The Edinburgh Question

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As we’ve discussed here many times – and as has been widely reported for years, if not decades – The Prince of Wales’s vision for the British Royal Family is a smaller one. That means fewer royals empowered to represent the monarch and the institution, less expense, and fewer titles. This last issue is our topic for today, because the question of whether or not – and when – Master Archie Mountbatten-Windsor would become HRH Prince Archie raised by The Duchess of Sussex in March has had an interesting domino effect.

Now, to underscore this point yet again – Archie was never going to be “Prince Archie” as of his 2019 birth. That particular honor belongs to the monarch’s grandchildren, descended via her sons. In this case, that means the children of Charles, The Duke of York (Andrew), and The Earl of Wessex (Edward). Andrew’s daughters are thus princesses, while Edward opted to forgo that styling for his own two children. At the times of their births in 2003 and 2007 it was fairly well-established that neither would work as full-time royals when they were adults, so the titles are just anchors they would have to navigate professionally.

As of 1917 when this was laid out during the reign of the current Queen’s grandfather, George V, one exception to this rule was made – the eldest great-grandson born via the eldest son’s line would also be a prince since he would one day be king. In our case that means The Duke of Cambridge’s elder son, Prince George. An exception was made nearly a decade ago to allow the younger children of William’s equivalent in the line of succession to be princes and princesses from birth. As such, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis are styled just that. The reasoning behind that was no doubt to lessen public confusion as titles change with various reigns.

The original idea was that once Charles became king the focus would crystallize around him, his wife, his sons, and his sons’ spouses. Eventually, the focus would broaden to include William’s children once they were of age, since they would be expected to work as royals during William’s reign. How that would work logistically with Charles’s siblings was unclear – upon their mother’s deaths would they resign their patronages and retire? Carry on their patronages, but unofficially? Decamp from their grace and favor residences? Or just take on the boring stuff out of public view? Who knows.

At no point were the children of Harry and Meghan included in this vision because, to put it bluntly, they are the offspring of a younger son and too far down in the line of succession. By the time Prince George is the monarch, they will – in theory – have as much relevancy as the Queen’s cousins, The Duke of Gloucester and The Duke of Kent. When was the last time you thought about either of them, working royals though they may be?

Since c. 2011-2013 when all of this was top of mind for royal watchers, things have changed. Harry and Meghan have left the Royal Family, while Andrew was forced to “retire” following the Epstein scandal. In both the short- and long-term, the departure of the Sussexes is a much bigger deal. Not only did they pack a level of star wattage only matched by William and Kate, but they are literally 33% of the royals expected to carry the workload during Charles’s reign.

Even longer term, their departure may impact how George, Charlotte, and Louis are introduced to public life. Given how William handled his own evolution towards full-time royal work, I would assume he would want to grant his children as much of a grace period during their young adulthoods so that they too could pursue their own interests and dedicate time to their personal lives for as long as possible. But, if William is king by the time, let’s say, George is roughly 25, then George will become Prince of Wales and is workload will look more like Charles’s than even William’s does right now. Particularly if Harry and Meghan aren’t there to help shoulder the burden. That’s even more egregious when you consider Charlotte would be 23 and Louis 20.

So, the question becomes, does Charles need to re-think his planned exclusion of his siblings and his son’s children (Princess Anne’s two children are out of the question at this point, I think). Buckingham Palace seems to think so. For a while now they’ve been seeking to give Edward and his wife, Sophie, a little more credit for their work. In the wake of William and Kate’s wedding in 2011 there was a strong push to promote Sophie as another royal woman worth public notice, and we’ve seen another wave of that in the last 18 months during the Sussex breakdown. The logic is relatively sound – Edward is 16 years younger than Charles and 18 older than William, so he bridges the generation gap helpfully, and Sophie is pretty, a hands-on mother, and does her duties well. So, if the Yorks are out because of Andrew, then maybe at least the Wessexes can stay in the mix?

