What Is a Duchess? A Complete Guide to the Royal Title

There are tons of titles within the royal family, like princess, duchess, countess and baroness. However, when it comes to defining each term, that’s where the confusion starts to set in (at least for us). We know that Kate Middleton is the Duchess of Cornwall and Cambridge, and Meghan Markle is the Duchess of Sussex, but that doesn’t necessarily make them natural-born princesses.

So, what is a duchess? Keep reading for all the details.

1. What is a duchess?

A duchess is a member of nobility who ranks directly below the monarch (excluding immediate family). The term is the highest of the five noble classes, which include duke/duchess, marquess/marchioness, earl/countess, viscount/viscountess and baron/baroness.

2. How does someone become a duchess?

Similar to dukes, the rank can be inherited or granted by a king or queen. This means that to become a duchess, one can marry someone in the royal family who either already is a duke or is being granted duke status as well (like Camilla Parker Bowles, Princess Catherine and Markle did).

A princess can become a duchess on her wedding day if there’s a title that’s not already in use. If a royal is given a different rank (like countess), that doesn’t mean she’ll never become a duchess. Instead, she’ll likely inherit a higher title when one becomes available. (For example, when Princess Catherine upgrades to queen, Princess Charlotte could become the Duchess of Cambridge.)

3. How do you address a duchess?

In addition to her official title, a duchess should be formally addressed as “Your Grace.” (The same goes for dukes.) 

4. Are all princesses also duchesses?

Unfortunately, no. A princess can inherit a duchess title when she gets married, but it’s not a guaranteed promotion. On the other hand, a duchess can’t necessarily become a princess.

The main difference is that princesses are typically blood related, and duchesses are made. For example, Markle was granted the Duchess of Sussex title when she married Prince Harry, but she’ll never be an actual princess because she wasn’t born into the royal family. The only exception is when someone marries the heir, like Princess Catherine.

Someone like Princess Charlotte could become a duchess in the far distant future, but it all depends on who she marries and what rank (i.e., duchess, countess, etc.) she’s given by the head of the monarchy.

So. Many. Rules.


Senior Editor

Greta Heggeness is a California-based editor at PureWow and has been writing about entertainment since 2015. She covers everything from awards shows to exclusive celebrity...