Buckingham Palace, Duke of Cambridge, Duke of Edinburgh, Elizabeth II, James Windsor, Kings and Queens of England, kings and queens of the United Kingdom, Lady Louise Windsor, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, Prince William, Queen Elizabeth II, The Earl of Wessex, Viscount Severn
Last week I featured the Earl of Wessex and how I admired him and found many things in his life I could relate to. Today I want to look at his children and examine their titles. This is a break with tradition that I am not happy with. His daughter, Louise was born on November 8, 2003 and will be 9 years old in just a few days. She has an eye disorder, exotropia, a form of strabismus where the eyes are deviated outward. Louise has had one surgery to correct this problem. From what I have read she was supposed to have another surgery in 2009 to correct this problem but her parents refused the treatment. I have this same condition and had three operations when I was young with limited results. Today I am almost completely blind in my right eye.
James, Viscount Severn was born December 17, 2007. He also had a health issue in 2008 when he had an alleric reaction and had to be taken to the hospital. Like his sister he is not in the lime light and are not seen frequently. One of the rare occasion when they were seen was this year at the Thames river pageant one of their grandmother’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
One of the ways the The Earl and Countess of Wessex broke with tradition was by not wanting their children to be titled as a Prince and Princess of the United Kingdom as is their right by the 1917 Letters Patent. Here is the issue as written in Wikipedia which details it pretty well. Although this speaking about Viscount Severn this information equally applies to his sister, Lady Louise.
Letters patent issued in 1917 (and still remaining in force today) assign a princely status and the style of Royal Highness to all male-line grandchildren of a monarch. Therefore, all else being equal, James would have been styled as His Royal Highness Prince James of Wessex. However, when his parents married, the Queen, via a Buckingham Palace press release, announced that (in hopes of avoiding some of the burdens associated with royal titles) their children would be styled as the children of an earl, rather than as princes or princesses. The eldest son of an earl is customarily accorded one of his father’s subsidiary titles by courtesy, thus James is named as Viscount Severn, and court communications never refer to him as a prince of the United Kingdom, but simply as Viscount Severn. There are two opposing opinions as to whether or not James is “legally” a prince and His Royal Highness: Some experts consider the Queen’s press release to not have enough legal force to override the 1917 letters patent, whereas other experts contend that the Queen’s will, however expressed, is law in matters of royal titles and styles. If the latter is the case, then the 1960 letters patent is also applicable and James bears (but is not styled with) the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.
I have mixed feeling about this. I liked the tradition of the male line grandchildren of the sovereign being titled a prince or princess of the United Kingdom. Yet on the other hand I can respect the wishes of the parents to want to shield their children from living in the royal fishbowl as much as possible. However, even though they are styled as the children of an Earl, I do interpret the 1917 Letters Patent to mean that the children do legally have the title of Prince and Princess of the United Kingdom with the style His and Her Royal Highness, even though they do not use them.
One last comment is on the Earl of Wessex himself and his title. Since he was created an Earl, the title of Earl of Wessex had been dormant since the time of the Norman Conquest, the reasons that have been tossed about on why he was not given a dukedom has to do with the fact that he will one day inherit the dukedom of Edinburgh from his father. That is not entirely correct. It does seem that he was given an Earldom because he will eventually inherit the dukedom of Edinburgh, but he will not inherit it strait from his father. According to the Letters Patent from when King George VI created Prince Philip with the title, the dukedom will go to his eldest son, The Prince of Wales, and not his youngest son. The Earl of Wessex, just like all the other peerage titles are passed on.
When the Duke of Edinburgh passes on two things may happen and it all depends on if his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, is still living or not. If she is still alive when the Duke of Edinburgh passes on the title will pass to the Prince of Wales who will hold the title until he becomes King at which point the title will merge with the crown. If the queen is dead when the Duke of Edinburgh passes on that will mean the Princes of Wales would be king and the title will immediately merge with the crown. Once the title merges with the crown it is free to be created anew for a new holder. That is when the Earl of Wessex can be created Duke of Edinburgh if the sovereign so wishes it. There is also a scenario where if the Prince of Wales predeceases his parents the title will go to the Duke of Cambridge and he will hold the title until he himself becomes king at which point the title will merge with the crown.