From Duchess to Viscount (Vis-what?): A Complete Guide to British Royal Titles
While most of us commoners are familiar with terms like queen or king, princess or prince, there are a handful of other titles used in the British royal family that are slightly less familiar (like Viscountess, for instance). Here, a full primer on every title in the English peerage system so you can avoid any royal faux pas should you ever run into Her Majesty.
Queen or King
Example: Queen Elizabeth
Also known as Her (or His) Majesty, this person is the rightful leader of the British Commonwealth (aka the head honcho) and is the only one with the ability to grant any and all titles. The king or queen comes into this cushy yet challenging job when the standing monarch abdicates the throne, retires or passes away. It’s then that the late monarch’s right to rule is passed to his or her heir, their eldest child.
Consort of the Queen
Example: Prince Philip
A consort is the husband or wife of the reigning monarch. Although Prince Philip is royal by blood, he is not the king and is referred to as the consort of the queen or prince consort. When Prince Charles ascends the throne, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall will be known as the queen consort or consort of the king.
Prince or Princess
Examples: Prince George and Princess Charlotte
A monarch’s kids are dubbed princes and princesses at birth (think Prince Charles), but they aren’t the only ones who enjoy the title. Children born to a prince (like Prince William) also get the moniker, while those born to a princess do not (like Zara Tindall).
Example: Princess Anne
This title is reserved for the eldest daughter of the monarch (aka Princess Anne), and it’s up to the king or queen when the title is granted. Traditionally, a princess is given the prestigious title after marriage because an old tradition says that anyone who gets intimate with the princess royal before saying “I do” shall be sentenced to death. Interestingly enough, there are no further perks associated with being dubbed the princess royal. Even stranger is the fact that there’s no such thing as the prince royal.
Duke or Duchess
Examples: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex
The highest degree of the British peerage system, a duke or duchess title is traditionally granted to a prince and his spouse upon marriage. Take the newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex, aka Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, for instance. Wondering what the significance of the title’s location is? Well, back in feudal times, being the Duke of Sussex meant that Harry would be granted all of the land in Sussex. However, now the title is more honorary than anything and a dukedom does not come with land or power. There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to the dukedom Queen Elizabeth chooses for the men in her family other than availability.
Marquess or Marchioness
Example: Simon Rufus Isaacs, 4th Marquess of Reading
This basically extinct hereditary title was originally created for the leaders of English border territories in order to clarify that they ruled outside of interior provinces (like England). Currently, Rufus Isaacs (second from the right) is one of the few with this distinction. A new marquess hasn’t been named since the Marquess of Willingdon in 1936 and anyone else with a marquess or marchioness title inherited it from their father. Like other titles in the peerage system, it doesn’t come with specific privileges.
Earl or Countess
Examples: Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex
Slightly less swanky than a dukeship, earl titles are passed down from father to son and countess titles are acquired through marriage. Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex is the only prince with an earl title, and he’ll take on his father, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh’s station after his passing. Fun fact: Earl is the oldest title in the whole damn peerage system, but it doesn’t come with royal perks other than the name.
Viscount or Viscountess
Example: James, Viscount Severn
Viscounts are often the children of an earl, like Prince Edward’s son James, but it’s also a title that can be given.
Lord or Lady
Example: Lady Kitty Spencer
Marquesses, earls, viscounts and their female counterparts can all be referred to as lord or lady instead of their big fancy titles. Their children also acquire a lord or lady title. The preternaturally gorgeous Lady Kitty Spencer, whose parents are Charles Spencer, 9th Earl of Spencer and Victoria Aitken, is a prime example.
Baron or Baroness
Example: Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Baron Killyleagh
A baron or baroness title can be passed down or bestowed. The rank was initially created to denote a tenant-in-chief to the monarch (someone who owned land and used it for feudal land tenure) and was allowed to attend Parliament, but now it doesn’t come with those bells and whistles. There are more barons than any other title in the peerage system.
Example: Dame Helen Mirren
This is an honor given to someone via the monarch who has shown excellence in some way, like Dame Helen Mirren’s acting ability. This title cannot be passed down to children.