Font of All Honours, House of Hanover, King George I of Great Britain, King George II of Great Britain, King George III of Great Britain, Kings and Queens of Great Britain, kings and queens of the United Kingdom, Prince, Princess, Princess of Wales, Queen Victoria, titles
Since the time of the House of Tudor and through the times of the House of Stuart, when sons of the Sovereign were granted the courtesy title of Prince, questions of how far in the male line to extend the title was not an issue for grand children of the Sovereign in the male line hadn’t yet occurred. With the accession of King George I in 1714 and the Hanoverians, new situations arose.
First issue that George I faced in the need to regulate titles was with his siblings. Since they were not the sons of a British sovereign, they were German princes and sons of the Elector of Hanover, were they entitled to be prince or princess of Great Britain? King George I, as the “Font of All Honours” was able to grant peerage titles to his youngest brother, Ernest-Augustus. In 1716, Ernest-Augustus visited England where, on June 29, 1716, he was created Duke of York, Albany and Earl of Ulster. On April 30, 1718 (OS), he was created a Knight of the Garter together with his grand-nephew Frederick-Louis, later Prince of Wales. Another brother of George I, Prince Maximilian-William, converted to Catholicism, losing his place in the line of succession to the British throne and therefore didn’t receive any peerage titles. However, neither Ernest-Augustus or Maximilian-William were created Princes of Great Britain and remained Princes of Hanover and Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
George I came to the throne a grandfather, his eldest son, future George II, had several children. The children of the Prince of Wales were given the title of Princes and Princesses, and the style of “Highness”. This arrangement was changed in 1737 when George II granted his grandchildren, all children of his eldest son, Frederick-Louis, Prince of Wales the title Prince and Princess and their style was raised to “Royal Highness.” This occurrence was an exception and wouldn’t become formalized by letters patent until 1864 by Queen Victoria with the birth of Prince Albert-Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, the eldest son of the future King Edward VII.
George III’s reign also saw the first great-grandchildren of a sovereign in male line, Prince William-Frederick, 2nd duke of Gloucester and his sister, Sophia, were also nephew and niece of a sovereign. They were titled “Prince” and “Princess”, but were only styled “Highness. It is not absolutely clear, however, whether the title of Prince was due to being great-grandson of George II or nephew of George III. On July 22, 1816, Sophia’s brother Prince William-Frederick, Duke of Gloucester, married their cousin, Princess Mary, a daughter of George III. On their wedding day, the Prince Regent bestowed the style of Royal Highness on the Duke of Gloucester, Princess Mary was a Royal Highness by birth. The next day, the Duke of Gloucester’s sister Princess Sophia was also bestowed with this style, giving her equal rank with her brother.
Despite raising the Gloucesters to the style of Royal Highness, a tradition was emerging: all male-line descendants from the Sovereign were styled Prince/ss; children of the sovereign and the sovereign’s eldest son were Royal Highnesses, all others were Highnesses. The Letters Patent of 1864, which only deal directly with the style of Royal Highness, state the custom in the preamble: “Princes and Princesses of [the] Royal Family descended from and in lineal succession to the Crown as now established by law all bear the style and title of Highness”.
The statement does not say exactly who is a prince or princess. But an opinion of the Lord Chancellor in July 1878 states that “there is not, in my opinion, any limit among those in Succession to the Throne within which the use of the style of Prince is to be confined, until some such limit is imposed by the Will of the Sovereign as the Fountain of all Honour”. Queen Victoria cared enough about this opinion that, to put an end to controversies, she sent a copy to Garter King of Arms.
It is interesting to note that the Letters Patent of 1864 say “descended from and in lineal succession to the Crown” It is impossible to state what the custom might have been for female-line descendants, since the habit of marrying daughters into foreign royal houses meant that no such descendants lived in Britain. As of 1864, the first and only marriage of a prince or princess in Great Britain, had been that of the duke of Gloucester (great-grandson of George II) to the daughter of George III, in 1816. That marriage remained childless and if they had had children, those children would have been great-great grandchildren in the male line from the Sovereign and it would have been interesting to see what these children would have been styled.
It wouldn’t be until the early part of the 20th Century would the need once again arise to address what to call the great-grandchildren of a sovereign in male line. This time the results would be different. More on that in my next post.