Should Archie have been a Prince?
In the last few hours the CBS network in the United States has aired an interview, conducted by Oprah Winfrey, with HRH the Duchess of Sussex, and then with both TRHs the Duke and Duchess of Sussex together. During the part of the interview with the Duchess on her own she expressed her opinion that during her first pregnancy she was told that royal convention had been changed to explicitly prevent her then unborn son from being able to be a Prince. Could this be true? What exactly is the 'convention' for who is or isn't a Prince or Princess of the British royal family? Let's take a look.
Prior to the first World War the exact protocols had come together piecemeal by virtue of the precedent set by various different letters patent over the previous two centuries, and it was generally the case that all children and male-line grandchildren of a monarch would be HRHs (his or her royal highness), and that all other male-line descendants from great-grandchildren and beyond would have the lesser style of HH (his or her highess). This right to HRH or HH persisted for descendants of deceased former monarchs too, so that by the outbreak of World War One, when HM King George V was monarch, there were still people entitled to HRH or HH status by right of their descent from younger sons of his grandmother, HM Queen Victoria, and younger sons of his great-great-grandfather, HM King George III.
Once World War One began it was clear that there was, understandably, a lot of anti-German feeling in the British public, and at the same time there was a lot of Germanic titles, styles and names within the extended royal family, not least the fact that the royal family was at that time the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, name after the German duchy that Queen Victoria's husband had been born a Prince of. In 1917 HM King George V decided to take action to de-Germanise the British Royal family, in an attempt to avoid the public turning against the monarchy, as had happened elsewhere in Europe. The British Royal family would now be the House of Windsor, which was much more British sounding. The Titles Deprivation Act would remove British styles and titles from anyone who was deemed to be German, including the male-line descendants of HM King George III's son Ernst who had become King of Hannover, and the male-line descendants of Queen Victoria's most junior (in succesion terms) male-line grandson, who had taken on the Dukedom of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The third thing that happened in 1917 was that HM King George V issued a letters patent laying down exactly who was or was not entitled to be an HRH and a Prince or Princess in the British royal family.
HRHs would apply to all children of a monarch, to all male-line grandchildren of a monarch, and finally, and critically to current day situation, to the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the monarch. That latter means that only one specific great-grandchild of each monarch is automatically entitled to an HRH, it is not and entitlement for all great-grandchildren. Female spouses of a son, male-line grandson or of that one specific great-grandson, would also be allowed to use the female form of their husbands styles and titles, and would thus also be entitled to HRHs. The 1917 ruling also effectively ended the use of the HH style, as no future descendants had any entitlement to it, and almost all the current holders had in any case been deprived due to their being German.
So to summarise there was a select group of people who were entitled to HRHs by birth, and a few more by virtue of being married to a male HRH. At any given time there will usually also be one or two people who have personal grants to be able to use an HRH. For example HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was personally granted an HRH, and his Dukedom, by his father-in-law, HM King George VI, and later was made a Prince by his wife, and without those personal grants he would have had no entitlement to any royal style or status, as the husband of the monarch has no definition or fixed precedent in the British royal family.
So to summarise the previous summary, there are three routes to being an HRH:
1. Be born in the right place in the family tree, as per the 1917 Letters Patent,
2. Be female, and marry someone male who has an HRH due to 1.,
or 3. Get a personal grant
Let's now look at the current people entitled to HRHs. First off category 1, those that were born in the right place in the tree. There are no eligible descendants left from any monarch prior to HM King George V, since the style HRH cannot drop below the grandchild level in each case and since all their grandchildren are deceased. The great-granchild of each monarch, who forms the exception, is the senior great-granchild, and therefore would normally become the grandson of the next monarch, son of the next one, and then become the monarch after that themselves, so we can simplify things by not worring about the exception until we are closer to the modern day.
