Princess Elizabeth and the baby Prince Charles

How Charles was very nearly not a prince

There’s been a lot of talk over the last year or so about why the children of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex don’t have titles. But did you know that Prince Charles was very nearly not born a prince? It’s an interesting story and shows that Archie and Lilibet’s situation isn’t as strange as you might think.

Let’s start by reviewing the rules about who is or isn’t a prince. For centuries, this was controlled by ill-defined customs and it was as recently as 1917 that George V issued Letters Patent defining the rules on who would receive a royal title (that is, who would be able to use HRH and be a prince or princess). The rules he came up with were as follows:

  • Children of a monarch
  • Children of the sons of a monarch
  • The eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales

The last rule on that list was tweaking by the Queen in 2012, so it now reads:

  • Children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales

The effect of that change was that the second and third children of Prince William became Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis – which they wouldn’t have been before the change.

When we look at these rules, we can see that they define the princely status of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of a monarch. It makes sense that the only great-grandchildren who get royal titles are the children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales as they are the people who will be the core of the royal family in the future. The bit about “the eldest son” might need to be changed when if the eldest child of a Prince of Wales is a daughter – but that’s a problem for a later date.

The list also explains some of the questions that are frequently asked about titles.

  • Archie and Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor aren’t currently entitled to princely status (but that will change when their grandfather is king)
  • The children of Princess Anne were never going to have royal titles (but they would have received noble titles if Mark Phillips had accepted the earldom he was presumably offered when he married Anne)
  • The Duke of Gloucester, Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra and Prince Michael of Kent all have royal titles because they are the grandchildren of George V

The only anomaly left is that the children of Prince Edward are entitled to royal status but don’t use it. This was a decision taken by their parents. The children do have that status, they just choose not to use it. The children are entitled to override their parents’ decision when they reach their eighteenth birthdays, but Lady Louise has just passed that milestone and there has been no announcement of her title changing.

So, as I said above, this explains why Archie and Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor are not currently given royal status. This is how royal experts always expected it to work. No-one should be surprised at the situation. And the situation will change when Prince Charles becomes king. They will then be the children of a son of a monarch and will become Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet. I believe that this will be the first example of someone gaining princely status because a new monarch took the throne.

But it might not have been that way. There could have been an earlier example.

Think back to October 1948. George VI is on the throne. He has two daughters – Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. Both women were grandchildren of George V when they were born and were therefore born princesses as the daughters of a son of a monarch. Princess Elizabeth married the Duke of Edinburgh in November 1947 and by October 1948 it was well-known that she was expecting her first child.

But consider that child – who we now know to be Charles. He was born as a grandson of a monarch, but not the child of the son of a monarch. Being the son of a daughter of a monarch, he would not be expected to receive a royal title. He would, presumably, have been known as the Earl of Merioneth (his father’s subsidiary title). And when Anne was born two years later, she would have been Lady Anne Windsor. Similarly to Archie and Lilibet, they would have both been given royal titles when their mother became queen in 1952 but, until then they would have suffered under the gender bias of George V’s rules.

However, their grandfather noticed the problem and pre-empted it. In October 1947 (a few weeks before Charles was born) he issued Letters Patent declaring that all children of Princess Elizabeth would be given royal status. Unfortunately, he only changed the rules specifically for her children and didn’t think to put a rule in place that would cover any future situations where we had a princess who was first in line to the throne and old enough to be having children (something that will become more common now that monarchs tend to live longer and we’ve abolished male-preference primogeniture). Just another little point that will need adjusting as the royal family tries to work in a less sexist manner – but that’s a topic for another article.

I confess that I hadn’t heard this story until a few weeks ago and I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I failed to realise how close we came to having someone who was second in line to the throne who didn’t have a princely title. Did you know about this?

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

The Funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh

The funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh takes place in London tomorrow. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, there will only be thirty guests at the event, and (by my calculations) twenty of them are on the line of succession. Let’s have a look at the list.

  1. HM The Queen. She’s obviously not on the line of succession – having popped off the top of it in 1952.
  2. Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales. Charles is number 1 on the list and is the Duke’s eldest son and, therefore, the person who inherits the title Duke of Edinburgh.
  3. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The wife of the Prince of Wales. She’s not on the line of succession.
  4. Princess Anne, The Princess Royal. The Duke’s second child and only daughter. She’s surprisingly far down the line of succession, at number 15.
  5. Timothy Laurence. The husband of the Princess Royal. Not on the line of succession.
  6. Prince Andrew, Duke of York. The Duke’s third child and second son. He’s currently number 8 on the line of succession.
  7. Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. The Duke’s youngest child and third son. He’s currently number 12 on the line of succession. Edward is expected to be granted a new Dukedom of Edinburgh once the title merges with the Crown (i.e. when Prince Charles becomes king).
  8. Sophie, Countess of Wessex. The wife of the Earl of Wessex. She’s not on the line of succession.
  9. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. The eldest son of the Prince of Wales. He’s number 2 on the line of succession.
  10. Kate, Duchess of Cambridge. The wife of the Duke of Cambridge. She’s not on the line of succession.
  11. Prince Henry (Harry), Duke of Sussex. The second (and youngest) son of the Prince of Wales. He’s number 6 on the line of succession.
  12. Peter Phillips. Eldest child of the Princess Royal and the Duke’s eldest grandchild. He’s number 16 on the line of succession.
  13. Zara Tindall. Second and youngest child of the Princess Royal. She’s number 19 on the line of succession.
  14. Mike Tindall. Husband of Zara Tindall. He’s not on the line of succession.
  15. Princess Beatrice of York. Eldest daughter of the Duke of York. She’s number 9 on the line of succession.
  16. Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi. Husband of Princess Beatrice. He’s not on the line of succession.
  17. Princess Eugenie of York. Second daughter of the Duke of York. She’s number 10 on the line of succession.
  18. Jack Brooksbank. Husband of Princess Eugenie. He’s not on the line of succession.
  19. Lady Louise Windsor. Eldest child of the Earl of Wessex. She’s number 14 on the line of succession.
  20. James, Viscount Severn. Second child of the Earl of Wessex. He’s number 13 on the line of succession. He’s higher than his older sister because they were born before the abolition of male-preference primogeniture.
  21. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. The Queen’s first cousin. He’s number 39 on the line of succession.
  22. Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. The Queen’s first cousin. He’s number 29 on the line of succession.
  23. Princess Alexandra, Lady Ogilvy. The Queen’s first cousin. She’s between 52 and 55 on the line of succession (it’s unclear because we’re not sure about the status of some of her nephews and nieces who may have converted to Catholicism – I should write a blog post about that).
  24. Bernhard, Hereditary Prince of Baden. The Duke’s great nephew. He’ll be on the line of succession, but somewhere down in the 600s.
  25. Prince Donatus, Landgreve of Hesse. A distant cousin of the Duke. As a descendant of Queen Victoria, he’ll be on the line of succession, but who knows where!
  26. Philipp, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. The Duke’s great nephew. He’ll be on the line of succession but somewhere down in the 600s.
  27. The Earl of Snowdon. The Queen’s nephew. He’s number 24 on the line of succession.
  28. Penelope Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma. First cousin by marriage of the Duke. She’s not on the list.
  29. Lady Sarah Chatto. Niece of the Queen. She’s number 26 on the line of succession.
  30. Daniel Chatto. Husband of Lady Sarah Chatto. He’s not on the line of succession.

