Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Royal Weddings and Curious Titles (William & Kate Wedding)

William and Kate

 It has been two weeks now since Prince William and Kate Middleton married at Westminster Abbey, yet questions continued to be raised regarding various aspects of the royal wedding and, in particular, the status of the couple in the royal hierarchy. I, therefore, hope to answer some of these persistent questions so all of us become better informed.

Why is Prince William now called the Duke of Cambridge?
Hours before the marriage ceremony, the queen endowed upon her grandson the titles of Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus. Since Duke of Cambridge is the most preeminent of those titles, it is the one he thereby takes as his own.

Isn't a duke inferior to a prince?
William, Duke of Cambridge

 In this context, no. There has always been confusion regarding the title "prince". Technically speaking, any child of a monarch could be called a prince or princess. It is a default title denoting a recent descent from royalty. As the eldest son of the son of the reigning queen of England, William is, quite logically, a prince. However, his title doesn't really mean anything. It is a courtesy given to someone who has no other inherent titles. In contrast, his new title Duke of Cambridge is an official title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom and as such grants him certain rights and privileges. Historically, it would grant him lands, a seat in the House of Lords, and the right to attend the royal court. Now it is mostly a titular title with little power, but it is still superior to the simple title "prince". It should be noted, though, that he doesn't lose the the title "prince," it just isn't as important as "Duke of Cambridge".

As a quick aside, royal dukes hold a special place in British history. Most sons of the monarch become a duke. Charles is technically Duke of Cornwall, a title that the eldest male gets upon birth, and Andrew is the Duke of York. Edward, oddly, is styled the Earl of Wessex, but that title holds an historic legacy in Britain and is the highest earldom available to bestow in Britain. Duchies provide income from a small tax to their landowners even today.

But Charles is a prince, right?
Charles, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, et al.

 Prince Charles is indeed a prince, but he is a different type of prince than the courtesy title bestowed on all children of royals. Charles is the "Prince of Wales", which is an actual title. It is granted at some point to the eldest child to denote that they are next in line to the throne. Historically, the title presumed ownership of the Principality of Wales, an occupied country west of England. But during the reign of Henry VIII, Wales was permanently appended to England and the title became nothing more than that. It holds no official place in the British peerage, although the bearer of the title also is usually the Duke of Cornwall and thus the head of the peerage. Wales used to give a tax to the Prince but it no longer does since it technically doesn't exist separate from England. In any case, Charles is the Prince of Wales, technically a sovereign of a foreign land, which is very different than a royal prince.

Why is Charles' wife called Duchess of Cornwall, then? Shouldn't she be Princess of Wales?
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall

Camilla is, in fact, the Princess of Wales. But out of respect for her step-children, William and Harry, and the memory of Charles' much-loved first wife, Diana, she chose (or Charles chose for her) to use a different title. The next highest title in Charles' collection is Duke of Cornwall, the place where he makes the majority of his income, so Camilla is the Duchess of Cornwall. If Charles and Camilla were to have any children, they would still be in the line of succession behind William and Harry.

So why isn't Kate a princess?
She is! Kate Middleton became a princess as soon as she was married to Prince William. Haven't you ever seen a Disney movie? There are two ways to become a prince or a princess: you can be born one or you can marry one. When Kate married William, she became Princess Catherine.

But why does everyone call her the Duchess of Cambridge?
Because that is a stronger title than princess. Just as Prince William has taken the title Duke of Cambridge, Kate has become the Duchess of Cambridge. Even for married peers, a royal duchess is better than a royal princess because it comes with benefits.

But why Cambridge?

Why not? Cambridge is a respectable town in England famous for its university. As a duchy, it was last held by the grandson of George III through his seventh son, Adolphus. The title went extinct in 1904. It had previously been granted to George Louis, who became George I of Great Britain, as well as four sons of James II, all of whom died in infancy. Cambridge was also created as a marquessate in 1917 for the queen's brother, Adolphus. That line ended in 1981 when George Francis died without issue.

And what about Strathern and Carrickfergus?
Having an English title makes William a bit too pro-England for the likes of Scotland and Ireland. And so William was also granted subsidiary titles in those two realms. He was created Earl of Strathern which was an ancient earldom in Scotland dating from around the 1130s or earlier. In recent history, it has been created into a duchy but always dependent on another duchy, usually Cumberland or Kent. The last such duchy was Connaught and Strathearn, whose last holder died in 1942. The title Baron Carrickfergus is a minor one, at best, and represents a region in Northern Ireland. The title was only used once before, from 1841 and 1883, after which it went extinct. Together, William's three tiles represent his claims to England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, with his eventual title of Prince of Wales giving him Wales as well.

Can Kate become Queen of England?
 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Yes and no. There has always been confusion in the United States about queens. The current ruling monarch of the United Kingdom is Queen Elizabeth II. She is queen because she has no brothers and she was the eldest child of the former king, George VI. The UK still uses male-preference primogeniture for their succession system, which favors sons, but that doesn't mean women can't rule. Kate, however, is not the eldest daughter of a son-less monarch, nor even the granddaughter. She is married to the eldest son of the eldest son of the monarch. Assuming all goes well, William will someday become King William V of the United Kingdom. Kate will then become Queen Catherine. But she will not be a ruling queen, but rather a queen consort—the spouse of the king. Her power will rest entirely in William's power, and if he predeceases her, she will become Queen Mother and their eldest son (or eldest daughter if they have no sons) will become the next monarch.

But isn't Queen Elizabeth married?
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

 Yes she is. She is married to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Just like Kate, he is a prince because he married royalty. However, it was decided during the reign of Queen Anne back in 1702 that the husbands of ruling queens should not be called "king". In those days, kings had a lot of power and queens did not. Thus, if the queen wanted to rule uncontested, she had to marginalize her spouse in the realm of monarchical politics. What Anne, Victoria, and Elizabeth II all did was grant their spouses titles and jobs, maintaining them much in the same way that a king treats his queen consort. Indeed, only one "King Consort" has ever existed in England, and that was from 1555 until 1558. Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary) named her husband, Philip of Spain, king consort and delegated some powers to him, much to the dismay of England's Protestants.

Will William and Kate's children be eligible for the crown?
Of course! They are the children of a legally married royal couple. People often talk about Kate as a "commoner" but that doesn't make children ineligible in England. Most royals these days marry into the nobility, some into foreign royalty, but marring into the peasantry isn't unknown and it certainly doesn't stop people from inheriting the throne.

Why did William decide not to wear a wedding ring?
Because he didn't want to. Being in the military may have something to do with it, but royals, just like anyone else, can choose to wear or not to wear a wedding ring. Whether Kate agreed with William's decision is up in the air, but William has every right to refuse to wear a ring.

I think that will be all for now. If anyone has any further questions regarding the wedding, please feel free to comment here. I will reply as soon as possible with an answer. Until next time, cheers!

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