25 October 2016

To Be a Princess or Not?

Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice of York

By Carfax2 via Wikimedia Commons
The latest brouhaha in the British monarchy concerns the ongoing discussion about the two York princesses, Beatrice and Eugenie. It is a conversation that is nearly two decades old. Under the 1917 Letters Patent of their great-great grandfather King George V, they are officially royal highnesses and considered princesses of the blood because their father is the son of a monarch. But those Letters Patent were issued a century ago in the midst of World War I and largely in the interest of slimming down a growing royal family. The century-old rule limits royal status to the children and male-line grandchildren of a monarch as well as the first son of first son's first son (i.e. Prince George). The only official modification has been to include all of Prince William's children as official royals. Unofficially or quasi-officially, the children of The Prince Edward, youngest son of The Queen, are not being styled as royals, but rather as children of an earl, despite being male-line grandchildren just like their cousins, Beatrice and Eugenie.

In the last two decades, there has been ongoing debate about who should be officially royal and who should carry out official royal duties on behalf the monarch. In all of this time, nothing has been resolved. According to recent reports, the central tension in the discussion is between a desire for a smaller monarchy (favored by the future king, The Prince of Wales) and the rights due to the York princesses (championed by their father, the future king's younger brother, The Duke of York).

So, who is right?

Dutch Queen Beatrix at her 2013 abdication
By Floris Looijesteijn via Wikimedia Commons
Other royal houses have handled this very modern question in different ways. In The Netherlands, since 2002, you are only considered an official royal with associated responsibilities and privileges if you are within two degrees of the monarch. So, when Queen Beatrix abdicated in favor of her son, her nephews were no longer members of the Royal House, although you will certainly still see them on official family occasions. Similar limitations have been adopted in Spain and Norway.

Sweden, however, seems to have gone the other direction. When King Carl Gustav's first child, Crown Princess Victoria gave birth to his first grandchild, it seemed natural and appropriate that this child was made a royal princess, she is after all destined to be a Queen Regnant. When Carl Gustav's third child Princess Madeleine had a daughter with her English-American husband, however, I was actually stunned when the baby was not only made a royal princess but also given a royal duchy of her own. Now, all five of the Swedish king's grandchildren are royals and each has his or her own royal duchy--an expansion of royal titles that is likely predicated (ironically) on the Swedish penchant for true equality: if one grandchild is royal then all should be, I guess.

Princesses Mako and Kako of Akishino, granddaughters of 

The Emperor of Japan, will likely (but legally) be forced out
of the 

Imperial Family.
By Kounosu1 via Wikimedia Commons
Japan actually limited its Imperial Family decades ago in the wake of World War II. Despite the modernity of the decision to decrease the size of the official family, its terms remain predicated on an ancient prejudice against women. Females are not only banned from inheriting the throne, but they must renounce their royal titles and lose their official status upon marriage.

So, we still have to ask which path is the best path. In the past, and in most countries changes to royal titles, prerogatives and inheritance rights were applied only to people not yet born at the time. Therefore, when Norway adopted gender-neutral accession rules, it did not strip Prince (now Crown Prince) Haakon of his future throne in favor of his older sister. In Sweden, they did reverse the order and Crown Prince Carl Philip had to yield his #1 spot to his older sister who became Crown Princess Victoria. In The Netherlands, their 2002 changes did not affect people who were already adults at the time. Britain's gender-neutral change in 2015 was a bit more complex as it applied only to people born after October 28, 2011.

All of this means that the "correct" answer is not readily apparent. At the time of their births, Beatrice and Eugenie of York were expected to be full royals, but a lot has changed since 1990. On one side, people feel that a slimmed-down monarchy is more cost-effective, but that is actually not a new concern. There have always been questions about the cost of the royal family. Other royal male-line grandchildren in past generations did not have an official royal role, but this was only in the case of younger sons (like Prince Richard of Gloucester before the death of his elder brother and Prince Michael of Kent). Meanwhile, the children of the current and immediate past Princess Royal have had no royal titles or official roles despite having a monarch for a grandparent.

Princess Alexandra might have led a non-royal life but
the family was "too small" when she came of age in the
Now plagued by ill health, and approaching 80,
how much longer will she work?
By Premier and Chief Secretary's Department, State Public
Relations Bureau, Photographic Unit via Wikimedia Commons
For me, the great exception is Princess Alexandra, Her Majesty's first cousin. As a younger child of a royal duke, she might have been able to have a private life with no official royal duties like her younger brother, Prince Michael of Kent, but unlike her older brother, the Royal Duke of Kent. However, when she reached young adulthood, the (adult) royal family was extremely small, consisting only of nine other people: The Queen, The Queen Mother, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Princess Margaret, The (late) Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Princess Marina, The Duke of Kent, and The Princess Royal (Mary).

The modern royal family grew to its largest in the late 1980s and early 1990s with 15 adult members: The Queen, The Queen Mother, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince and Princess of Wales, The Duke and Duchess of York, The Prince Edward, The Princess Royal (Anne), The Princess Margaret, Princess Alice, The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, The Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Princess Alexandra. Since then, two of these left by divorce, three by death and one by unofficial retirement. These five departures have been filled by five replacements: The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry of Wales, and The Countess of Wessex. Five royals replaced five royals. Seems reasonable. But, in the next 10 to 15 years, we can reasonably expect the departure of another four to six (Her Majesty, Edinburgh, the Gloucesters, Kent, and Alexandra) due to death or retirement with no one waiting in the wings to take on their responsibilities, patronages, etc. The next decade after that could take out three more (Wales, Cornwall, and Anne) with Prince George and Princess Charlotte the only two able to step up. The official royal family would have slimmed from 15 working members to eight in a generation.

How large does the family need to be? Her Majesty certainly made very public use of the entire family during the Jubilee of 2012 but will that kind of occasion ever occur again in the future?

On the other hand, is it fair to Beatrice and Eugenie to make them renounce their royal titles (as some have proposed in the past) or even continue to forego official roles? They have been left in limbo too long, and have pursued university degrees and real careers in the mean time. Their father clearly wants them to forsake those careers to be "real" royals, but I wonder what the princesses really want and whether that would change if they start families of their own. Despite their regular-Joe jobs, they still have to be present for Trooping the Colour and other official occasions. They have taken on "unofficial" patronages and have even served as official representatives of their grandmother, The Queen, but Beatrice was denied the opportunity to accompany her father on an official visit to India in 2012. Is there not a middle way?

Both of their parents, The Duke of York and Sarah Duchess of York, are highly aware of Beatrice and Eugenie's royal heritage. Despite their own less-than-regal behavior over the years, they raised their daughters to be well-behaved, discreet, charitable, conscientious, and loyal monarchists. They are, all in all, good princesses. I think that they could be responsible members of the official royal family.

Having said that, I suspect that this is not a battle that The Duke of York will win. After all, Prince Charles will be the next King and he is in the best position to determine what the Royal Family looks like in the future. Will he make the best choice? That remains to be seen. The question won't really be answered until after his own reign and maybe even after William's. If little George ultimately does become King, Charles' decisions as the Head of Royal House would have been successful and popular. So, royal bloggers of the future, someone leave a note on my grave to let me know how it turned out.

For more on this subject, read Marlene Koenig's post on the Royal Musings blog.


  1. A very interesting post with well-put arguments. It would be really interesting to find out what the girls themselves want from life.

  2. I do think Charles when he becomes king will cut the York girls from the roster of royals. That will then cause a rift between him and his brother Andrew.