Some interesting compromises have been made. None of the Duke’s great-grandchildren is in attendance. At 13, Viscount Severn will be the youngest mourner and the Queen will be the eldest (followed, I think, by the Duke of Kent). There’s no room for divorced or separated spouses. And the absence of the Duchess of Sussex (who couldn’t fly due to her pregnancy) freed up a space for someone else.

What interesting things have you noticed in the list?

[Update: I’ve fixed a typo and a factual error in the text – as pointed out in the comments below.]

No Overtaking sign

Different Lines

If you’ve watched the video where I talk about this site, you’ll know that one of the main reasons why I started getting interested in the royal family was that there were so many people asking such bad questions about it over on Quora. Here are some of the examples I use in the talk:

  • Who will succeed the Queen of England? (England hasn’t had a Queen since 1707)
  • Why does Britain always have a queen, not a king? (Genetics, mostly)
  • Who would be king if Prince Charles dies before Queen Elizabeth II? (That’s a trick question, isn’t it? If Prince Charles dies, we would still have the same queen)
  • What must Prince Charles actually feel about his mother pulling him from the line of succession and designating his son as heir to the throne? (Umm… what? Perhaps get your news from a more trustworthy source)
  • Did the Queen assassinate Diana, Princess of Wales? (No)

These all, obviously, stem from people getting their news from increasingly uninformed sources. And would it be discourteous of me to suggest that the width of the Atlantic Ocean seems to be a factor in the amount of fact-checking that some journalists carry out?

But there are also the questions that simply don’t understand how the line of succession. Sometimes, people seem to see the British royal family as something out of Game of Thrones and they forget that a constitutional monarchy is rather different from what you would find in Westeros. The word “constitutional” is there for a very good reason. Questions in this category look like this:

  • Can the Queen skip a generation and hand the crown to Prince William?
  • If Prince Charles and Prince William died, would Prince Harry be next in line?
  • If Prince Charles dies before the Queen, why wouldn’t Prince Andrew be King?

People who ask questions like this don’t understand the most fundamental aspect of the line of succession. The order of the names on the list is fixed. That’s important, so let me repeat it in bold – The order of the names on the list is fixed.

To explain what I mean by that, let’s look at an example. Here is the current top of the list:

  1. Prince Charles
  2. Prince William
  3. Prince George
  4. Princess Charlotte
  5. Prince Louis
  6. Prince Harry
  7. Archie Mountbatten-Windsor
  8. Prince Andrew
  9. Princess Beatrice
  10. Princess Eugenie

The list can be changed in various ways. People are added to the list as they are born. A new baby is inserted after its parent (and after any older siblings) and everyone below that insertion moves down a place. People are removed from the list when they die and everyone below that removal moves up a place. When the sovereign dies, whoever is at the top of the list pops off and becomes the new sovereign (and everyone in the list moves up a place).

There are a few more obscure things that could happen. Someone could convert to Catholicism and be removed from the list. In that case, they are treated (as far as the line of succession is concerned, at least) as though they have died. They are removed from the list and everyone below them moves up a place.

It’s important to note that when someone dies and is removed from the list, it is only that one person who is removed. Any descendants of the deceased remain on the list just moved up a place because of the death above them in the list.

All of this leads to the inviolable rule that I mentioned above. The order of the names on the list is fixed. Once you are on the list, you can never move above or below anyone else on the list. The line of succession is strictly a “no overtaking” lane. With that in mind, we can now answer the three questions above.

  • Can the Queen skip a generation and hand the crown to Prince William? (No, the Queen can’t change the line of succession at all. It is written in law. I suppose she could ask the governments of all sixteen Commonwealth realms to remove Charles from the list – but that seems very unlikely.)
  • If Prince Charles and Prince William died, would Prince Harry be next in line? (No, after Prince William, the next person in line is Prince George. He would become king and a regent would be appointed until he became an adult.)
  • If Prince Charles dies before the Queen, why wouldn’t Prince Andrew be King? (Because Prince Charles currently has two sons and four grandchildren – and all of those people do not get removed from the list if Prince Charles dies.)

I need to make a small confession. The order of the list isn’t quite as fixed as I said. I can think of one instance where two people have swapped places on the list. It’s because of the Succession to the Crown Act (2013). This was the Act of Parliament that did away with male-preference primogeniture for the line of succession. It means that men no longer take precedence over their older sisters. But things were in flux for a while. Let me explain.