HM King George V had six children who were HRHs from birth, and as five were sons their children were also allowed to be HRH. The eldest son of HM King George V became HM King Edward VIII, then abicated to marry, and would have no children. The second son was HM King George Vi, for whose line see a little further down. The fifth son was HRH Prince John, who suffered poor health and died as a teenager. The other two were HRH Prince George, Duke of Kent, and HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester. The Duke of Kent had three children, one of whom was still in the womb when the Duke died in a plane crash during WWII. Those three children, as grandchildren of King George V, are to this day entitled to HRHs, and are HRH The (2nd) Duke of Kent, HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent, and HRH Prince Michael of Kent. All three of these people have descendants, but none of those descendants have ever been entitled to HRHs, not even the male-line descendants of the two sons. HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, had two sons, HRH Prince William of Gloucester and HRH Prince Richard of Gloucester. HRH Prince William of Gloucester, who never married, also died in a plane crash, this time in the 1970s, and HRH Prince Richard of Gloucester is now HRH The (2nd) Duke of Gloucester. The current Duke of Gloucester has descendants, but again none of those have ever been entitled to HRHs. For the record the son of the current Duke of Gloucester uses his father's secondary title as a courtesy title, and is known as the Earl of Ulster. Likewise the elder son of the Duke of Kent is known as the Earl of St Andrews, whilst the younger one uses the normal courtesy style of a younger son of a Duke, and is thus Lord Nicholas Windsor. Similarly HRH Prince Michael of Kent's son is Lord Frederick Windsor. The daughter's of HRH The Duke of Gloucester, HRH The Duke of Kent and HRH Prince Michael of Kent all used the style 'Lady [First Name] Windsor', then swapped out Windsor for their husband's surname upon marriage. So to be very clear none of the great-grandchildren of King George V are entitled to any royal style or status unless they also happen to more closely related to a more recent monarch, which brings us HM King George VI.
HM King George VI had no sons, so his elder daughter was his heir, and became HM Queen Elizabeth II. The descendants of his younger daughter, HRH Princess Margaret, were never entitled to HRHs as they were not in the male-line from a monarch. The descendants of HM Queen Elizabeth II are, of course also not in the male-line from HM King George VI, so derive their HRH status from being in the male-line from HM Queen Elizabeth II. As per the 1917 Letters Patent the following people are entitled to HRHs due to their descent from HM Queen Elizabeth II:
Her 4 children: HRH The Prince of Wales, HRH The Duke of York, HRH The Earl of Wessex and Forfar, and HRH The Princess Royal.
Her 6 male-line grandchildren: HRH The Duke of Cambridge, HRH The Duke of Sussex, HRH Princess Beatrice of York, HRH Princess Eugenie of York, 'HRH Prince James of Wessex' and 'HRH Princess Louise of Wessex'. Note that the Princess Royal's children were never entitled to HRH or Prince(ss)ly status as they are not in the male-line from a monarch.
And one specific great-grandchildren, the one who is the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the Queen. Specifically that is HRH Prince George of Cambridge.
That's the only 11 people entitled to HRHs due to their descent from the Queen, and even then if you were thinking HRH Prince James of Wessex and HRH Princess Louise of Wessex were people you had not heard of, then you are correct, and it is because a decision was taken before their birth that they would not actively use the HRH and Prince(ss)ly styles they were entitled to, and would instead use the styles of children of an Earl (i.e. who they would be by virtue of their father's Earldom even if he was no longer royal) and are thus the Viscount Severn (his father's then secondary title) and Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor. The Earl of Wessex has since been given a second Earldom, and is now also Earl of Forfar, so I would speculate that it may be the case that in the future, perhaps upon adulthood, the Viscount Severn trades-up so to speak and instead uses his father's 'second' Earldom instead of what is now his father's third title. Of course as and when the Duke of Edinburgh eventually leaves us, and the Earl of Wessex is eventually given a new Dukedom of Edinburgh, as is the plan, the Viscount Severn would then use one of the Earldoms as his courtesy title anyway.
As well as those 11 an entitlement to HRH is also communicated to any woman currently married to any male person within that 11, so that adds HRH The Duchess of Cornwall (who actually is The Princess of Wales, but chooses not to be known by that title), HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, HRH The Duchess of Sussex and HRH The Countess of Wessex.
