In September 2022, Britain once again had a new Princess of Wales.
The title was granted to the wife of Prince William, the former Duchess of Cambridge.
HRH Princess Catherine, formerly known as Kate Middleton, was officially granted the Princess of Wales title, when her husband Prince William was granted the Prince of Wales title, on becoming the heir apparent to the British throne.
Who Can Receive The Prince Of Wales Title?
The royal title of the Prince of Wales is conventionally reserved for the heir to the British throne. It was previously held by the former Prince Charles, but as is the current custom, when the monarch dies and the heir accedes to the throne, the Prince of Wales title is no longer used, until it is reappointed at the discretion of the new sovereign.
The new King Charles III had been the longest bearer of the Prince of Wales title in a history that dates back to the 14th century, yet he had not automatically inherited it when his mother became queen. He was nine years old before he was formally granted the title, and would wait another decade before he was officially invested with the title in a ceremonial service in Wales.
So it is interesting that in one of his first acts as king, Charles III granted the prestigious and historic titles of Prince and Princess of Wales to his eldest son and his daughter-in-law almost immediately.
Who Can Receive The Princess Of Wales Title?
By default of the above convention, and as a result of the line of succession of male heirs, the title of the Princess of Wales has historically been reserved for the wife of the Prince of Wales.
Given that the title of the Prince of Wales is traditionally the heir to the British Throne, this means that only the wife of the heir to the throne can receive the Princess of Wales title.
Since the change in the Law of Male Preference Primogeniture, it’s possible, though not necessarily certain, that should a female be the heir to the throne, she would be assigned the title of Princess of Wales, regardless of her husband’s title.
The decision of if or when to grant the title of Prince of Wales is at the discretion of the sovereign – it’s not automatically inherited – so the decision to grant the title of the Princess of Wales would also be made by the reigning monarch.
In this sense, the king or queen can decide who receives the Princess of Wales title. For example, future monarchs may stick with tradition and grant the role to the wife of the heir apparent, or they may break with tradition and grant it to another role or rank within the royal family, or they may choose to not reassign the title at all.
The reigning king or queen gets to decide who can receive the Princess of Wales title, as well as the title of the Prince of Wales.
Yet history has shown us that, so far, the titles are conventionally assigned to the heir apparent and his wife.
Why Was Camilla Not The Princess Of Wales?
Given that the wife of the Prince of Wales is usually granted the title of Princess of Wales, it’s natural to wonder why Camilla Parker-Bowles did not receive the title when she became the wife of Prince Charles, who was the Prince of Wales from the age of nine.
The suggestion from royal sources has been that this was done as a mark of respect for Diana, Princess of Wales who was the first wife of King Charles III.
In 1981, when the king was the Prince of Wales, he married Lady Diana Spencer. As a result of her husband’s title, Diana became the Princess of Wales, as it has historically been the convention for the Princess of Wales title to be granted to the wife of the current Prince of Wales.
After the marriage of Charles and Diana, the couple were most often styled as Prince Charles and Princess Diana, though formally they were HRH Prince & Princess of Wales.
One of the contentious aspects of the later divorce was which royal titles and styling Diana would be allowed to use, once she was no longer the wife of the Prince of Wales.
It was agreed that she would no longer be entitled to use the HRH styling, but that she could be known as Diana, Princess of Wales, thus retaining her royal status, at least in name.
Given that Diana was such a prominent and popular figure, and that her name became so synonymous with the Princess of Wales title, it was perhaps a wise and respectful decision not to reassign the title to the new wife of the heir apparent, i.e. Prince Charles, when he remarried.
Instead, the new wife of the Prince of Wales was granted the title Duchess of Cornwall, in reference to her husband’s additional title of Duke of Cornwall. Even though the title of Duchess is customarily a lower noble rank than that of a princess, for example, the Duchess of Cornwall was ranked as the second highest woman in the British order of precedence (a formal hierarchy of esteemed ranks and roles within the United Kingdom.)
The Duchess of Cornwall may not have received the title of Princess of Wales, yet she has now been granted one of the highest possible royal titles within the British system, that of Queen Consort, a title she acquired when her husband, the former Prince Charles became the new King, Charles III, in 2022.
The title of the Princess of Wales has been one of curious idiosyncrasies and intriguing controversy over the last few generations. While conventionally it has been the sole reserve of the wife of the Prince of Wales, the new legislation means that a female heir may one day receive the Princess of Wales title.
Until then, the current recipient, Princess Catherine, will usher in a new chapter of this fascinating royal title, while her husband, Prince William will be the one to decide the future fate of the title when he becomes king.