Lady Davina Windsor is the eldest daughter of the Duke of Gloucester. In 2004, she married Gary Lewis and they had two children. Their daughter, Senna, was born in 2010 and their son, Tāne, followed in 2012. When Senna was born, she was number 24 on the list but by the time Tāne was born, she had dropped to number 26 and (because the Succession to the Crown Act hadn’t been passed at the time) Tāne went in at number 26 when he was born, pushing Senna down to number 27. The Act was passed in 2013, came into effect on 26 March 2015 but (crucially) affected boys born after 28 October 2011.

So on 25 March 2015, Tāne was at position 28 and Senna was at 29. But on the following day, when the Act came into force, they swapped places and Senna overtook her brother and moved to position 28. Please don’t try to check these facts on the site. I have to confess that, currently, our site isn’t clever enough to accurately represent the pre-Act state of affairs.

But with that one relatively obscure exception, the order of the line of succession is fixed. This means that it becomes easy to play “what if?” and see what would happen if various people on the list met unfortunate and premature ends. Simply write down the existing line of succession in order and cross off the names of any people you want to kill off in your scenario. Any people left over will already be in the correct order for your imaginary line of succession.

Have fun with it. Try removing various people from the list and see what interesting alternatives you come up with. Let us know if you find anything particularly fascinating or tragic.

p.s. I mentioned in passing that if Prince George became king before becoming an adult, then a regent would be appointed. Current rules say that would be the first adult on the line of succession who is resident in the UK. Until very recently, that would have been Prince Harry. I’m not sure how recent events might affect that.

End of the line

End of the Line (Part 2)

We left the line of succession at the start of 1901. Victoria was still on the throne and Prince Moritz of Saxe-Altenburg was at the other end at number 806. Later that year, Victoria dies and her son, Edward VII, takes the throne. But by the time we take up the story again in 1921, Edward has died and his son, George V, is on the throne. George’s son, Edward, is Prince of Wales and his brother, Albert is second in line. Of course, both of the brothers will have a turn on the throne over the coming decades. Edward will briefly reign as Edward VIII before abdicating and handing the throne to Albert, who will reign as George VI.

At the other end of the list, in position 1001, we find that Prince Moritz of Saxe-Altenburg died in 1907 and his place at the end of the list has been taken by another obscure Württemberg cousin – Wilhelm von der Trenck.

By 1941, things have moved on at the top of the lists. George V died in 1936 and the throne passed to his son, Edward VIII, who held it briefly before abdicating and handing it over to his brother, George VI.  At number two on the list, we see the thirteen-year-old Princess Elizabeth, who will later become Elizabeth II. Following her is her sister, Princess Margaret – and then we have the king’s brothers and sister – the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent and Princess Mary, Princess Royal, along with their children.

At the end of the list, Wilhelm now has brother and sisters who follow him in the succession. Bottom of the list, at number 1466, we see his younger sister, Ilsa. It’s worth pointing out that the list has increased in size by almost 50% in only 20 years.

In 1961, Elizabeth II has been on the throne for nine years. She now has three children who are taking up the places at the top of the list and they are followed by her uncles, aunts and cousins. But things haven’t changed at the bottom of the list, where we still find Isla von der Trenck. The list now has 2169 names on it.

By 1981, a new generation is starting to appear at the top of the list – represented by Princess Anne‘s son, Peter Phillips, at number 5. And Princess Margaret now has two children at numbers 7 and 8 so the Queen’s uncles and aunt have all been shunted down a few places.

At the bottom, Isla von der Trenck has married Wolfram Vogel and has started to have children. Her first child was a girl, called Karin, but as her siblings are both boys, and the line of succession still gives preference to the male line, Karin Vogel is last in the list at position 3326.

The 2001 list was the last one to be published by William Addams Reitwiesner. The Queen now has six grandchildren on the list and descendants of George VI now take up the first 16 places. At the other end, Karin Vogel still has no younger sisters (and seems unlikely to gain any as her mother is now seventy) and hasn’t had any children of her own, so she is still last in line – at number 4973.

The Reitwiesner site has one further list which was compiled by David Lewis and claims to be up to date to 1st January 2011 (but I’ve just noticed it omits Princess Margaret who died in 2002 – so I don’t know how much I trust it). The top of the list shows that the Queen has two more grandchildren (the children of the Earl and Countess of Wessex) and her first great-grandchild (Savannah Phillips – daughter of Peter Phillips).

The end of the list seems completely unchanged since the 2001 version, so I’m not sure that it’s at all accurate. It still shows Karin Vogel as the last person on the list (at number 5753). Any children she had would go after her, but David Lewis seems to believe that she hasn’t had any. I have found a Wall Street Journal article about Vogel that was published in April 2011. The piece includes a video which has a brief interview with her. I guess that if she did have children, the WSJ journalist would have mentioned it.

To close, I thought it would be interesting to plot a graph of how the number of people in the line of succession increases over time – from 10 in 1701 to almost 5,000 in 2001.

End of the line

End of the Line

When the Act of Settlement came into force in 1701, the line of succession was very short. William III was on the throne (ruling alone following the death of Mary II in 1694) and his successor was Mary’s sister Anne. Following Anne, the Act of Settlement named Sophia of Hanover as next in line, with her descendants following her. The complete line of succession looked like this:

  1. Princess Anne
  2. Sophia of Hanover
  3. Prince George (son of Sophia – later to become George I)
  4. Prince George (son George I – later to become George II)
  5. Sophia Dorothea of Hanover (daughter of George I)
  6. Maximillian (son of Sophia)
  7. Christian (son of Sophia)
  8. Ernest August (son of Sophia)
  9. Sophia, Duchess of Prussia (daughter of Sophia of Hanover)
  10. Frederick (son of Sophia, Duchess of Prussia)

I hope that’s clear, despite the family’s habit of reusing names.

So, at that time, the 13-year-old Prince Frederick was the last person in the line of succession.

Of course, over the next three hundred years, the number of people in the line of succession has grown massively. Currently, it seems that there are something around 6,000 people on the list (that’s all legitimate, non-Catholic descendants of Sophia of Hanover). Thanks to the work of American genealogist, William Addams Reitwiesner we have complete snapshots of the line of succession every twenty years from 1701 until 2001 (and following Reitwiesner’s death another list was added in 2011 by David Lewis). It might be interesting to look at those lists and see how large the line becomes over time.

