At some point, King Charles III will have to clarify whether his younger grandchildren, Archie and Lilibet, can use the styles and titles of “His Royal Highness Prince” and “Her Royal Highness Princess” and what happens to the others who have those styles and titles. A “siblings not cousins” rule may be the simplest of all choices.
His decision will come on the heels of a dramatic announcement by Queen Margrethe. The Danish monarch is removing royal titles from the children of her younger son, as they won’t be working royals but rather private members of the royal family. The children of the crown prince keep their royal styles and titles as they are in direct line of succession and are expected to undertake duties in support of the Danish crown but their cousins lose theirs.
The current situation in Britain
Right now in Britain, the style of HRH and title of Prince/ss belongs to these royal-born people (for simplicity, I’m excluding spouses for this list)
- Prince William (working royal, direct line of succession)
- Prince George (direct line of succession)
- Princess Charlotte (direct line of succession)
- Prince Louis (direct line of succession)
- Prince Harry (non-working royal, retains HRH but does not use it)
- Prince Andrew non-working royal, retains HRH but does not use it)
- Princess Beatrice (non-working royal)
- Princess Eugenie (non-working royal)
- Princess Anne (working royal)
- Prince Edward (working royal)
- Duke of Gloucester (working royal)
- Duke of Kent (working royal)
- Princess Alexandra (working royal)
- Prince Michael of Kent (non-working royal)
A lot of keystrokes have been pounded explaining the current situation of those styles and titles as it applies to the Wales children (George, Charlotte and Louis) versus their Sussex cousins (Archie and Lilibet). I wrote about the basics when Harry and Meghan announced they were expecting their first baby in 2018 and again just before Archie was born in 2019. I wrote about it again after their Oprah interview in March 2021. And more recently, Ellie Hall of Buzzfeed wrote an opus on the current situation.
So I’m skipping all of that background information on the assumption that you know all about the Letters Patent of December 11, 1917 and Queen Elizabeth II’s tweak in 2012.
Sooooo, are Archie and Lilibet now HRH Prince Archie and HRH Princess Lilibet because they are the children of the son of a monarch?
Technically, yes, though with a big caveat. The 1917 rules are in effect, and there have been no new letters patent (or press release, verbal declaration, or any notice at all that changes those rules from 1917. And to be clear, King Charles III can change the rules any time he wants – this is a royal prerogative.
Yet, there has been no affirmative announcement either. So, for now, Archie and Lilibet aren’t publicly HRH Prince/ss. Indeed, if you look at the line of succession on the royal website, they are identified as Master Archie Mountbatten-Windsor and Miss Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor.
(For those who posit that King Charles III is required to issue new letters patent so that Archie and Lilibet can use the “HRH Prince/ss”, then I simply ask: Where are the similar notices for HRH Princess Beatrice (b. 1988), Princess Eugenie (b. 1990)…..and for every other royally-born HRH still alive and not in the immediate line of succession (Charles, William and his 3 children)? For if there is one foundation for such an ancient institution, it is continuity. So what is required of King Charles III should also have been required of Queen Elizabeth II.)
Sooooo, what’s the issue about giving them the same styles and titles as their first cousins?
In a word, time.
Right now, Archie is No. 6 in line of succession to the throne, with Lilibet right behind him in seventh spot. But their closeness to the throne will inexorably grow more and more distant as their Wales cousins (George, Charlotte and Louis) have children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. All of those people will be ahead of Archie and Lilibet in line of succession.
Think about two previous generations of cousins.
When HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent was born in 1936, she was sixth in line to the throne. Like the Sussex children, she was a first cousin of a future monarch, then-Princess Elizabeth, 10. But her position kept sliding as those between her and the throne had children. Now, Alexandra is No. 56 in line to the throne.
Alexandra has been a working member of the royal family her entire life. Now 85, she is the second oldest Windsor, behind her big brother, HRH the duke of Kent. Also a working royal, he is 86 and No. 40 in line of succession.
Times have changed since Alexandra began her royal duties. Now, first cousins are not expected to work on behalf of the monarch but rather earn a living as private relations. And that can be awkward when you have royal styles and titles in your names. One never quite knows if one is being hired for one’s title or not.
Just look at the examples of two of Prince William’s first cousins, HRH Princess Beatrice and HRH Princess Eugenie. They’ve talked of the struggle of trying to establish careers while also being in the public eye because they are princesses. Their every move has been documented and analyzed.
