Will Meghan be the Duchess of Sussex?
Image: Northern Ireland Office
via Wikimedia Commons
Not only have there been royal dukes in the English peerage, but there are plenty from the Scottish peerage, too. Let's explore the English ones now.
Since the Norman Conquest, kings have been giving these peerage titles to their younger sons. The first to do so was Henry I, who created his illegitimate son Robert the Earl of Gloucester. Gloucester was re-created many times over the centuries, but it's not a possibility for Harry and Meghan, because it currently exists and is held by The Queen's first cousin Prince Richard and his Danish wife Birgitte.
Henry created another bastard son Earl of Cornwall. In 1337, the title Duke of Cornwall was granted to King Edward III's heir, Edward The Black Prince. Ever since then, it has been automatically granted to the royal heir. Therefore, it has been held by Harry's father Prince Charles since his mother ascended the throne in 1952, when he was three years old.
Henry III's younger son Edmund Crouchback was given the old Earl of Leicester and Earl of Lancaster titles, when his father granted him the lands of the rebel nobleman Simon de Montfort. After Edmund's male line died out, Leicester and Lancaster passed through his great granddaughter to her Dutch husband and then through her sister Blanche of Lancaster to the famous John of Gaunt, son of King Edward III. Thus, it once again become royal and the Dukes of Lancaster eventually became kings, struggling against the royal line of the Dukes of York throughout the Wars of the Roses. The Duchy of Lancaster was merged with the Crown during this period. Since then, it has always been held by the monarch. So, the current Duke (yes, Duke) of Lancaster is The Queen herself, and she makes a lot of money off of the property and portfolio held by the Duchy. As for Leicester, it remains in the peerage today, but was never again held by a member of the royal family.
|Joan of Kent|
via Wikipedia Commons
|Queen Mary was almost Duchess of Clarence|
image: Bairn News Service via Wikimedia Commons
As mentioned above, Edward III's son John of Gaunt married the Lancaster heiress. Edward's next son Edmund of Langley became the very first Duke of York (although the actual Grand Old Duke of York came centuries later). He had married a foreign princess and had no English title, so his nephew King Richard II created gave him this title at the same time that he gave Edward III's youngest son Thomas of Woodstock the Gloucester title. Ironically, York supported Richard's Lancastrian cousin Henry Bolingbroke when he seized the throne from Richard and made himself Henry IV. The alliance between the Yorks and Lancasters didn't last long, erupting into the Wars of the Roses for control of the throne. After the dust settled, the York title was granted to the new King Henry VII's second son, who later became King Henry VIII. Since that time, most second-born sons of the monarch have been granted the title. It was often available since all of the Dukes of York either became king and merged the title back to the Crown (like the current Queen's father did) or they had no sons to pass the title down to (like The Queen's second son Andrew Duke of York who only has daughters).
|Melusine, the royal mistress with a royal title|
The Tudor era which followed the Wars had a paucity of princes so it's new surprise that they created no new royal dukedoms. However, Henry VII did style his youngest son Edmund Duke of Somerset, but he was never fully created such and he died aged 16 months. But, don't look for Meghan to be the Duchess of Somerset. For that honor, she would have to marry the 65-year-old John Seymour 19th Duke of Somerset, who already has a wife, as this title was re-created several times for non-royals, most recently being awarded to the Seymours for loyalty to the Crown after The Restoration in the 17th century.
After the Tudors, the English crown passed to their Scottish royal cousins who became Kings of Great Britain. Scottish royal dukedoms are even more exciting to me as possibilities for Harry and Meghan, so I will cover them in a separate post.