By 1721, the list has expanded to fifteen people, but Frederick is still last on the list. He has married his cousin, Sophia Dorethea and (because she is higher up the list than him) their six children all follow her on the list rather than him. At the top of the list, Both Princess Anne and Sophia of Hanover have both died (Sophia died first by a matter of weeks, which is why Britain never had a Queen Sophia) and Sophia’s eldest son is now George I.

The list has more than doubled in size to 31 people by 1741. George I has died, George II is king and his eldest son, Frederick, is top of the list and Prince of Wales. Unfortunately, Frederick will die before his father and it’s his eldest son who will later be the next monarch as George III. At the bottom of the list, we still have the descendants of Sophia Dorethea and Frederick. They have ten children and nine grandchildren – and the last person on the list is their seventeen-year-old granddaughter, Anna Amalia.

In 1761, George III has become king and his heir is his eldest brother, Edward. His eventual successor, his son George IV, won’t be born until the following year. Anna Amalia is still the last person on the list. As the youngest female descendant of Sophia Dorethea and Frederick, she can only be displaced from that position by her children – and, as she has become an abbess, that seems unlikely.

In 1781, George III is still on the throne and his eldest son, who will become George IV, is first in the line of succession. Third in line, you can see Prince William who will become William IV and fourth in line is Prince Edward who will become the father of Queen Victoria.  The line now contains 105 people and Anna Amalia is still hanging on in last place.

By 1801, not much has changed at the top of the list. George III is still king and the only real change is that Prince George (the future George IV) has a daughter called Charlotte who has pushed everyone else down a place. She will die in 1817, long before her father – which is why we’ve never had a Queen Charlotte. At the bottom of the list, we see that Anna Amalia died in 1787 and her place has been taken by Sophia Albertina, the youngest daughter of Anna Amalia’s older sister, Louisa Ulrika. Sophia Albertina is also an abbess. At this point, there are 141 names on the list.

In 1821, we see a few changes at the top of the list. George IV is now king but as his only daughter, Charlotte has died, his heirs are his younger brothers Frederick (who will die before George) and William (who will become William IV) and William’s daughter, Elizabeth. The next brother, Edward, has died, but his daughter, Victoria, is at number four on the list. At the end of the list, Sophia Albertina has no children, so she’s still at the end – at number 192.

By 1841, Victoria is on the throne. As she has only just married and has no children, her heir is her uncle, Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover. The last few kings of Britain had also been kings of Hanover but, as a woman, Victoria had not been allowed to inherit that throne. At the bottom of the list, Sophia Albertina has died, and her place at the end of the line has been taken by Augustus who is now the least significant descendant of Sophia Dorethea and Frederick. He is 270th in the list.

Over the next twenty years, to 1861, Victoria has nine children and the eldest of them, also called Victoria, has given her two grandchildren. So the first eleven places on the list are taken up by the queen’s descendants. The first person on the list is Prince Albert who will later reign as Edward VII. Augustus died in 1853, so his place at the end of the list (at number 391) has been taken by his cousin, Anna Pavlovna, who was Dowager Queen of the Netherlands. Anna did have children, but they were all entitled to a higher place in the line of succession through their father, William II of the Netherlands.

Victoria is still queen in 1881. Most of her children have given her grandchildren and her descendants now take up the first 33 places on the list. First on the list is still Prince Albert (Edward VII), second is Albert’s son, Prince Albert Victor (who will predecease his father) and third is Albert’s second son, Prince George, who will become George V. Anna Pavlovna died in 1865 and her place at the end of the list has been taken by her cousin, Peter of Oldenburg. There are 571 people on the list.

Victoria will die in 1901, but at the start of the year (when the lists are compiled) she is still queen. There are now 74 of her descendants taking up the first places on the list. In fact, the first four places are taken up by future kings – Prince Albert (Edward VII), his son Prince George (George V) and George’s two eldest sons, Prince Edward (Edward VIII) and Prince Albert (George VI). Peter of Oldenburg died in 1881 (just months after the previous list was compiled) and his place has been taken by his cousin, Prince Moritz of Saxe-Altenburg. As we’ve seen a couple of times before, Moritz had children but as he was married to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Meiningen who was also on the list, but higher up (at 490 at this point in time), the children followed her in the list rather than him.

As the nineteenth century gives way to the twentieth, and Victoria’s reign draws to a close, this seems like a good time to end this article. Next time we’ll bring the story up to date by discussing the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.

The Duchess of Cornwall

The Queen Consort

There has been a lot of nonsense talked about the title that the Duchess of Cornwall will use when the Prince of Wales becomes king. I think it’s worth trying to understand the situation a bit better.

Part of the problem here is that we’re towards the end of the longest reign in British history. A large proportion of British people have never known any other monarch and some things that would have been obvious to previous generations (because they saw many changes of the monarch) seem to have been forgotten.

Let’s start by reviewing the different types of queens that we see in the UK. There are three:

  1. Queen regnant. This is a woman who is the current monarch. She is the monarch because of a close familial relationship with the former monarch. Elizabeth II is a queen regnant, as was Victoria – but there have been surprisingly few of them throughout history (because of the male-preference primogeniture that drove our line of succession until very recently). The correct title to use to refer to the queen regnant is Her Majesty, The Queen.
  2. Queen consort. This is a woman who is married to the king. She is not necessarily royal by birth, but she has married into the royal family. The current queen’s mother was a queen consort, as was Queen Mary (the wife of George V) before her. Most British kings have had a queen consort. Possibly slightly confusingly, the correct title to use to refer to the queen consort is exactly the same one that you would use to refer to the queen regnant – Her Majesty, The Queen.
  3. Dowager queen. This is a woman who was a queen consort, but whose husband has now died. Following the death of George VI in 1952, his wife, Queen Elizabeth, became a dowager queen. In fact, at that point, there were two dowager queens alive in Britain, as George V’s widow, Queen Mary, didn’t die until March 1953. The correct title to use to refer to a dowager queen is Queen [Firstname], so in February 1952 George VI’s widow, Elizabeth, became known as Queen Elizabeth. To avoid confusion with her daughter, who had just become queen regnant, the term “The Queen Mother” was often used as well.

