How do British royals get their titles?

Factors such as their position in line to the throne, who they are married to and who their parents are play a role

Ellie Abraham
Friday 25 June 2021 13:41

In the institution of the British royal family, members have multiple official titles by which they are known.

These titles differ from their given names and are the formal titles used to address the individual, depending on where they are in the UK.

The peerages can be hereditary or bestowed by the Queen.

By law, grandchildren born of sons of the reigning monarch are automatically given a title of prince and princess, but beyond that a title is granted by courtesy – often there are customs upheld in doing so.

In their interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex claimed their son Archie was denied the title of prince, despite Prince William’s children being granted the titles.

Instead, it has been reported that Archie was entitled to use his father Prince Harry’s subsidiary title of Earl of Dumbarton. The couple reportedly turned it down as it contained the word “dumb”.

But, how do the royals get their titles?

Born into the royal family

When a person is born into a senior position in the royal family, they are automatically given a title.

When Princess Elizabeth ascended to the throne after her father King George V died, she automatically became Queen, having been born the heir presumptive.

As the Queen’s first child and eldest son, Charles was automatically given the title of prince at birth.

Prince Charles is also known by many other titles including, The Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Chester, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Lord of the Isles, Baron of Renfrew and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.

The Duke of Cornwall is also a title traditionally held by the eldest son of the reigning British monarch.

Grandchildren coming from sons of the reigning monarchs are also automatically given the title of prince or princess, thanks to a rule issued in 1917 by King George V.

Beyond grandchildren, titles are not automatically given by rule unless bestowed by the Queen.

Her Majesty reportedly intervened when Prince William’s children George, Charlotte and Louis were born, to give them the titles of princes and princess.

Prince Harry’s children Archie and Lilibet were not given royal titles.

Prince Edward and his wife Sophie Wessex decided against giving their children prince and princess titles, instead opting for Lady Louise and Viscount Severn.

Their children will be able to choose whether to take the more senior titles when they turn 18.

Married into the royal family

The Queen can also bestow titles to those who marry into the royal family, as well as to existing members of the royal family.

The title of duke is more senior than that of prince and the Queen gave her grandsons those additional titles when they married, making their wives duchesses.

On their wedding day in 2011, both Prince William, who was born with that title, and his new wife Kate Middleton were given the titles the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge by the Queen.

Prince William was also given the peerage titles of the Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus, for Scotland and Ireland respectively.

Similarly, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle were given the titles Duke and Duchess of Sussex when they married in 2018. Prince Harry was also given the title of the Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel.

Who decides where a royal becomes the sovereign ruler of?

The Queen has the decision of the location that is included in a royal title – whichever location she chooses, the person then becomes the sovereign ruler of that land.

For example, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex is the sovereign ruler of the county of Sussex.

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