The final category is those with a personal grant. HRH The Duke of Edinburgh is one such person, as mentioned above. Another such case is that of TRHs The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's younger children, who were able to have HRHs due to a pre-emptive Letters Patent by the Queen which extended the HRH to all children of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The reason for this was that the Act of Succession was in the process of being amended to introduce gender equality in the succession, so when HRH The Duchess of Cambridge was expecting her first child there was the possibility that it would be a girl who was to be a future Queen, but who wouldn't have an automatic entitlement to any royal status at birth, but who could then go on to be joined by a younger brother who would not be expected to be a future monarch, but who would be entitled to royal status from birth, and there could conceivably been several other sisters between the non-royal future Queen and her royal younger brother with no real chance of being King. The easy sticking-plaster fix to this potential nonsensical situation was for the Queen to simply give a personal grant of HRH and Prince(ss) to all children of TRHs Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. As I understand it this extension to the normal practice established in the 1917 Letters Patent is purely for the children of that specific couple, and will not automatically apply in the future in similar situations. So for example if HRH The Prince of Wales has become King, and HRH Prince George of Cambridge has married and is starting a family then only his eldest son would be an HRH and Prince, unless the future King Charles III (or possibly King George VII, if he chooses that regnal name) makes another special grant to George's children.
So now we get to the main thrust of the situation, and of this essay. The only great-grandchild of HM Queen Elizabeth II who was automatically entitled to an HRH and Princely status was HRH Prince George of Cambridge. This is entirely in line with the only analogous precedent for great-grandchildren of monarchs, which is that of the great-granchildren of George V in the Gloucester and Kent lines, who have never been HRH or Princes(ses). Thus it can easily be concluded that Archie Mountbatten Windsor was never entitled to any HRH or Princely status whilst he was merely the great-grandchild of a monarch. As HRH The Duchess of Sussex herself pointed out the situation will change when HRH The Prince of Wales becomes King, as in that circumstance Archie would then be a male-line grandson of a monarch. As no person since the introduction of the 1917 Letters Patent has ever before been 'upgraded' to HRH status by going from a non-HRH great-grandchild of one monarch to the HRH-entitled male-line grandchild of the next, it is far from certain what will actually happen at the time of the Queen's death, and the accession of HRH The Prince of Wales, with regard to Archie's style and title, but it is logical to assume that the 1917 Letters Patent will ensure he is an HRH and Prince from that point, as anything else would require his doting grandfather to choose at that point for him not to gain his HRH and Princely status, which seems unlikely.
So I would suggest that HRH The Duchess of Sussex is wrong to say that royal convention was changed specifically for her child. The 'convention' being followed has been in place for just over 100 years now, and it is entirely consistent with that convention for Archie to not yet be an HRH or Prince. Rather it would have actually required a change in convention to make Archie an HRH and Prince, since for him to be HRH and Prince a special personal grant would have had to have been made, either for him, or for all children of TRHs The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Whilst the children of TRHs The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge did get such a personal grant it was for a very particular reason, as recounted above, and was not in and of itself an automatic convention, so it doesn't follow that HM The Queen should have automatically issued a personal grant of HRH and Prince(ss)ly status to Archie or to his future siblings. If HM The Queen had have done so, it would have been an additional privelige, an act of generosity on the part of the Queen, and a change of a century-long convention. The fact she did not do so does not imply any kind of snub or change of convention whatsover.