Queens regnant are the only kind of queen who are given a regnal number. So our current queen is Elizabeth II. There has been one previous queen regnant using that name (Elizabeth I, 1533-1603) and three queens consort – Elizabeth Woodville (wife of Edward IV), Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (wife of George VI).

So, given all that, why all the confusion over the future title of the Duchess of Cornwall? It all comes down to this announcement which was published on the Prince of Wales’ web site on the announcement of his engagement in 2005.

Mrs Parker Bowles will use the title HRH The Duchess of Cornwall after marriage. It is intended that Mrs Parker Bowles should use the title HRH The Princess Consort when The Prince of Wales accedes to The Throne.

There are a couple of things going on here. Firstly, it tells us that Camilla will use the title “Duchess of Cornwall” after the marriage. And that’s what we see in day to day usage today. Obviously, she is entitled to the female versions of all of Charles’ titles. And a wife would generally be expected to use the female version of her husband’s most senior title. But Camilla is avoiding using the title “Princess of Wales”. We can only assume that this is because of the strong connection that the public still feels between that title and its previous owner.

And, secondly, there’s this new title “Princess Consort” which they suggest Mrs Parker Bowles will use once Charles becomes king. This is presumably to mollify the more traditionalist parts of the British Establishment who got very excitable when they heard that a divorcee and adulterer was likely to marry the first in line to the throne.

But this is all just titles. Camilla is the Princess of Wales even though she doesn’t use the title. And when her husband becomes king, she will be queen consort. That’s what the wives of kings are. No matter what title the couple ask us to use for her, there is no escaping the fact that she will be queen consort.

And then, early in 2018, that statement vanished from the Clarence House web site. The royal-watching industry went into meltdown as columnists all presented this as evidence that Charles was going back on his word and that he now, secretly, wanted to install his mistress as queen. Now I’ve been involved in more than my fair share of web site reorganisations and stuff always goes missing, so I really don’t want to leap to conclusions about this. It’s possible that they just removed all the older press releases from the site. It seems unlikely to me that they’d expect to just sweep it under the carpet and the whole of the British public would just forget about the old announcement.

So here’s what we know.

  • When Prince Charles becomes king, Camilla will be queen consort
  • As queen consort, she would usually be styled as Her Majesty The Queen
  • In 2005, Clarence House said that she would be styled as Her Royal Highness The Princess Consort
  • That announcement is no longer available on the Prince of Wales’ web site

That’s it. That’s all the facts. Anything other than that is pure supposition.

But if you wanted me to make predictions, here’s what I’d say. I think that the 2005 announcement was a political move, made to appease the establishment. Over the last fourteen years, significant moves have been made to change those people’s opinions of Camilla and she now seems to be a lot more popular than she was back then. Those efforts will continue and it would not surprise me in the slightest if the “Princess Consort” idea was quietly dropped when the time comes for Charles’ coronation.


Britain’s Royal Families

People often seem to over emphasise the differences between the various royal families that have reigned in Britain. Saying that Elizabeth I was the last Tudor monarch and James I/VI was the first of the Stuarts can make people believe that they were completely unrelated, when, actually, James was only Elizabeth’s first cousin twice removed. This is even more obvious when we say that Victoria was the last of the Hanoverians and Edward VII was the first of the Saxe-Coburgs. Edward was Victoria’s son and the name of the royal house only changed because Edward used his father’s name.

There is only one British royal family. The current queen can trace her ancestors back well over a thousand years. With this in mind, in this article we’ll trace the history of the royal family back to the Norman Conquest and explain how each monarch is related to their successor.

We’ll start with William I. As his epithet implies, he conquered Britain in 1066. He wasn’t related to the previous Anglo-Saxon royal family. But I should mention that his son, Henry married a descendant of Alfred the Great, so the family does link to the previous rulers of the island.

House of Normandy

So we start the House of Normandy with William I. He was succeeded by his son, William II who was, in turn, succeeded by his brother Henry I. Henry was briefly succeeded by his daughter Matilda (and that’s a fascinating story that we should probably cover in more detail in the future). When Matilda was unable to hold on to power, she was succeeded by her cousin, Stephen. But when Stephen died, the throne went to Matilda’s son, Henry II, bringing in the House of Plantagenet.

House of Plantagenet

The succession was very smooth for most the long period of Plantagenet rule. Henry II was followed by his son, Richard I, who was then followed by his brother, John. John was succeeded by his son, Henry III, and then Henry’s son Edward I. Edwards I, II and III all followed and all were the son of the previous king. Then there’s a minor blip when Edward III was succeeded by his grandson, Richard II. Richard’s father was Edward, the Black Prince who died before his father, Edward III.

Richard II was followed by his cousin, Henry IV who was succeeded by his son, Henry V, and his grandson Henry VI. And then things are a little confused for a while as we get to the Wars of the Roses. This diagram might help.

Some descendants of John of Gaunt
The most important descendants of John of Gaunt

John of Gaunt was  a son of Edward III. Following the death of Richard II, in 1399, John’s son Henry was next in line and the succession followed that (obvious) route for three generations until Henry VI was on the throne. But in 1455 a civil war broke out and Henry’s second cousin, Edward IV seized the throne in 1461. Henry seized it back in 1470, but this reign was short-lived and Edward regained the throne the following year. When Edward IV died in 1483, he was succeeded briefly by his son, Edward V and then by his brother, Richard III. Richard’s reign was short and he was defeated in battle by another second cousin who installed himself as Henry VII – the first of the Tudor monarchs.

House of Tudor

Henry VII was the first monarch of the house of Tudor and was succeeded by his son, Henry VIII. Henry VIII was followed by his son, Edward VI, but from then on, the Tudor succession gets a little more complicated. Edward VI wrote a will naming Jane Grey, his first cousin once removed, as his successor but on Edward’s death Jane found it impossible to hold on to the throne and she reigned for only nine days. She was succeeded by Edward’s half-sister, Mary I, who was, in turn, succeeded by another half-sister, Elizabeth I. At that point, the Tudor succession dries up and we need to look elsewhere in the family tree.