In addition to Scottish titles, the Stuarts did introduce some new English ones. The first Duke of Cambridge was Charles Stuart, son of the future King James II. Like so many Stuart babies, little Charles did not survive infancy, dying at just seven months. The title was created again for his younger brother James (died age four) and younger brother Edgar (died age three) and yet again for a half brother also named Charles who lived just over one month. The title was more successfully created for the Hanoverian King George III's seventh son Adolphus, whose great-granddaughter became Queen Mary, consort of King George V and grandmother of the current Queen Elizabeth II. It is this sentimental family tie that I think inspired The Queen to grant this title to her grandson Prince William.
|Caroline of Monaco could be the|
Duchess of Cumberland today
By Lorenzo Riva via Wikimedia Commons
Of course, the Stuarts are well-known for the number of royal bastards they produced. In fact, most of today's British aristocracy are descended from them, including the families of Diana Princess of Wales, Camilla The Duchess of Cornwall and Sarah Duchess of York. Numerous titles were created for their mistresses and their offspring, but most of those titles are still in use by peers today. Those English titles that could be re-created for Harry's use include Duke of Monmouth, which was given to Charles II's oldest acknowledged son James Scott, who later claimed that he was legitimate and attempted to depose his uncle James II. Charles gave his mistress Barbara Villiers Palmer the title Duchess of Cleveland and she passed it to their oldest son (who had already been created Duke of Southampton) and then their grandson. Cleveland was re-created in 1833 for the related Vane family, but it has been extinct since 1891. Duke of Southampton has been extinct since 1774. Charles gave the title Duchess of Portsmouth to another of his mistresses, the Frenchwoman Louise de Kerouaille, but it was not inherited by their son. Today, it is an extant earldom, so that probably takes it off of the table.
Charles' brother James II gave one of his illegitimate sons, James FitzJames, the title Duke of Berwick. With his support of the Jacobites after the Glorious Revolution, the title was considered forfeit and is therefore nonexistent. Nevertheless, today, the title has not one but two claimants because it was recognized by King Louis XIV of France and later by King Felipe V of Spain, who also created the holder a Grandee of Spain. So, while it is officially available in England, it is a very unlikely option for Harry. James gave another illegitimate son Henry Fitzjames the title Duke of Albemarle after he himself was already in exile. It was re-created for a later Jacobite supporter, and its mostly Jacobite ties might make it unlikely even though it has been vacant as a dukedom for more than 250 years. The fact that is currently exists as an earldom takes any likelihood down to zero.
Unlike the Tudors and the Stuarts, the Hanoverian dynasty produced A LOT of healthy princes. They had a number of royal dukedoms that they could use but still needed to create one new one: the highly touted Duke of Sussex. There has only ever been one Duke of Sussex, Prince Augustus, the sixth son of King George III. He was only given the title after he agreed to leave his first wife, the mother of his two children. (See my post about his wives, Meet the Duchess of Sussex.)
The House of Windsor has also created a couple of new royal titles, but for very special reasons in both cases. Firstly, in 1936, the title Duke of Windsor was invented in order to provide something for the abdicated King Edward VIII to use. He could have passed it to a son, but that was never really likely since his twice-divorced wife had never had any children and she was in her 40s when they married. The taint of the abdication is still strong with The Queen, whose entire life's trajectory was changed by this uncle's decision to give up the throne, so I would not anticipate her re-creating the title for Harry.
She did re-create a very ancient title for her youngest son Prince Edward when she named him Earl of Wessex, which had formerly been an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. At the time, it was announced that he will eventually be created Duke of Edinburgh after father's death and his brother Charles' accession. As the oldest son, Charles will inherit their father's title as Duke of Edinburgh. If he is already king (or once he becomes king), the title will merge with the crown and he will grant it, per their parents' wishes, to his youngest brother, who will later pass it on to his son James. In the meantime, Edward will continue to use the title that his mother created just for him. And, since he will still have the Wessex title, it can't be given to Harry.
In conclusion, there are, in my opinion, many English peerage possibilities for Harry and Meghan: Clarence, Kendal, Holderness, Monmouth, Cleveland, Berwick (highly unlikely) or Sussex.
There are several more possibilities from the Scottish peerage, so be sure to check back in for an upcoming post about these.