In a follow on from my ‘Why Camilla must become our Queen’ post last week, a lot of comments raised the question of why Prince Philip isn’t king, despite the wife of a king being a queen. On the face of it, it seems bizarre, almost sexist though in this post I’ll explain exactly why Prince Philip isn’t king and why the wife of a king is always a queen.
Under English common law, a wife traditionally takes her husband’s name and rank upon marriage and as a title legally forms part of one’s name in most cases, titles within the Royal Family work in much the same way as if an untitled couple were to marry and the wife took her husband’s name as her own.
Perhaps the best example of this in action is with Prince Michael of Kent and his wife. Upon his marriage to the then Marie Christine von Reibnitz in 1978, she assumed the female form of his title and became Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent.
Other titles in the Royal Family work on a similar basis. For example, the wife of the Duke of Cambridge is known as The Duchess of Cambridge. Had Prince William not been granted the Dukedom for his marriage, she would have become Princess William of Wales.
On the other hand, when a female royal marries, the case is much different. If the woman’s title ranks higher than her husband’s already, she retains this title. This is the case for Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal. If she didn’t hold her own title, she would be styled as Lady Laurence as her husband is a knight though because knights rank (way) below the Royal Family, Princess Anne retains her title?
The instance of Princess Anne also demonstrates how the use of titles by marriage is very much a one-way-street. A husband cannot generally take the male form of his wife’s title on marriage, whatever her rank.
It’s a quirk of common law that goes right the way to the top. Prior to acceding to the throne, The Queen held the title HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh which was the female form of her husband’s title, though as the title of Queen ranks higher than Duchess (and because the Sovereign cannot hold peerages and the like), she no longer used the title of Duchess of Edinburgh, whilst the Duke of Edinburgh – to whom the title was issued – continued without any change to his own title.
Whilst this is not the only reason why the wife of a Queen isn’t a king, it is certainly the main one. There is also the issue of rank. Though it may not seem right, the title of Duke, Prince, King etcetera are regarded as ranking higher than Duchess, Princess and Queen – to the extent that Queen Victoria decided titles held by women in their own right should use the male form. This is why Her present Majesty is known as Duke of Lancaster and not Duchess.
Whether or not the status quo should be maintained in terms of titles is a matter which has reached right into Parliament on numerous occasions. A bill in the House of Lords at the moment, the Equality (titles) Bill seeks to give husbands of female peers their own courtesy title, though interestingly not one in parallel with their wife’s – rather they will receive the title of ‘The Honourable’ as things stand.
The issue of making the wives of kings, Princess Consorts to equalise the issue was discussed during the Succession to the Crown Act readings in the Commons though never made it into the final bill.
As things stand, The Duchess of Cornwall will automatically become Queen when Prince Charles accedes to the throne – with Clarence House still pushing forward with the idea that legislation will be passed to reduce her to the title of Princess Consort.
The matter of titles and how the use of them is regulated is, however, ongoing and new questions are being raised over their use all the time. Who’s to say future consorts of Queens might not end up as Kings?
Give your view in the comments box below. Should the wife of a king be a queen? Or even, should the husband of a queen be made a king?