House of Stuart

When a monarch dies without children, we look to their siblings for the next monarch. And once there are no more siblings, we need to search back through previous generations to find the nearest relative. When Elizabeth I died, she was the last legitimate descendant of Henry VIII. We therefore need to look at descendants of Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII. Henry VII had a daughter, Margaret, who had married the Scottish king, James IV. They had a son, James V, who had a daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, who had a son who was on the Scottish throne as James VI. After Elizabeth’s death, James was her nearest living relative (her cousin twice removed) and became the English king as James I.

The succession was easy for the Stuarts for a while. James I/VI was followed by his son, Charles I, who was followed by his son Charles II (I’m omitting, of course, the small matter of the Civil War and the temporary removal of the monarchy). Charles II was followed by his brother, James II/VII.

Then things get a bit strange again. James II/VII was deposed in the Glorious Revolution and was replaced by his daughter, Mary II, and her husband, William III. On Mary’s death, William reigned alone until he died and was succeeded by Mary’s sister Anne.

But none of Anne’s children lived very long and it became clear that this branch of the Stuart succession had dried up. Once again the search had to go back a couple of generations. This time, the search was complicated by the fact the Catholics had been banned from the British throne and most of the descendants of James I/VI were Catholics. The first protestant on the list was Electress Sophia of Hanover and (as she died a few weeks before Anne) her son became George I. He was Anne’s second cousin.

House of Hanover

We’re past all the complexities now. It’s plain sailing from here. George I was followed by his son, George II. George II was succeeded by his grandson, George III (as George III’s father, Price Frederick had died). George III was followed by his son, George IV and George IV was succeeded by his brother, William IV. William IV was followed by his niece, Victoria

House of Saxe-Coburg / House of Windsor

And we’re into the twentieth century. You can probably all fill in the details from here.

Victoria was followed by her son, Edward VII. He was followed by his son, George V. He was followed by his son, Edward VIII, who was then followed by his brother, George VI. And he was followed by his daughter, Elizabeth II.

And as I write this, it seems likely that Elizabeth II will be succeeded by her son, Prince Charles, her grandson, Prince William, and her great-grandson, Prince George.


So there you have it. Almost a thousand years of British royal history. And they are all related to each other. Our current queen can trace a direct ancestry back to William the Conqueror.

Britain doesn’t have a number of different royal families. It has one royal family – which just goes by different names.

Princes Charles, George and William

Their Royal Highnesses

Let’s try to understand why certain members of the royal family are known as His (or Her) Royal Highness and others aren’t. Are there rules that determine this? What are those rules?

Well, of course there are rules. There are good statistical reasons to believe that anyone with British ancestry is related to a British monarch if you go back far enough. So we need to limit the spread of “royal-ness” so that only the people nearest the throne are allowed to use royal titles. And, for the purposes of this article, for “royal titles” we mean the right to call yourself His (or Her) Royal Highness – which almost always means you’re also a prince or princess.

The rules are actually pretty simple. There are three of them. You are an HRH if you fulfill one of the following criteria:

  1. You are a child of a monarch.
  2. You are a child of a son of a monarch.
  3. You are a child of the eldest living son of the Prince of Wales.

The first two rules were laid down by George V in Letters Patent in 1917. The last one was amended by Elizabeth II in 2012 – previously only the eldest living son of the eldest living son of the Prince of Wales would have qualified.

Notice that the rules are rather sexist – men do better out of the rules than women do. Also, note that the rules say “a monarch” and not “the monarch”. That’s important as it explains why people like the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester are both HRH (they are both sons of sons of George V).

You can also gain the title HRH by being a woman who marries someone with the title. It doesn’t, typically, work that way for men marrying women with the title. One important exception is Prince Philip who was made HRH the day before he married Princess Elizabeth. And in 1996, Elizabeth II added a rule saying that a woman who divorced an HRH would lose her right to the title.

So let’s look at who currently has the title. We’ll start with the current Queen and her descendants.

  • Elizabeth II is not HRH (because she’s HM – Her Majesty – which is better)
  • Prince Philip was made an HRH as he married Elizabeth
  • The Queen’s four children are all HRH
  • Prince Charles’ two sons are both children of the son of a sovereign – so they are HRH
  • Prince William’s children are all children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales – so they all qualify
  • Prince Harry’s future children, however, will not qualify under the current rules (but they will qualify once Prince Charles becomes king)
  • Princess Anne’s children suffer from the sexism in the rules and do not qualify – neither, therefore, do their children
  • Prince Andrew’s two daughters are children of a son of a monarch and, therefore, qualify. Any children they have will not.
  • Prince Edward’s children do qualify. But he has asked for them not to use their royal titles. So they use the titles of children of an Earl.

Moving back a generation, we get to Princess Margaret and her children. Princess Margaret was the child of a monarch (George VI) so she was HRH. Her children do not qualify (in the same way that Princess Anne’s children didn’t).

Edward VIII had no children, so he need not concern us, and we can move back to the other descendants of George V. George V had six children. They are all dead, but some of his grandchildren are still alive. And the ones who are children of George’s sons are entitled to be HRHs. Those are:

  • Prince Richard, The Duke of Gloucester
  • Prince Edward, The Duke of Kent
  • Prince Michael of Kent
  • Princess Alexandra

The descendants of George’s daughter, Princess Mary, are excluded for the same reasons as the children of Princess Anne and Princess Margaret – the sexism built into the rules.

It’s worth noting that the children of the Gloucesters and Kents are all great-grandchildren of a monarch and, as such, none of them are HRHs. As an aside, this means that the next time the dukedoms of Gloucester and Kent are inherited, they will cease to be royal dukedoms.

You can see from this, I hope, that having or not having the right to be called HRH is not a good indicator of how high up the line of succession a person is. The first person in the line who isn’t an HRH is James, Viscount Severn at number 11. The lowest person on the list who is an HRH is Princess Alexandra at number 49. 35 of the people in the top 50 of the line are not HRHs.