Clarence House – and Charles – don’t seem to think so. Last week news leaked out that Charles was apparently considering withholding the title Duke of Edinburgh from Edward, directly contradicting the wishes of his parents, particularly his late father. The title was awarded to Prince Philip in 1947 ahead of his wedding to then-Princess Elizabeth, so technically it now belongs to Charles as his eldest son. However, because Charles is already Prince of Wales and will eventually become king it is for all practical purposes now out of use. Philip’s hope was that the title could be carried on by one of his younger sons instead – that when Charles ascends the throne and his titles re-merge with the crown, he would award it to Edward.

We know this to be true based on an announcement made in 1999 when Edward married Sophie that they would be the Earl and Countess of Wessex during the Queen’s reign, with the anticipation that they would inherit the dukedom of Edinburgh in due course. In a much later interview, Edward confirmed that Philip approached them shortly after their engagement and said that he wanted to see the title carried on, but he wasn’t fast enough at the time that Andrew married in 1986 (and was made Duke of York, the traditional title for second sons since the 16th century, more or less) and so he hoped Edward would pick up the mantle.

Charles withholding the title from Edward would be a far more dramatic attempt at streamlining the monarchy then most of us were tracking. From his perspective, assuming this is true, I suppose the logic is why would he make a man a duke when that man is expected to become less and not more royal in the new reign (and yes, I know there aren’t really degrees, but you know what I mean). But, BUT, the man in question is his brother, who has expected this title for over two decades, and it was the expressed wish of his very popular parents. As such, it’s not going to be popular.

My best guess is that this story was leaked now – while the Queen is alive and the stakes are lower – to see how the public responded. And here’s why: The real crux of the issue is that Charles and his staff need to get a handle on the public’s appetite for the reality of a streamlined monarchy in the flesh. In other words, not the abstract notion of less royals and less public funding, which sound like positives, but rather when actual individuals aren’t given what once might have been their presumed due.

Edward and Sophie aren’t the real story here – Harry, Meghan, and Camilla are. The Edinburgh Question is really a test bubble for how the public would react if Charles in fact doesn’t make Archie and Lilibet a prince and princess when he becomes king. Personally, I never thought he would, but apparently Harry himself wasn’t tracking that, and the public response (albeit not the British one) didn’t reflect well on the Royal Family, if not Charles himself. If the argument can be made “in due course” that multiple people are being kept where they are as part of a modernizing effort, then it’ll seem less like a personal insult to Harry and Meghan…or, you know, racist.

And why’s that important? Because Charles wants to make Camilla queen. When they married in 2005 the party line was that Camilla would be known as “Duchess of Cornwall” now and “Princess Consort” when Charles became king out of deference to Diana, Princess of Wales. Legally, Camilla *is* the Princess of Wales, and nearly 20 years later, with memories having faded and Camilla much more popular, the hope is that her taking on “Queen Camilla” will be doable, even with some pushback.

If the idea of streamlining is becoming unpopular and Charles is seen as withholding honors to his brother and grandchildren while going back on his word to elevate his second wife (and former mistress, which is rude, but obviously relevant here) then a mixed news cycle becomes a disastrous one. A lot can change in a very small window of time and right now, thankfully, all of this is hypothetical. But this is one of those stories that may seem small and random, but speaks to a much a bigger picture. We shall see.

8 thoughts on “The Edinburgh Question

  1. Laura Jordan

    Really good insights about how this could be a stalking horse to see how we feel about a slimmed down RF and/or Camilla taking the title of Queen (as she will be, even if she is called the Grand Moff Tarkin)

    I think it would be poor not to give Edward this for a number of reasons. It was presented as a done deal 20+ years ago, which many of us remember, his parents wanted it, the Wessexes seem to be doing a good job (after a bit of a shaky start) and frankly, unless they are planning to send little George, Charlotte and Louis out to do the donkey work after school, they need them. Recent events have diminished the number of effective working Royals who will be active now and in the next 10 or so years very significantly..

