1337 – Edward, the Black Prince is made Duke of Cornwall, the first Duchy in England. Prior to his elevation to the Duchy of Cornwall the highest title of nobility, outside of King, was that of an Earl.By the 13th century Earls had a social rank just below the king and princes, but were not necessarily more powerful or wealthier than other noblemen. A point had been reached where Earls were infrequently created by the King as it was seen that too many powerful Earls brought restrictions to the Royal Prerogative.
The best way to become an Earl was to inherit the title or to marry into one—and the king reserved a right to prevent the transfer of the title. By the 14th century, creating an Earl included a special public ceremony where the king personally tied a sword belt around the waist of the new earl, emphasizing the fact that the earl’s rights came from him.
Edward, the Black Prince, the eldest son of Edward III, was made the first Duke of Cornwall in 1337, after Edward III had lost the title of Duke of Normandy. After Edward predeceased the King, the duchy was recreated for his son, the future Richard II. Cornwall was the first dukedom conferred within the Kingdom of England.SuccessionThe charter that established the estate on March 17, 1337, set out the rule that the Duke and possessor of the estate would be the eldest son and heir of the monarch.
There were some deviations from this rule until a legal case (The Prince’s Case) in 1606 which held that the rule should be adhered to. When the estate is without a Duke, the possessor is the monarch, even if the former Duke left surviving descendants (see George III). The monarch’s grandson, even if he is the heir apparent, does not succeed to the dukedom. Similarly, no female may ever be Duke of Cornwall, even if she is heir presumptive or heir apparent to the throne. That being a distinct and even likely possibility in the future after the passage of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013.
However, if a Duke of Cornwall should die without descendants (and also no sister between two brothers if younger one born after October 28, 2011), his next brother obtains the duchy, this brother being both oldest living son and heir apparent.
It is possible for an individual to be Prince of Wales and heir apparent without being Duke of Cornwall. The title “Prince of Wales” is the traditional title of the heir apparent to the throne, granted at the discretion of the Sovereign (not automatically) and is not restricted to the eldest son.
For example, after the death of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, King George II’s heir apparent was his grandson George (Frederick Louis’ eldest son and the future George III). The young Prince George was created Prince of Wales but did not become Duke of Cornwall because he was the King’s grandson, rather than the King’s son.
When the Sovereign has no legitimate son, or when the heir apparent is not the Sovereign’s son, the estates of the Duchy of Cornwall revert to the Crown until a legitimate son is born to the Sovereign or until the accession of a new Sovereign who has a son (e.g. between 1547 and 1603).
Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, son of James II-VII, was born Duke of Cornwall in 1688. Although his father lost the throne, James Francis Edward was not deprived of his own titles and honours as a result of his father having been deposed.Instead, from the (prevailing) Hanoverian perspective, it was as a result of his claiming his father’s lost thrones that James, known as the Old Pretender, was attainted for treason on March 2, 1702, and his titles were thus forfeited under English law. This not only included his title as Duke of Cornwall, but that of Prince of Wales also. However, from the (minority) Jacobite perspective, on his father James II-VII death in 1701 the Duchy of Cornwall was merged in the Crown.
The current Duke of Cornwall
The current Duke of Cornwall is Charles, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch. Charles was officially proclaimed Duke of Cornwall at Launceston Castle in 1973 although he automatically succeeded to the title upon his mother’s accession to the throne on February 6, 1952.
As part of his feudal dues there was a pair of white gloves, gilt spurs and greyhounds, a pound of pepper and cumin, a bow, one hundred silver shillings, wood for his fires, and a salmon spear. The Duke’s second wife, Camilla, whom he married on April 9, 2005 at the Guildhall in Windsor, is the current Duchess of Cornwall. She is also Princess of Wales but does not use that title.