Electress Sophia of Hanover

The Act of Settlement

As I write, this site contains data going back to the start of the nineteenth century but our aim is to get back another hundred years – to 1701 when the Act of Settlement was passed.

Why choose that year? Well, it’s the last time in British history that there was a major change in the way the line of succession worked. In this article I’ll explain what happened (and why). But before we need to set the scene by going back in time another 170 years to 1534 when Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church and created the Church of England.

Protestants vs Catholics

Everyone, surely, knows the story of how the Pope refused to give Henry VIII a divorce (strictly speaking, an annulment) from Catherine of Aragon, so he split from Rome, divorced Catherine and married Anne Boleyn. This didn’t really work out all that well for Henry but it was worse for the country. Over the following 150 years we pretty much alternated between Protestant and Catholic monarchs and when one faith controlled the throne it usually went pretty badly for followers of the other faith.

This all came to a head in 1688 when parliament decided that they really weren’t happy with the current king – James II (James VII in Scotland) who was a Catholic. James was removed from power and ran away to the continent. He was replaced on the throne by his daughter, Mary, and her husband (who was also her cousin) William of Orange.

The Bill of Rights

In 1689, parliament passed the Bill of Rights. The main reason for the bill was to establish parliament’s right to determine who was Britain’s monarch, but it also contained a few bits of housekeeping about how the line of succession would work in the future. For our story, the most important provisions of the bill were:

  • Catholics were barred from the throne.
  • The line of succession was limited to a) descendants of William and Mary, b) descendants of William and any future wife, c) Mary’s sister Anne and d) Anne’s descendants.

And, yes, that sister is the Queen Anne who current Oscar favourite, The Favourite, is about.

A Lack of Heirs

Only a few years later, it became apparent that the line of succession didn’t have enough heirs. Mary had died, childless, in 1694 and William had shown no interest in marrying again. Anne had given birth to many children, but none of them had lived past childhood. In July 1700 her son, Prince William, died just after his eleventh birthday. Anne was now 35 and seemed unlikely to have more children.

It was clear that something needed to be done. Parliament set out to find more heirs. They started by looking at other descendants of James II/VII. He had plenty of descendants, but the problem was that most of them were Catholic. Eventually, they had to go back three more generations and look for descendants of James I/VI. Again, a lot of the options were Catholic and it’s estimated that over fifty Catholics were skipped over before they found a Protestant heir in Sophia of Hanover.

Sophia was the twelfth child of Elizabeth Stuart, the oldest daughter of James I/VI. But she was his senior surviving Protestant heir (her mother had died in 1662). She had been born in The Hague in 1630 and in 1658 she married Ernest Augustus of Brunswick-Lüneburg and in 1692 he had become Elector of Hanover. Her first son, George, was born in 1660.

The Act of Settlement

Having found their heir, parliament passed the Act of Settlement which “settled” the crown on Sophia and her descendants. At the time the Act was passed, William III was still on the throne and the line of succession looked like this:

  • Princess Anne
  • Electress Sophia
    • Prince George
    • Prince Maximilian
    • Prince Christian
    • Prince Ernest
    • Princess Sophia
      • Prince Frederick

The Act also reiterated the removal of all Catholics from the line of succession. Over 200 years later, this is still the most important law controlling the British line of succession.

The House of Hanover

It took a few years for the Act of Succession to have any real effect. William died in 1702 and was succeeded by Anne (as he would have been under the Bill of Rights). In 1707, the Acts of Union were passed making England and Scotland a single country called Great Britain, so Queen Anne was the last monarch of England and the first monarch of Great Britain.

Anne died in August 1714. Sophia had died seven weeks earlier, so it was her son, George, who became the first monarch of the House of Hanover, as George I. In 1727, he died and was succeeded by his eldest son as George II. And over the following three hundred years the British crown has passed peacefully from parent to child (or, occasionally, parent to grandchild or sibling to sibling).

In 1701, the line of succession contained ten names. It’s estimated that currently there are around 7,000 names on the list.

Line of Descendants

Line of Descendants

The birth of the new Prince of Cambridge today means that the first eighteen slots in the Line of Succession are now taken up by descendants of the Queen. That number will increase to nineteen when Zara Tindall’s baby is born later this year and I expect that either Prince Harry and Meghan Markle or Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank will round that out to twenty before too long. That’s an increase from just two (Prince Charles and Princess Anne) when the Queen first came to the throne.

Eighteen descendants seem like quite a dynasty, but here at Succession Towers, we started to wonder what was the highest number of descendants in the line of succession at any time was, so we fired up the supercomputer and did a few calculations. We haven’t checked every possible answer, but we’re confident that we have a strong contender for the record.

When Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, she had no descendants in the line of succession (that shouldn’t be a surprise – she was, after all, only just eighteen and still unmarried). But by the time she died in 1901, she had an astonishing seventy-four descendants in the line of succession. Of course, family life was rather different back then. Victoria had nine children (compared to the current Queen’s four) and most of them had a large number of offspring.

Here’s the list. Notice that three of Victoria’s children (Princess Alice, Prince Alfred, and Prince Leopold) died before her. They are marked with an X in the following list. You’ll also find a few interesting people in the list, including the next four British kings.

