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This is my first entry into looking at all the titles of the Prince of Wales. I will start with the of Prince, then we’ll look at the title of Duke and Earl etc. Then I’ll look at each specific title, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall etc.

IMG_4171 HRH The Prince of Wales

In examining the origins of the title and position of Prince we go back to the ancient world. The Latin word prīnceps (older Latin *prīsmo-kaps, literally “the one who takes the first place/position”). Generally the Latin term prīnceps is also referred to as “First Citizen” and became the title of the informal leader of the Roman senate some centuries before the transition to empire, the princeps senatus.

Emperor Augustus established the formal position of monarch on the basis of principate, not dominion. He also tasked his grandsons as summer rulers of the city when most of the government were on holiday in the country or attending religious rituals, and, for that task, granted them the title of princeps. Historically, this is a first example of the title of Prince being granted as a courtesy title on members of the family.

From the days of the Roman Empire the title of Prince evolved in two ways. The most familiar is Prince being a male member of a monarch’s, or former monarch’s, family ranked below a king and above a duke. In some States of Europe the title of Prince is a title of nobility and for other states the title denotes sovereignty. Whether the title is used as a courtesy title for a member of a Royal Family or that as a Noble or one that denotes Sovereignty in his own right, the title is often hereditary and also regulated. The feminine equivalent is a princess.

Generically, prince refers to a member of a family that ruled by hereditary right, the title referring either to sovereigns or to cadets of a sovereign’s family. The term may be broadly used of persons in various cultures, continents or eras. In Europe, it is the title legally borne by dynastic cadets in monarchies, and borne by courtesy by members of formerly reigning dynasties.

Each country in Europe has its own rich history with the title of Prince and I will not delve into those here for my focus is the history of the title of Prince in Britain.

Who held the title of Prince?

To put it simply, the title “prince” is used throughout British history (England, Scotland, Wales etc) and has been used to mark descent from a sovereign.  Just who qualified for that title changed throughout the history of each of these realms. The further back we go in time the waters muddy to just who held these titles and how they were regulated. It wasn’t until 1714 do we see titles regulated in the manner we’re most familiar with as George I (1714-1727) shaped the British title system to conform to the way titles were regulated in Hanover and the rest of Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Despite inaugurating this title system many ways George I regulated titles no longer exists as George V overhauled the system in 1917 which has remained basically the same since then.

IMG_9158 Henry VII King of England and Lord of Ireland.

It generally surprises people to learn that the use of Prince as courtesy style for sons of the Sovereign dates only to Henry VII (1485-1509). Prior to the Tudor period it’s been difficult to find the evidence to how the term Prince, or Princess was used. We all know the legends of Robin Hood and how when King Richard the Lion Heart was off on Crusade and the kingdom was ruled by the evil Prince John. Was John really called a “Prince” in his day, or is giving him that title a more recent and retroactive practice?

However, if the title of Prince didn’t become a courtesy title for the sons of the Sovereign until the reign of Henry VII, then it seems any association with the title Prince for earlier members of the Sovereigns family is a more modern or recent practice. Another interesting fact is that the usage of the title of Princess during the Tudor period was inconsistent. There is evidence that future Queen’s Mary I and Elizabeth I were sometimes referred to Princess Mary of Princess Elizabeth, and also the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth. It wasn’t until the Restoration of Charles II (1660-1685) that daughters of the Sovereign were styled princesses.  Both sons and daughters of the Sovereign were styled Royal Highness from the time of the Restoration. 

IMG_0670 Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

If the title of Prince was first a courtesy title for the sons of a Sovereign then the question arises how far in the male line should the title of Prince be extended? Grandsons? Great-grandson or even further? In Europe, the Holy Roman Empire for example, primogeniture took a while to be established therefore princely titles and titles of nobility were extended to all male descendants.

In France, during the 16th century, the title of Prince extended to all existing male-line descendents of kings.  This principle established in law as early as 1400 that agnates had a right of succession no matter how distant their kinship.  This differed from the the English style where succession rights were not always extended to male line descendants of the Sovereign. An example of this is with Henry VII who descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster’s (son of Edward III 1327-1377) third marriage. Although the children of this union were born illegitimate they were subsequently legitimized but without succession rights.

In Britain the concept of “Prince of the Blood Royal, ” in imitation of the French style, makes its appearance. I’d also like to note that the title of Prince, as a courtesy title, is not a title that is granted to an individual like a peerage title (Duke, Earl & Marquess etc) but rather a style or appellation customarily used to indicate the relationship to the sovereign, and membership in the royal house. 

Now back to the question of how far to extend the Princely to more distant relatives in the male line? I speak of the male line because children would inherit surnames and all Princely titles and titles of Nobility from their father, therefore children would not inherent their mothers Royal titles. The only exception being when the mother/female is the Sovereign. 

The problem of styling grandchildren of the sovereign at the English court did not arise much during the Tudors and the Stuarts:

* the only grandchildren of Henry VII born during his lifetime were the children of his daughter Margaret and James IV of Scotland, born outside the realm and those children inherited their father’s Scottish titles.
* Henry VIII had no grandchildren
* Mary I and Elizabeth I had no children
* The only grandchildren of James I-VI born during his lifetime were the children of his daughter Elizabeth and the Elector Palatine, all born overseas, either Heidelberg or the Hague
* only two of those children, Prince Rupert and  Elizabeth, abbess of Herford, ever resided in Britain

* The only child of Charles I married during his lifetime was Mary, whose only son William (future William III-II) was born in the Hague in 1650, a year after Charles I’s death

Therefore, as you can see, there wasn’t an issue in how to style the grandchild born of the Sovereign during their lifetime because there wasn’t any! The problem didn’t arise until the late Stuarts, the with the children of the Duke of York (future James II-VII son of Charles I, brother of Charles II) and the children of Princess Anne (daughter of James II-VII sister of Mary II).  It appears that these grandchildren/nephews of sovereigns were titled
* “Prince” for grandsons in male line,
* “Lord” for grandsons in female line,
* “Lady” for granddaughters in either male or female line,
* and all were styled “Highness”.

Thus, at this stage, the style of Royal Highness remained the prerogative of children of a sovereign.

In order to keep this to a digestible level I’ll stop here and pick up later in the week.