The titles of duchess and princess are two of the most esteemed and prestigious of royal and noble titles for women.
Other than the sovereign titles of queen, empress, tsarina, etc., the title of princess is usually the highest-ranking female title within a royal family. (Excluding anomaly titles eg royal duchesses, such as a Grand duchess or Archduchess, who have historically ranked more highly than many princesses of lesser kingdoms)
Similarly, the noble title of duchess occupies a rank at the epitome of the aristocratic hierarchy – ranking above all the other noble titles for women, such as Countess, Viscountess, Marchioness, Baroness, Dame, and Lady.
The contemporary cohort of modern princesses and duchesses is notoriously captivating to both the world’s media and the general public.
The history books, too, are full of tales of the various princesses and duchesses that have left their mark as part of the royal families and monarchies of the ages.
And the realms of film and literature are rife with stories of fictional duchesses and imaginary princesses who live tantalisingly glamourous and dramatic lives.
So, it’s not surprising that people around the world are infinitely curious about the similarities and differences between a noble duchess title and a royal princess title, and how one rank can be elevated (or changed) to the other.
Here are some insights into the relationship between these two captivating titles, and also some similar questions that people often wonder about regarding this level of royalty and nobility.
What’s The Difference Between A Duchess And A Princess?
Historically, a princess is a member of royalty, and a duchess is a member of the aristocracy, the class that ranks immediately below royalty in many social hierarchies of the world.
A princess is traditionally the daughter of a monarch or the wife of a prince.
Whereas a Duchess is typically the wife of a Duke, which is one of the highest-ranking noble titles, but is not necessarily a royal title.
Though many noble titles can be inherited by females, historically, a dukedom would usually only be inherited by male heirs, meaning that there would be fewer occasions of a Duchess inheriting the title rather than acquiring it through marriage.
Can A Duchess Become A Princess?
Yes, a duchess can become a princess, though it’s quite a rare occurrence and subject to a range of specific criteria, depending on the country and the royal family where the titles are issued.
Anyone who has been following the changes of royal titles after the death of England’s Queen Elizabeth II will have witnessed the elevation of a Duchess to the higher rank of royal Princess.
The new Princess of Wales was formerly known as the Duchess of Cambridge, and so she is living proof that a duchess can become a princess.
Her new status as a royal princess is not simply the result of marrying a royal prince – which has been the route to this lofty royal title in the past. In this instance, HRH Catherine, Princess of Wales has been elevated to her new title because her husband was granted the title of Prince of Wales when his father Charles (the previous Prince of Wales) became the King of Great Britain in September 2022.
Prior to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Catherine was a royal duchess, i.e. the Duchess of Cambridge. This title was the female equivalent of the Duke of Cambridge, which was granted to her husband William by the Queen when the couple were married in 2011.
This is a real-life example of how a duchess can become a princess, but this set of circumstances is considerably rare among royal families around the world, and it’s likely that very few duchesses would be in a position to become a princess.
During the changing of titles within the British Royal Family in 2022, there was an even rarer example of a duchess becoming the highest-ranking royal female in the entire hierarchy when Camilla the former Duchess of Cornwall was elevated to the title of Queen Consort when her husband Charles became the king.
Though duchesses have, in the past, married into a higher royal rank to become a princess or even a queen, it’s far from a regular occurrence in today’s royal families.
So, even though a duchess can become a princess, it is a rather remote possibility in modern times.
Can A Princess Become A Duchess?
Although many queries about royal and noble ranks are concerned with an elevation to a higher status, there have been some recent conversations in the world’s media about the possibility of a princess becoming a duchess.
Customarily, a princess ranks higher than a duchess, because a princess is a member of royalty, and a duchess is a member of the nobility, and royalty outranks nobility in the majority of the world’s social class systems.
Yet, there may be occasions when a princess might become a duchess.
One occasion would be if a princess from the royal family of one country married a Duke from the nobility of another country. In such a scenario, it’s likely that the wife would use the styling of her husband’s rank, ie Duchess, though she may include the royal title of princess as well.
An example of this scenario is Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll. Princess Louise was the daughter of England’s famous Queen Victoria – so she was a royal by birth, and a princess in her own right. When she married the Marquess of Lorne, who later became the Duke of Argyll, she adopted her husband’s noble rank within her own name.
So, this is an example of a princess becoming a duchess, though like many instances of this type, a royal princess is likely to keep both her princess title and her new title of duchess in the formal styling of her address, as it usually signifies a higher and regal status than a simple duchess title.
While the ranks of princess and duchess may appear close within the traditional social hierarchies, in reality, the roles of the women who hold these titles can differ enormously. This is perhaps why it is so fascinating when a duchess is elevated to the status of royal princess, or even more rarely, when a royal princess becomes a duchess.