The title of Princess Royal is one of the most high-ranking titles for females within the British Royal Family.
Ever since the title was first established in the 17th century, the recipients of this esteemed and respected royal title have occupied a rare place in the history of England’s royal ladies and the minds of England’s loyal subjects.
Who Was The First Princess Royal?
The first English Princess Royal was Princess Mary, the daughter of King Charles I who reigned during the 17th century.
The title was created as an English equivalent to the French title, Madame Royale, which was used to differentiate the eldest daughter of the king from other princesses in the royal court.
As such, those who have received the title have customarily been among the highest-ranking females within the royal family, sometimes second only to the queen.
Over time, it has become the convention for the title of Princess Royal to be granted to the eldest daughter of the British monarch.
Who Is The Current Princess Royal?
The current holder of the English Princess Royal title is Princess Anne, the daughter of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Princess Anne is the second-born child, and as such is not in line to the throne – her older brother Charles inherited the English crown in 2022, and his son William is now the heir to the British throne.
However, since the Princess Royal title is granted for life, Princess Anne will retain the title until she dies, regardless of who becomes king (or queen), or who becomes the heir and who has daughters in line to the throne.
While Princess Anne can claim the title of Princess Royal until her death, she did not receive it by default when she was born. It wasn’t until 1987, 37 years after she was born, that Princess Anne was granted the title, at the discretion of her mother, Queen Elizabeth II.
Princess Anne has established a highly respected role within the British Royal Family and is regarded as one of the highest-ranking royals. She continues to work dutifully in her prestigious royal role and is highly regarded by the British public and around the world.
As the latest in an esteemed line of Princess Royals, she has made the title her own, bringing her characterful sense of independence, duty, humour and dignity to the role.
Who Can Receive The Princess Royal Title?
The Princess Royal title is historically reserved solely for the eldest daughter of the British monarch.
However, unlike some royal titles that automatically go to the eldest child of a monarch, such as the Dauphin in the French royal court, the title of Princess Royal is granted at the discretion of the monarch, i.e. they get to decide who can receive the title, and when.
There is also a custom assigned to this title that is held for life, even if the parent monarch dies and a new king or queen takes their place.
In such a scenario, the eldest daughter of the new monarch might be expected to be granted the title of Princess Royal. However, since the title is held for life, it will not become available for the new candidate until the previous recipient dies.
Is The Princess Royal Title Hereditary?
No, due to the specific criteria for the Princess Royal title, as well as the special conditions regarding the granting of this title, it is not automatically passed onto future generations.
When a Princess Royal dies, the selection of the next recipient will depend on who is the current monarch, whether they have a daughter and whether they choose to grant the title.
For example, Princess Anne, the current Princess Royal, has a daughter, Zara, yet she is unlikely to become the next Princess Royal because her mother is not a monarch. Since Princess Anne is 16th in line to the British throne, it’s unlikely that she will become queen, and so her daughter will not be a candidate for the title of Princess Royal.
Who Will Be The Next Princess Royal?
As the title is granted to the eldest daughter of a monarch, the next Princess Royal will potentially be Princess Charlotte, when her father Prince William becomes king.
This will only be an option, however, if the current holder of the title, Princess Anne, has died.
As the current monarch, King Charles III, has no daughters, there is no current candidate for the title.
Throughout the centuries of kings and queens, the focus of history and the world has largely been the sons of the monarchs. Given the traditional laws of primogeniture, the firstborn males were typically the next in line to the throne, and so they were seen as the powerful and influential offspring of kings and queens.
The title of Princess Royal goes some way to redressing this balance, by elevating the eldest daughter to a more eminent position and standing within the royal court and the wider world.
Within the British Royal Family, the conventions around male primogeniture have been changed in recent years, paving the way for more firstborn females to become the heirs to the throne, as opposed to being replaced as heir presumptive should a male child arrive.
What this will mean for the title of Princess Royal remains to be seen. When daughters can retain their claim to the throne regardless of younger siblings, there may be less of a need to single out the eldest daughter with a special title, as they will automatically assume the rank, role and power of the heir.
Alternatively, the history and tradition of the Princess Royal title may be something that future monarchs wish to continue, either by conforming to the current conventions around the title or updating the role with a new appointment or set of criteria.
The Princess Royals of history are a select and fascinating collection of royal English princesses, and only time will tell which other females will join this historic and prestigious group.