And, like Alexandra, they are also moving down the line of succession. Beatrice and Eugenie were No. 5 and No. 6 when they were born but are now No. 9 and No. 11, respectively. After a few more decades, their place could slide further until they are somewhere near the current spot of King Charles’s own cousins (the children of Princess Margaret): No. 24 and No. 27, respectively.
King Charles III has made no secret of the fact he wants to slim down the royal family, including by distinguishing who works on behalf of the Crown and who is someone whose grandparent or cousin is a monarch. One way to make that distinction plain for all to see is to make it very clear who gets HRH Prince/ss and who doesn’t.
And he’s helped by the fact that three of the Queen’s cousins who still work on behalf of the Crown are getting on in years and likely to soon stop undertaking such duties.
Is this just an issue in the UK?
Oh no! Narrowing the list of who gets royal styles and titles is a trend among European monarchs.
On Sept. 28, Queen Margrethe of Denmark announced that the children of her younger son, Joachim, would completely lose all royal titles as of Jan. 1, 2023 and instead would use their remaining noble titles of “Count/ess of Monpezat.” The monarch explained the move in a statement, saying that she “wishes to create the framework for the four grandchildren to be able to shape their own lives to a much greater extent without being limited by the special considerations and duties that a formal affiliation with the Royal House of Denmark as an institution involves.” In addition, all four maintain their places in the order of succession.
Three years ago, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden made a less drastic move when he restricted the “HRH” style to only the children of Crown Princess Victoria. While his two younger children could keep their HRH styles as they undertake royal work, their children do not get the same styles on the premise that they won’t carry out official duties on behalf of the Crown like their first cousins (in fact, some grandkids had those HRH styles taken away from them).
MY “SIBLINGS NOT COUSINS” SOLUTION
FIRST PART: Create a new letters patent that is aimed primarily at the King’s heirs and successors
- Siblings of monarchs and those in direct line of succession get HRH Prince/ss styles and titles as they are expected to work on behalf of the monarchy. So Prince George’s siblings, Charlotte and Louis, keep their royal styles and titles but they aren’t passed onto their children who will eventually be cousins of a monarch.
- The “siblings not cousins rule” means that current grandchildren of the King who will be first cousins of a monarch don’t get the HRH Prince/ss styles and titles as they aren’t expected to work on behalf of the Crown.
That means that Archie and Lilibet don’t get royal styles and titles while Charlotte and Louis do.
SECOND PART: How to deal with royals who aren’t in the King’s family but currently have royal styles and titles, including:
Current working royals
- Edward (and his wife, Sophie)
- Duke of Gloucester (Queen’s cousin, 78, and his wife, Birgitte)
- Duke of Kent (Queen’s cousin, 86, and his wife, Katharine, though she doesn’t use them)
- Princess Alexandra (Queen’s cousin, 85)
- Harry (and his wife, Meghan)
- Prince Michael of Kent (Queen’s cousin, 80, and his wife, Marie-Christine)
SECOND PART options, in order of drama:
- Those royals who *used* such styles and titles during the Queen’s lifetime get to keep them, though it is the prerogative of the monarch to remove them, if needed. This way he won’t strip them from his own siblings or the Queen’s cousins, who have worked for decades on behalf of the monarchy and who are likely going to retire shortly. As well, that means that Edward’s children, Louise and James – who never used their royal styles and titles (they are children of the son of Elizabeth II) – can’t decide in the future that they want to use those royal styles and titles.
- The SWEDEN route: The King removes the “HRH” styles from all non-working royals and their spouses while allowing them to keep their titles of “Prince/ss.” So Harry stays a prince etc. Also, that kinda, sorta falls in line with the removal of HRHs following the divorces of Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York. And yes, that “former wives” rule was a Letters Patent. (I’m torn as to whether this Sweden route rule would apply to the Queen’s cousins when they retire after decades of loyal service.)
- The DENMARK ROUTE: King Charles III could decide to adopt the plan just chosen by Queen Margrethe and completely strip all royal styles and titles from non-working royals. They would use their non-royal names, so HRH Princess Eugenie becomes Eugenie Brooksbank.
- King Charles III strips all royal styles and titles from all his relations except those in direct line of succession. But I’ve got to think that won’t go down well with some of his hard-working relations, such as his sister, Princess Anne.
What if the unexpected happens, such as Prince Andrew remarrying and having another child?
One only has to slip a bit of wording into the new Letters Patent that says all future “HRH Prince/ss” have to be born to the line of King Charles III. That immediately forestall queries about whether a potential future grandchild of the (deceased) sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II, would get “HRH Prince/ss.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall on the balcony at Buckingham Palace during the annual Trooping The Colour parade on June 17, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert)