TT: Twisting Turns of Titles

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back and tell us what you keep – and see how what you keep may tell us who you are.  Then come and join me and Alan as we venture into the twisting maze of royal titles.  Warning!  Expect weirdness!

Many Hats to Wear

JANE: Well, Alan, as you have commented in past Tangents, readers of Fantasy – apparently particularly American readers of Fantasy – have a fixation with Royalty.

I thought it might be amusing to take a look at titles and how they work in reality.

Certainly, when I dealt with the traditional structure when writing the Firekeeper books, I stumbled across some interesting quirks in the system.


ALAN: Certainly! But don’t expect any logic to the discussion. We’re looking at many hundreds of years of often quite arbitrary tradition…

JANE: Oh!  Arbitrary is a lot more fun.  Let’s go for it.

Everybody knows what a “king” is.  That’s the man who is the top of the heap, unless you have an emperor, of course.  And, I believe, you were once part of the British Empire.  How was that title handled?

Did you have empresses as well as emperors?

ALAN: Well, sort of (I suspect I’m going to be using that phrase quite a lot…).   Although Britain had a world-girdling empire, it didn’t have an emperor in charge of it until the nineteenth century when it became clear that Queen Victoria’s daughter (who was also called Victoria) would become an Empress when her husband inherited the imperial German throne. It didn’t seem right to have a daughter outrank her mother and so Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India. This also had the useful side effect of emphasising her higher rank over the various kings and queens that ruled British India in her name. The title was inherited by her descendants and wasn’t finally abandoned until the mid-1950s when both India and Pakistan became republics (though they had been independent since 1948).

JANE: That’s neat!  I knew that Victoria had a special relationship with India, but I didn’t know the why behind it.

Next!  The female equivalent of a king is a queen.  However, whereas a reigning king is married to a queen, a reigning queen’s husband is not a king.  He’s a prince consort.  How come?

ALAN: I think it probably derives from the assumed (and somewhat sexist)  fact that a king outranks a queen. So the wife of a reigning king is legally a queen, though the title is never used. She is always a Princess Consort (or sometimes Queen Consort). Phillip, the husband of the current reigning Queen, could legitimately call himself a King Consort as well, if he felt like it. But he’s not legally a king because, if he was, he would outrank Elizabeth and that would never do. So he’s more usually known as the Duke of Edinburgh. It’s safer…

The current Queen’s mother who was the queen consort of George VI until his death in 1952, was known, from 1952 onwards, as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother despite the fact that she was never actually a queen, except in the legal sense of course. But once her husband was safely dead, there was no conflict any more in the use of her legal rank as a title. When (if) Charles inherits the throne, Camilla will use the title Princess Consort even though legally she too will be queen.

It all starts to sound like some of the word games that Lewis Carroll used play with Alice…

In 1689, England did legitimately have both a King and a Queen when William and Mary ruled jointly. But I think that’s the only example of both titles being in use at the same time.

JANE: I had no idea there were Queen Consorts and King Consorts.  For some reason, I thought Phillip (the Duke of Edinburgh) was Prince Consort.

ALAN: He is. He wears many hats…

JANE: This is getting confusing.  However, we shall forge ahead.

After kings and queens,  there are princes and princesses.  In the simplest version, they are the sons and daughters of the king and queen (or queen and prince consort).  When they are promoted, princess and princesses move up to being kings and queens.

However, it seems to me that they also can get, well, demoted?   Or maybe their spouses do?

I’m thinking of Prince Andrew.  Wasn’t his wife merely a duchess, not a princess?  But when Prince Charles married, his wife was Princess Diana, not Duchess Diana.  This is where we mere Americans start getting confused.

ALAN: You start getting confused? How do you think I feel? It bewilders the life out of me!

Princess Diana was not a princess, except by marriage. It would have been correct to refer to her as Princess Charles, since she married into the title, though that looks and sounds rather odd to modern sensibilities. It was not correct to call her Princess Diana, but everybody always called her that anyway, possibly because she looked like a princess. Camilla prefers to be known as the Duchess of Cornwall, another title that she married. Again, it would be correct to refer to her as Princess Charles (and possibly, by implication, as Princess Camilla but she has refused to accept that out of respect for Diana).

Is your head spinning yet?

JANE: Let’s say it’s spinning faster!

In fact, it’s spinning so fast I’d like to continue this next time when I can get my thoughts into some sort of order…


6 Responses to “TT: Twisting Turns of Titles”

  1. Peter Says:

    To sow confusion even further, Queen Elizabeth II of England is also Queen Elizabeth (technically Queen Elizabeth the First) of Canada.

    In an amusing twist of fate, if she were ever to become a Canadian citizen (despite being monarch, she isn’t) she’d probably have to give up her position as Queen of England or forfeit Canadian citizenship.

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    I guess I’m not that confused, because I see it as a marketing strategy After all, we don’t see fantasies by Doctor Jane Lindskold, or J. Lindskold, PhD, although that would be perfectly legitimate.

    Personally, I figure that the British royal family is very good at down-playing how wealthy and powerful they are. Flaunting all their titles would back-fire badly. Instead, they play it down, as dukes or duchesses rather than princes. Sending their sons off to do decidedly non-glamorous military jobs in non-command roles also goes towards the image of serving the country, rather than ruling it.

    As an anachronistic example, I’m trying to imagine a Prussian or Russian prince (especially one close to the succession) flying a copter. They’d most likely be in command of some large unit, and if they flew, it would be a fighter or a bomber, the successors to cavalry steeds. Putin even does this now, at least for show.

  3. Louis Robinson Says:

    Another source of confusion is that, strictly, a Prince is a sovereign ruler. Originally, it would never have been applied to any one else. I recall a historical I read years ago [about Cranmer and the English Reformation] in which the author explained in a forward that she had reluctantly used the anachronistic forms Princess Elisabeth and Princess Mary, because the contemporary mode for referring to one of King Henry’s daughters – the Lady Elisabeth’s Grace, according to her – would have been incomprehensible to her readers.

    Princes came in many kinds: their personal style could be King, Duke, Count, or even Prince. By the end of the Renaissance, most of the sovereign counties had been absorbed by neighbouring powers, and sovereign dukes were a decidedly endangered species. Their disappearance was largely complete by 1870. As the technical meaning of ‘prince’ was absorbed by king in the modern period, the word came to be used as a courtesy title for the sons of kings. And, like other courtesy titles, it’s use has varied wildly in time and place, even when there are rules that supposedly lay it all out in black and white. [So, for example, the late Duke & Duchess of Windsor, as the son and daughter-in-law of George V, were entitled under UK law to the styles of Royal Highness and Prince[ss]. Anyone who dared to actually _use_ those titles for them would have had to deal with the Queen Mum making Torquemada look like a tree-hugger.] Prince Charles is a Prince, because he holds the position of Prince of Wales, under the legal fiction of being the sovereign of Wales, but the extension on the courtesy Princess to his wife rests on that mix of law and custom and good ol’ PR, which means it isn’t quite automatic.

    Queen, BTW, is even weirder, since English is the only language I know with a separate word for it. Most languages simply use the feminine form of the word for King, as English does for the wives of peers; some, like Persian and Gaelic, are even blunter: Ban Righ translates literally as “King’s Wife”. The UK’s use of Prince Consort is a concession to the constitutional equation of King with Prince and Sovereign. Other places don’t have the problem, since they take the easy way out and just exclude women from the succession to start with.

    Whew! More than you ever wanted to know about it, I’m sure 🙂

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