowed by her mother the Princess Royal title in 1987. She is the seventh British princess to hold the title since Princess Mary, daughter of King Charles I in 1642.

On the occasion of her 71st birthday, let's get to know more about her courtesy style, Princess Royal, how and when this title arrived in the British monarchy.

The Princess Royal Title 

This courtesy style is traditionally granted to the eldest daughter of the reigning British sovereign. It is customary but never automatically acquired.

It should be awarded first by the British monarch before a princess can assume the title.

The royal family in the grounds of Frogmore

The current holder of the title, Princess Anne, though born in 1950 and the last Princess Royal had died in 1965 (Princess Mary, paternal aunt of the Queen), did not acquire it until 1987 when her mother, the Queen, bestowed it to her.

How it came to the British monarchy

Princess Royal has a French origin. It means "Madame Royale". A royal title granted to the eldest daughter of the French king.

The Queen, Prince Philip and their four young children

The title came into the British monarchy in the 17th century, 1642 to be exact, during the reign of King Charles I.

His wife, a French princess, Queen Henrietta (daughter of King Henry IV of France) introduced it to the British royal court.

Queen Henrietta wanted to imitate the "Madame Royale" style of the French monarchy. Her older sister, Princess Elisabeth, the Madame Royale, by then married to King Philip IV of Spain.

In 1642, Princess Mary (born in 1631), her eldest daughter with King Charles I, became the very first Princess Royal title holder in the British monarchy (she was the older sister of Sophia, the Electress of Hanover, whom the British throne was passed after the death of their niece, Queen Anne).

The Princess Royal title holders

1. Princess Mary (1631-1660). The very first Princess Royal in the British royal court. She later became the Princess of Orange when she married Prince William of Orange in the Netherlands.

Their only child would later marry her niece (daughter of her younger brother, King James II), Queen Mary II, and became King William III.  

Sadly, the first Princess Royal had no living descendants today as King William III and Queen Mary II had no surviving children.

The first Princess Royal title holder, Princess Mary

Queen Mary II, who in return, was the eldest daughter of King James II, however, did not receive the title, Princess Royal, because when her father ascended the British throne, she was already married to Prince William of Orange and already carrying the title, Princess of Orange.

James II was forced to abdicate in the Glorious Revolution that put his daughter, Mary, and son-in-law, William of Orange (who was also his nephew), to the British throne. 

The title Princess Royal would not be heard again until 1692, when the ex-king's daughter, Princess Louisa Maria, (bore by his second wife, Mary of Modena), was born. 

The Jacobites called her "Princess Royal" but was not recognized in the British history because that time James II was no longer monarch.

Nonetheless, his supporters who had wished that the British throne would be reinstated on James's Catholic descendants, called Princess Louisa Maria as Princess Royal.

2. Princess Anne (1727-1759). The second princess who officially acquired the title of Princess Royal was King George II's eldest daughter, Princess Anne. 

She would later marry a Prince of Orange, William IV. They were the direct ancestors of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

3. Princess Charlotte (1789-1828). The third Princess Royal was the eldest daughter of King George III and Queen Charlotte, also named Charlotte, who later married the King of Wurttemberg, Frederick I. The couple had no surviving children.

The title became extinct when Princess Charlotte died. It would not be heard again until decades later because King George III's two sons who became kings had no surviving legitimate children, King George IV and King William IV.

4. Princess Vicky (1841-1901). Princess Royal title was given by Queen Victoria to her eldest daughter, also named Victoria and nicknamed Vicky. 
She was born in 1839. She married the future Emperor of Germany, Frederick III. They were the parents of the last German Kaiser, William II.

5. Princess Louise (1905-1931). The fifth Princess Royal was King Edward VII's eldest daughter, Louise, who married Alexander Duff, the 1st Duke of Fife. 

Princess Louise was born in 1905, four years after the death of the last Princess Royal, Vicky. So her father had no problem in granting the title as there was no conflict of holders. 

It became a problem when Louise's older brother, King George V, ascended the throne in 1910.

6. Princess Mary (1897-1965). She was born in 1897. Her father, George V, ascended the British throne in 1910. For more than two decades, her father could not grant her the title, Princess Royal, because her aunt, Princess Louise, who held the title, was still alive.

Princess Mary acquired the title in 1932 upon the death of Princess Louise. In 1927, she became the Countess of Harewood when she married Henry Lascelles, the 6th Earl of Harewood. 

Why Queen Elizabeth did not become Princess Royal?

This has been the question of many. Since the Queen is the eldest daughter of King George VI, it was expected she must be given the title during her father's reign.

However, her aunt, Princess Mary, was still alive during her father's reign. 

Traditionally, royal titles should only carry by one person in her or his lifetime. No living royals should share the same title, to avoid confusion.

King George VI's sister, Princess Mary, was still alive when he ascended the throne in 1936. So he could not grant the title to his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth.

This, despite that Princess Mary was already carrying the title, Countess of Harewood, courtesy of her marriage to the 6th Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, who died in 1947. 

Princess Mary, the last Princess Royal before Princess Anne

Princess Mary died in 1965, which would mean the title Princess Royal, reverted back to the crown. However, Elizabeth was already the British Queen in 1965.

The Princess Royal is close to her father, Prince Philip, who passed away in April this year at 99

Im 1987, Queen Elizabeth II granted it to her daughter, Princess Anne, making her the 7th British princess to officially hold the title.

No Peerage distinction

The title is not part of the Peerage of the United Kingdom, thus, cannot be inherited. It is only a courtesy style, but never hereditary.

It might be decades again after Princess Anne before we would hear another princess to be bestowed such title.

When Charles ascend the British throne, there would be no Princess Royal as he has no daughters.

The Future Princess Royal

In 2013, the British law of succession was changed, adopting the absolute primogeniture law, which means that daughters of a British sovereign would no longer be pushed aside by younger brothers off the throne.

This also means that an eldest child of a future British monarch, irrespective of gender, would become the heir-apparent.

If the eldest child is a daughter, she will hold the title, Princess of Wales in her own right, and obviously would not assume the title "Princess Royal" anymore.

So, what the future hold for this title which had been carried by seven British princesses down the decades? 

Will this become extinct if the future British monarch has a daughter as an eldest child? Will this be given to a second daughter?

This was not debated in the current days but might be tackled in the future when needs arise.

The royal family at Balmoral

The most likely candidate to become Princess Royal is Princess Charlotte, second child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but will wait a little longer if Princess Anne is still alive during William's reign.

Happy birthday to the Princess Royal!

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