  1. Prince Albert, The Prince of Wales (King Edward VII)
    Age 59 (born 9 November 1841),

    1. Prince George, The Duke of York (King George V)
      Age 35 (born 3 June 1865),

      1. Prince Edward of York (King Edward VIII)
        Age 6 (born 23 June 1894),
        Great grandson
      2. Prince Albert of York (King George VI)
        Age 5 (born 14 December 1895),
        Great grandson
      3. Prince Henry of York (The Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester)
        Age 0 (born 31 March 1900),
        Great grandson
      4. Princess Mary of York (The Princess Mary, Princess Royal)
        Age 3
        Great granddaughter
    2. Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife (Louise, Princess Royal)
      Age 33 (born 20 February 1867),

      1. Lady Alexandra Duff (Princess Arthur of Connaught, Duchess of Fife)
        Age 9 (born 17 May 1891),
        Great granddaughter
      2. Lady Maud Duff (Princess Maud, Countess of Southesk)
        Age 7 (born 3 April 1893),
        Great granddaughter
    3. Princess Victoria
      Age 32 (born 6 July 1868),
    4. Princess Charles of Denmark (Maud, Queen of Norway)
      Age 31 (born 26 November 1869),
  2. Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
    (born 6 August 1844, died 30 July 1900),

    1. Marie of Romania
      Age 25 (born 29 October 1875),

      1. Carol II of Romania
        Age 7 (born 15 October 1893),
        Great grandson
      2. Elisabeth of Romania
        Age 6 (born 12 October 1894),
        Great granddaughter
      3. Maria of Yugoslavia
        Age 1 (born 6 January 1900),
        Great granddaughter
    2. Princess Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
      Age 24 (born 25 November 1876),
    3. Princess Alexandra of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
      Age 22 (born 1 September 1878),

      1. Prince Gottfried, 8th Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg
        Age 3 (born 24 May 1897),
        Great grandson
      2. Princess Marie Melita of Hohenlohe-Langenburg
        Age 2 (born 18 January 1899),
        Great granddaughter
    4. Princess Beatrice of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
      Age 16 (born 20 April 1884),
  3. Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn
    Age 50 (born 1 May 1850),

    1. Prince Arthur of Connaught
      Age 18 (born 13 January 1883),
    2. Princess Margaret of Connaught
      Age 19 (born 15 January 1882),
    3. Princess Patricia of Connaught
      Age 14 (born 17 March 1886),
  4. Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany
    Age 24 (born 7 April 1853, died 28 March 1884),

    1. Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
      Age 16 (born 19 July 1884),
    2. Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone
      Age 17 (born 25 February 1883),
  5. Victoria, Princess Royal
    Age 60 (born 21 November 1840),

    1. Kaiser Wilhelm II
      Age 41 (born 27 January 1859),

      1. Crown Prince Wilhelm
        Age 18 (born 6 May 1882),
        Great grandson
      2. Prince Eitel Friedrich of Prussia
        Age 17 (born 7 July 1883),
        Great grandson
      3. Prince Adalbert of Prussia
        Age 16 (born 14 July 1884),
        Great grandson
      4. Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia
        Age 13 (born 29 January 1887),
        Great grandson
      5. Prince Oskar of Prussia
        Age 12 (born 27 July 1888),
        Great grandson
      6. Prince Joachim of Prussia
        Age 10 (born 17 December 1890),
        Great grandson
      7. Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia
        Age 8 (born 13 September 1892),
        Great granddaughter
    2. Prince Henry of Prussia
      Age 38 (born 14 August 1862),

      1. Prince Waldemar of Prussia
        Age 11 (born 20 March 1889),
        Great grandson
      2. Prince Sigismund of Prussia
        Age 4 (born 27 November 1896),
        Great grandson
      3. Prince Henry of Prussia
        Age 1 (born 9 January 1900),
        Great grandson
    3. Princess Charlotte of Prussia
      Age 40 (born 24 July 1860),

      1. Princess Feodora of Saxe-Meiningen
        Age 21 (born 12 May 1879),
        Great granddaughter
    4. Princess Viktoria of Prussia
      Age 34 (born 12 April 1866),
    5. Sophia of Prussia
      Age 30 (born 14 June 1870),

      1. George II of Greece
        Age 10 (born 19 July 1890),
        Great grandson
      2. Alexander of Greece
        Age 7 (born 1 August 1893),
        Great grandson
      3. Helen of Greece and Denmark
        Age 4 (born 2 May 1896),
        Great granddaughter
    6. Princess Margaret of Prussia
      Age 28 (born 22 April 1872),

      1. Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel
        Age 7 (born 24 November 1893),
        Great grandson
      2. Prince Maximilian of Hesse-Kassel
        Age 6 (born 20 October 1894),
        Great grandson
      3. Prince Philipp of Hesse-Kassel
        Age 4 (born 6 November 1896),
        Great grandson
      4. Prince Wolfgang of Hesse-Kassel
        Age 4 (born 6 November 1896),
        Great grandson
  6. Princess Alice of the United Kingdom
    (born 25 April 1843, died 14 December 1878),

    1. Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse
      Age 32 (born 25 November 1868),

      1. Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine
        Age 5 (born 11 March 1895),
        Great granddaughter
    2. Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine
      Age 37 (born 5 April 1863),

      1. George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven
        Age 8 (born 6 December 1892),
        Great grandson
      2. Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma
        Age 0 (born 25 June 1900),
        Great grandson
      3. Princess Alice of Battenberg
        Age 15 (born 25 February 1885),
        Great granddaughter
      4. Louise Mountbatten
        Age 11 (born 13 July 1889),
        Great granddaughter
    3. Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine
      Age 36 (born 1 November 1864),
    4. Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine
      Age 34 (born 11 July 1866),
    5. Alexandra Feodorovna
      Age 28 (born 6 June 1872),

      1. Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna of Russia
        Age 5 (born 15 November 1895),
        Great granddaughter
      2. Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia
        Age 3 (born 10 June 1897),
        Great granddaughter
      3. Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia
        Age 1 (born 26 June 1899),
        Great granddaughter
  7. Princess Helena of the United Kingdom
    Age 54 (born 25 May 1846),

    1. Albert, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein
      Age 31 (born 26 February 1869),
    2. Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein
      Age 30 (born 3 May 1870),
    3. Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein
      Age 28 (born 12 August 1872),
  8. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll
    Age 52 (born 18 March 1848),
  9. Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom
    Age 43 (born 14 April 1857),

    1. Alexander Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Carisbrooke
      Age 14 (born 23 November 1886),
    2. Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg
      Age 13 (born 24 October 1887),
    3. Lord Leopold Mountbatten
      Age 11 (born 21 May 1889),
    4. Prince Maurice of Battenberg
      Age 9 (born 3 October 1891),