That leaves me with one final thought. If Archie does not (yet) derive any royal style or status from his place in the family tree, then it follows that (for now at least) he is not royal. In which case he should instead derive his style and status from the fact that his father is a peer of the realm. Since his father is the Duke of Sussex it should follow that Archie should have the style and status of the son of a Duke. That is to say that as the eldest son he should use his father's secondary title, and be known as the Earl of Dumbarton. There is a near-precedent for this in that the Earl of Wessex's children use the styles of children of an Earl because it was agreed that they would use the royal styles to which they were entitled, so if the Viscount Severn can use his father's secondary title, and is not merely Master James Mountbatten-Windsor, why can't the son of the Duke of Sussex, particularly given the Dukedom of Sussex is inherently a higher status title than the Earldom of Wessex, so it is nonsensical to end up in a position where the children of an Earl have more status than the child of a Duke. It is true that senior members of the royal family do not use courtesy titles, otherwise The Prince of Wales could add Earl of Merioneth to his long list of titles, and The Duke of Cambridge would have spent all of his childhood and pre-married adult life as the Baron Greenwich, which we know they didn't. But the whole point is that Archie ISN'T royal (yet) and therefore it ought to be the case that he does use it. The fact he doesn't use Earl of Dumbarton is possibly a strong indicator that he will indeed 'become royal' when his grandfather accedes the throne, and that it is thus easier not to use the courtesy title during his childhood, than it would be to have to be (erroneously) seen to be 'taking his title away' at the point he becomes an HRH and Prince and is no longer supposed to use courtesy titles. But even if he does not use the Earl of Dumbarton courtesy title there is no possible explanation for him to not be using the more general purpose style for a son of a Duke, namely Lord Archie Mountbatten-Windsor. All younger sons of Dukes use the format 'Lord First-Name Surname' for their style, as would any eldest son of a Duke if there was no secondary title for him to use as a courtesy title, so why on earth is Archie the only son of a British Duke who cannot even be styled as Lord, but must for some mysterious reason use Master Archie Mountbatten-Windsor. It appears he has sort of fallen down the cracks of style conventions for sons of Dukes. If he and his father were both considered to be royal, as per the 1917 Letters Patent, then he would clearly be HRH and a Prince, but this was never going to happen for him during the Queen's reign unless the Queen specifically gifted him it, which she didn't choose to do. If he had been born the son of any non-royal Duke then he would have been automatically and without question able to use his father's secondary title as a courtesy title, or in the absence of a secondary title would have been Lord Archie Mountbatten-Windsor. But as he is the non-royal son of a royal Duke this, for reasons unknown, seems to rob him of the right to either the secondary title as a courtesy title, or the Lord prefix, whichever it may have been. We had all previously understood that it was the choice of TRHs The Duke and Duchess of Sussex that their son had no status whatsover, not even any status as the son of a Duke, but in today's interview HRH The Duchess of Sussex says it was not their decision, and as I stated at the start of this interview she believes royal convention was purposely changed to prevent her son being a Prince. All in all I do not know what the truth of the matter is. I do know that Archie was never automatically entitled to any royal status, style or title, at least not until HRH The Prince of Wales becomes king, so I do not believe there was any change of royal convention to prevent him being a Prince, since he wouldn't have been one anyway, but I cannot explain why Archie's status as the son of a Duke has seemingly been withheld from him, as this should follow automatically from his father holding a Dukedom, as it does for all the sons of Dukes, other than any that are instead HRH and Prince, so why is Archie neither?
HRH Prince Archie of Sussex - would have been a personal promotion above and beyond what he was entitled to. A bonus, if you will. He did not get such a promotion.
The Earl of Dumbarton OR Lord Archie Mountbatten-Windsor - would have been what he actually was entitled to, as he is the son of a Duke.
Master Archie Mountbatten-Windsor - is actually a lower style and status than he is entitled to, as it completely ignores that his father is a Peer of the realm as well as being royal.
In short HRH The Duke of Sussex is a grandson of a monarch, a Prince by birth, and a Duke in his own right. He is in the exact same position as HRH The Duke of Gloucester and HRH The Duke of Kent, but whilst their elder sons use their secondary titles as courtesy titles, and the Duke of Kent's younger son uses the style 'Lord Nicholas Windsor', Archie, who is in the exact same position as the Earl of Ulster, the Earl of St. Andrews, and Lord Nicholas Windsor, cannot use either Earl of Dumbarton or Lord Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, and has to make do with the Master prefix. It makes no sense! So whilst there was not a change of convention to prevent him being a Prince, and I therefore do not fully agree with what HRH The Duchess of Sussex alleges, I have to concede that there is no smoke without at least the embers of a fire, and that something doesn't add up somewhere, as he will one day inherit the Duke of Sussex by virtue of being his father's heir, but at the moment cannot derive any style or status from his father holding that Dukedom. If you can square that particular circle then answers on a postcard! (or in my guestbook on this site, or to my email address).
Page Last Updated - 08/03/2021