21 May 2010

The Royal “Mrs.”

As has been traditional in the western world, women--even royal women--take their husband's name upon marriage. This includes being called by their husband's first and last name with "Mrs." in front of it. For instance, under this tradition, my mother is "Mrs. David Anderson", a name she only uses when receiving joint mailings with him: "Mr. & Mrs. David Anderson" Otherwise, she uses her birth name and married name: "Gwendolyn Anderson."

For royal women, they take the female version instead of "Mrs." with their husband's first name and title, which is why the statuesque Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz is called "Princess Michael." The only exception is if a royal bride outranks her husband. In that case, she may use her husband's name and title, but only after her own: HRH The Princess Royal, Mrs. Timothy Laurence and HRH Princess Alexandra, The Hon. Lady Ogilvy.

Currently, there are six women with the British royal equivalent of “Mrs.” They are titled "Princess" and "Duchess" but only in association with their husband's name, with the exception of one, who has always outranked her husband. She is also the only brunette in the group--the rest are all natural blondes. I guess princes prefer blondes--what does that say for the brunette Kate Middleton's future? (For more on the topic of British royal titles and how they might impact Kate, see Princess Kate! The Duchess of What?)

By David Bohrer via Wikimedia Commons
HM The Queen is also The Duchess of Edinburgh since her husband was created a royal duke when they married. However, since she always outranked him as The Princess Elizabeth (the “The” indicating that she was the daughter of a monarch), she was never known as “Princess Philip,” especially since he renounced his title as Prince of Greece and Denmark before they married in 1947. He was not a prince again until his wife made him The Prince Philip (with the most royal “The” included) nearly 10 years later.

By Ibaglivia via Wikimedia Commons
HRH The Princess of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duchess of Rothesay. Camilla Parker-Bowles (nee Shand) is married to Prince William’s father, HRH The Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, who as heir to the English throne has the title The Duke of Cornwall and as heir to Scottish throne has the title The Duke of Rothesay—the two thrones have been merged since 1714. In order to avoid upsetting people who associated “Princess of Wales” with Charles’ first wife, Camilla prefers to be styled HRH The Duchess of Cornwall; and is styled HRH The Duchess of Rothesay when on official duties in Scotland.

By Frankie Fouganthin
via Wikimedia Commons
HRH The Princess Edward, The Countess of Wessex. Formerly Sophie Rhys-Jones, she is married to the Queen’s youngest son who was given the title Earl of Wessex instead of being made a royal duke when they married. It is believed that they requested and/or accepted a lesser title because they didn’t want their children to be burdened with princely titles and because Edward is expected to eventually receive his father’s title, The Duke of Edinburgh. Technically that title would be inherited by The Prince Charles, as the eldest son, but he would likely be glad to give it to his baby brother (there’s a 16 year age difference between them). As for Edward and Sophie’s children, they are still technically HRH Princess Louise of Wessex and HRH Prince James of Wessex, but the Queen agreed to their parents’ request and they are styled as children of an earl: The Lady Louise Windsor and James Viscount Severn (his father’s secondary title).

By The National Churches Trust

via Wikimedia Commons
HRH Princess Richard, The Duchess of Gloucester. Danish-born Birgitte van Deurs is married to the 2nd Duke of Gloucester, a first cousin of the Queen. At the time of their marriage, he was not expected to become a duke, because he had an older brother, HRH Prince William of Gloucester. So, she was initially known as HRH Princess Richard of Gloucester. Shortly after that Prince William died in a plane crash in 1972, her father-in-law died and she became a royal duchess.

By Carfax2 via Wikimedia Commons
HRH Princess Edward, The Duchess of Kent. Katharine Worsley is married to the 2nd Duke of Kent, another first cousin of the Queen. Her husband succeeded his father to the Dukedom at the age of six—his father had been killed in a WWII plane crash. Therefore she was never really known as Princess Edward. Since 2002, she has asked not to be called Her Royal Highness and prefers to be known as “Katharine Kent,” however, she is still listed by her full title in the Court Circular and on official occasions.

By Flickr user BigTallGuy

via Wikimedia Commons
HRH Princess Michael of Kent. German-born Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz is married to the Duke of Kent’s younger brother, Prince Michael. Since he is the grandson rather than the son of a king, as a younger son, he did not receive a royal dukedom and his wife has always been called Princess Michael. Their new daughter-in-law, officially Lady Frederick Windsor, is a working actress who prefers to be called by her maiden name, Sophie Winkleman. She is starring in a new series on NBC called “100 Questions” which begins airing on May 27.

There is one other royal dukedom currently in use: The Duke of Lancaster. This title has been merged with the crown since 1413 and therefore is held personally by the Queen, who is styled as The Duke (not Duchess) of Lancaster. The Duchy of Lancaster consists of a number of urban developments and extensive farm land. It yields the queen between $20 and $30 million each year and is held separately from the Crown Estates. If England were to abolish the monarchy, the Queen could still be The Duke of Lancaster and pass that title to her eldest son.

By John Pannell derivative work:

César via Wikimedia Commons
Prince William of Wales was granted additional titles on his wedding day in 2011. So, upon marriage, Catherine Middleton became HRH Princess William, The Duchess of Cambridge, The Countess of Strathearn and Lady Carrickfergus.

Likewise, his brother Prince Henry [aka Harry] of Wales was granted titles on his 2018 wedding day, making his bride Meghan Markle, HRH Princess Henry, The Duchess of Sussex, The Countess of Dumbarton, and Lady Kilkeel.

On his 54th birthday in 2019, The Prince Edward was granted a Scottish title, adding The Countess of Forfar to his wife Sophie's list of Royal Mrs.


  1. Thank you for the very interesting post. It's complicated, though, so I'll have to read it a few times!

    Are the blondes natural blondes, I wonder?

  2. Indeed, some of them had darker blonde hair when they were younger, but they are natural blondes.

  3. I think the Duchess of Kent has set an example to the rest of the Royal Family. Knowing in her wisdom that in this 21st century titles are becoming more and more obsolete, she chooses to be known as Katharine Kent. Though still officially HRH The Duchess of Kent, she prefers to be addressed simply by her first name: Katharine. I think also, that Lady Diana tried to modernise the monarchy in her own way. After her divorce from Prince Charles she was no longer a Royal Highness, but she reverted back to being Lady Diana (her title as the daughter of an Earl which nobody could take away from her) and carried on with her royal duties and charity work and the informal, accessible style which was her trademark.

    These two royal ladies: Katharine Kent and Lady Diana, have showed the world what it really means to be a princess and how to conduct yourself with grace, class and dignity and absolutely no pretension and imperiousness. Please take note, Princess Michael of Kent...........