The Earl of Chester
The County of Cheshire was the seat from which powerful Earls (or “Counts” from the Norman-French) of Chester rose from the late eleventh century. The Earls held land all over England, comprising ‘the honour of Chester’ and by the late twelfth century the earls had established a position of power as quasi-princely rulers of Cheshire that led to the later establishment of the County Palatine of Chester and Flint. The Earls of Chester held so much power that the Magna Carta set down by King John did not apply to Cheshire and the sixth earl was compelled to issue his own versions.
HRH The Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester
The earldom passed to the Crown by escheat in 1237 on the death of John the Scot, Earl of Huntingdon, seventh and last of the Earls. William III de Forz, 4th Earl of Albemarle, claimed the earldom as husband of Christina, the senior co-heir, but the king persuaded them to quitclaim their rights in 1241 in exchange for modest lands elsewhere. The other co-heiresses did likewise. It was annexed to the Crown in 1246. King Henry III then passed the Lordship of Chester, but not the title of Earl, to his son, the Lord Edward, in 1254; and as King Edward I, this son in turn conferred the title and lands of the Earldom on his son, Edward, the first English Prince of Wales (future Edward II of England).
Earldom of Chester
The establishment of royal control of the Earldom of Chester made possible King Edward I’s conquest of north Wales, and Chester played a vital part as a supply base during the Welsh Wars (1275–84), so the separate organisation of a county palatine was preserved. This continued until the time of King Henry VIII. Since 1301, the Earldom of Chester has always been conferred jointly with the title Prince of Wales.
Chester was Briefly promoted to a principality in 1398 by King Richard II, who titled himself “Prince of Chester.” It was reduced to an earldom again in 1399 by King Henry IV. Whereas the Sovereign’s eldest son is born Duke of Cornwall, he must be made or created Earl of Chester it is not an hereditary title similarly to the title Prince of Wales; which also is not hereditary.
Prince of Wales
For most of the post-Roman period, Wales was divided into several smaller states. Before the Norman conquest of England, the most powerful Welsh ruler at any given time was generally known as King of the Britons. In the 12th and 13th centuries, this title evolved into Prince of Wales (see Brut y Tywysogion). In Latin, the new title was Princeps Walliae, and in Welsh it was Tywysog Cymru. The literal translation of Tywysog is “leader”. (The verb tywys means “to lead”.)
Only a handful of native princes had their claim to the overlordship of Wales recognised by the English Crown. The first known to have used such a title was Owain Gwynedd, adopting the title Prince of the Welsh around 1165 after earlier using rex Waliae (“King of Wales”). His grandson Llywelyn the Great is not known to have used the title “Prince of Wales” as such, although his use, from around 1230, of the style “Prince of Aberffraw, Lord of Snowdon” was tantamount to a proclamation of authority over most of Wales, and he did use the title “Prince of North Wales” as did his predecessor Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd.
In 1240, the title was theoretically inherited by his son Dafydd ap Llywelyn, though he is not known to have used it. Instead he styled himself as “Prince of Wales” around 1244, the first Welsh prince to do so. In 1246, his nephew Llywelyn ap Gruffudd succeeded to the throne of Gwynedd, and used the style as early as 1258. In 1267, with the signing of the Treaty of Montgomery, he was recognised by both King Henry III of England and the representative of the Papacy as Prince of Wales. In 1282, Llywelyn was killed during Edward I of England’s invasion of Wales and although his brother Dafydd ap Gruffudd succeeded to the Welsh princeship, issuing documents as prince, his principality was not recognised by the English Crown.
Three Welshmen, however, claimed the title of Prince of Wales after 1283.
The first was Madog ap Llywelyn, a member of the House of Gwynedd, who led a nationwide revolt in 1294-5, defeating English forces in battle near Denbigh and seizing Caernarfon Castle. His revolt was suppressed, however, after the Battle of Maes Moydog in March 1295, and the prince was imprisoned in London.
In the 1370s, Owain Lawgoch (“Red Hand”), an English-born descendant of one of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s brothers, claimed the title of Prince of Wales, but was assassinated in France in 1378 before he could return to Wales to claim his inheritance.
It is Owain Glyndŵr, however, whom many Welsh people regard as having been the last native Prince. On 16 September 1400, he was proclaimed Prince of Wales by his supporters, and held parliaments at Harlech Castle and elsewhere during his revolt, which encompassed all of Wales. It was not until 1409 that his revolt in quest of Welsh independence was suppressed by Henry IV.
As title of heir apparent
The tradition of conferring the title “Prince of Wales” on the heir apparent of the monarch is usually considered to have begun in 1301, when King Edward I of England invested his son Edward of Caernarfon with the title at a Parliament held in Lincoln. According to legend, the king had promised the Welsh that he would name “a prince born in Wales, who did not speak a word of English” and then produced his infant son, who had been born at Caernarfon, to their surprise. However, the story may well be apocryphal, as it can only be traced to the 16th century, and, in the time of Edward I, the English aristocracy spoke Norman French, not English (some versions of the legend include lack of knowledge in both languages as a requirement, and one reported version has the very specific phrase “born on Welsh soil and speaking no other language”).
William Camden wrote in his 1607 work Britannia that originally the title “Prince of Wales” was not conferred automatically upon the eldest living son of the King of England because Edward II (who had been the first English Prince of Wales) neglected to invest his eldest son, the future Edward III, with that title. It was Edward III who revived the practice of naming the eldest son Prince of Wales, which was then maintained by his successors:
Nevertheless, according to conventional wisdom, since 1301 the Prince of Wales has usually been the eldest living son (if and only if he is also the heir apparent) of the King or Queen Regnant of England (subsequently of Great Britain, 1707, and of the United Kingdom, 1801). That he is also the heir apparent is important. Following the death of Prince Arthur, the Prince of Wales, Henry VII invested his second son, the future Henry VIII, with the title—although only after it was clear that Arthur’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, was not pregnant; when Frederick, Prince of Wales died while his father reigned, George II created Frederick’s son George (the king’s grandson and new heir apparent) Prince of Wales. The title is not automatic and is not heritable; it merges into the Crown when a prince accedes to the throne, or lapses on his death leaving the sovereign free to re-grant it to the new heir apparent (such as the late prince’s son or brother). Prince Charles was created Prince of Wales on 26 July 1958, some six years after he became heir apparent, and had to wait another 11 years for his investiture, on 1 July 1969.
The title Prince of Wales is always conferred along with the Earldom of Chester. The convention began in 1399; all previous Princes of Wales also received the earldom, but separately from the title of Prince. Prior to 1272 a hereditary and not necessarily royal Earldom of Chester had already been created several times, eventually merging in the Crown each time. The earldom was recreated, merging in the Crown in 1307 and again in 1327. Its creations since have been associated with the creations of the Prince of Wales.