13 May 2018

Meghan Markle, Duchess of What?

Will Meghan be the Duchess of Sussex?

Image: Northern Ireland Office
via Wikimedia Commons
With less than a week until the royal wedding, it's time to get serious about predicting which title Prince Harry of Wales will be granted by this grandmother The Queen and, therefore, what we will be calling his American bride Meghan Markle. The whole world seems content to believe that he will definitely be the Duke of Sussex -- I've even seen some documentaries state it as a certainty! -- but I have no idea why they have such confidence. There are literally a dozen+ historic options as well as the possibility that The Queen could create something entirely new.  [UPDATE: 5/19/18 Harry was created Duke of Sussex, with the Scottish title Earl of Dunbarton and Northern Irish title Baron Kilkeel.]

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
King Edward I's sons were created Earl of Chester, Earl of Norfolk and Earl of Kent. When his grandson became King Edward III, he associated Chester with the Prince of Wales title and granted it to the royal heir. It has been attached to the Wales title ever since, meaning that this is another of several secondary titles currently held by Harry's dad. The Norfolk title was an ancient one in the peerage but it had no heirs. After Edward I gave it to his son Thomas, it remained in his line for more than a century and was eventually upgraded to Duke of Norfolk. Now no longer in the royal line, it is officially the highest dukedom in the English peerage and the holder is also the Earl Marshal, even though the dukes remained Catholic after England became Protestant. Edward I's youngest son Edmund was made the Earl of Kent, another ancient title. Edmund's daughter, Joan of Kent, held the title when she married the Prince of Wales (Edward the Black Prince). He never became king, and Joan already had sons from a previous marriage so the title passed through her older son into the Holland family and did not return to the royal family until it was re-created as Duke of Kent by King George III for his fourth son Prince Edward, who was the father of Queen Victoria. After a couple more re-creations, the Kent title currently exists in the royal family and is held by The Queen's cousin, another Prince Edward, who inherited it at age 6 from his father Prince George, who had been killed in a flying accident in World War II.

Queen Mary was almost Duchess of Clarence
image: Bairn News Service via Wikimedia Commons
King Edward III and his wife Philippa were prolific. They produced 13 children, including five sons who lived to adulthood and needed royal titles. Some of these titles came through marriage to heiress wives. Prince Lionel married Elizabeth Countess of Ulster (a title that is held by the current royal Duke of Gloucester and used as a courtesy by his heir even though its territory is in Ireland and is no longer part of the United Kingdom). Elizabeth was also the sole heiress of the Clare estates, so the title Duke of Clarence was created for Lionel. It has been re-created for other royal princes since then, most recently for The Queen's great uncle Prince Albert Victor, who would have married Queen Mary and eventually become king if he had not died young. (See my post A Royal Love Triangle.) Because Clarence had so recently belonged to the son of a Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), I expected that it would have been given to Prince William instead of the Cambridge title he received. With its close associations to the current royal family, I think Duke of Clarence is a very strong possibility for Prince Harry.

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
Two new royal titles were created during the War of the Roses when the Lancastrian Henry V made his younger brother John Duke of Bedford and Earl of Kendal, but John died without heirs. The Bedford title was later re-created for different royal supporters but never again for a prince. The Kendal title was re-created several more times as an earldom and then as a dukedom. Interestingly, it was even granted at one point to a royal mistress! King George I left his wife imprisoned in Germany when he became king, but he brought his mistress with him and named her the Duchess of Kendal. The most recent royal to hold the title (as Earl of Kendal) was Prince George of Denmark, consort of Queen Anne. Duke of Kendal is definitely within the realm of possibility for Harry and Meghan.

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
The Stuarts also created the Duke of Cumberland title although they never granted it to one of their sons. First, Charles II gave it to his nephew Prince Rupert of The Rhine, who was also Earl of Holderness. The Holderness title was re-created a couple of non-royal times, but is not currently held by anyone. Then, the Duke of Cumberland title was given to Queen Anne's husband, George of Denmark. Later, the Hanoverians used it for a couple of their sons, including Queen Victoria's least favorite Uncle Ernest Augustus. When he became King of Hanover (as a woman, Victoria could not inherit that throne), the Cumberland title went with him to Germany. Since the Hanoverian cousins fought against Britain in World War I, the title was suspended in 1919 with the caveat that an heir could petition for its restoration. The current heir is Prince Ernst August of Hanover, estranged husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, but he has never filed such a petition. Since the title is in suspension but has possible legitimate heirs with Ernst August's two sons, it it an unlikely possibility for Harry.

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.


  1. Wow, what a lot of work you have put into this! I salute you... and wait eagerly for the next article.

  2. Hi! Love your blog <3
    But Harry was created Baron Kilkeel and not Killeen...