  2. Miss Kitty

    I think your point of Buckingham Palace seeing how the public react is a good one. I think that Charles does want a streamlined version of the RF, but where you draw the line seems to be a bit tricky, now that Harry & Meghan have departed. Certainly he doesn’t seem to want to have the current situation where you have the Queen’s cousins still working as royals and living off the public ticket, even though most people have no idea who they are. It’s a bit of a dilemma for Charles – if he goes ahead with his slimmed down version of the RF, he is going to end up with hardly anyone available for royal duties. Does this mean that the royal family will stop taking on so many charities and duties? Or what will it mean for the future? On the other hand, if he decides that he needs to keep the Wessexes on as working royals and gives him the title of Duke of Edinburgh, he can hardly justify not making Harry & Meghan’s children Prince & Princess, being that they are further up the line of succession. The only way that I can see he could prevent it would be if he strips Harry & Meghan of their titles, which may yet happen if they continue on the course they have chosen for themselves. But this would also possibly not go down well with the public.

    As for Camilla, I think the public have had enough time to get used to her and see how well she has supported Charles over the past 20 years, and are far more accepting of her now than then. After the way she had put her head down and worked, she deserves to be made the Queen. There will always be some who will be angry about Diana, but as wonderful as Diana was, it was obviously not a marriage that was ever going to succeed. Camilla on the other hand, is exactly what Charles needs, and she deserves to be recognised.

    1. Thank you for commenting 🙂 Just to clarify one point – I think this may have been floated by Clarence House, not Buckingham Palace. I think the Wessexes’ role represents an interesting split between the households because BP has certainly been pushing them forward, but CH up until very recently didn’t see them as part of the future mix. So, time will tell, but regardless of whether they keep up the same pace of work long-term, I do agree that Edward should be given his father’s title in due course. I also think Charles can give Edward that title without necessarily having to necessary change his plans to exclude Arhchie and Lilibet due to their parents not working and their location in CA – but there will be reactions.

      And yes, that’s the tricky thing about Camilla. I agree that most people wouldn’t blink over her becoming queen at this point, and I personally like her quite a bit and hope she receives the title. However, that goodwill *will* diminish (even if it doesn’t evaporate) if other royals are seen as being slighted at the same time. It will really depend on how this situation with the Sussexes plays out, I think.

  3. Laura Jordan

    I meant to add- at some point in the dim and distant future, George will be POW, Louis will get York and Charlotte Princess Royal. It feels a bit odd to be planning out the future of these small children, but realistically, I think that is how it will play out. Charles has no need of DoE for himself or them and to not let Edward have it would seem very churlish. Unless of course he is reserving it for Harry, which I somewhat doubt.

    1. I’m not 100% sure Louis would be given DoY. Part of that is pure logistics – as of when Louis marries, it’s possible Andrew will still be alive. But even if not, there’s such a negative association with Andrew and “the Yorks” (not to mention Beatrice and Eugenie are still considered the York girls) that I wouldn’t be surprised if they skip that particular tradition with that generation. TBD, obviously since none of that would be going down for another quarter century or so – the Andrew scandal is still so fresh now and there’s a limited number of titles to offer, but I would imagine those would be considerations.

  4. Laura Jordan

    Good point, it might well be a poisoned chalice, without the likelihood Andrew will still be alive. I do feel rather sorry for the York girls actually, as their only wrongdoing seems to be wearing ill advised hats on occasion.

    I suppose Clarence could be an option for Louis as most people would have forgotten *that* unfortunate association among the senior dukedoms.

  5. alex

    Agree with all your comments – you have a really good sense of how the various “Palaces” think.

    However, in this case I think they got it wrong. It is really a good example of Charles’ and his staffs’ inability to pick the right fight. I have no doubt he is seriously irked that the Wessexes are always at the Queen’s side, and he is off working. But this just has a bad tone.

    A better way would have been to go after Andrew, and let Edward be caught in the mix. In other words, take away Andrew’s position, which is clearly deserved, and leave Edward where he is. It may not be a pretty process, but it’s better than where he is now, which is allowing the evil Duke to have his title, and deny the hardworking, quiet Earl.

    They seem to think nobody cares about Edward and Sophie, and maybe that’s true. But where they miscalculated is that people are tooo ready to remember how petty Charles is, and that’s really what this story ended up being about.

  6. Dennis

    Thank you for a very interesting article.

    It would seem very petty to deny Edward a dukedom after years of dutiful service to the crown (Not sure why the Queen, “Fount of all honor” doesn’t just grant it in her lifetime – after a dignified space of time).

    With the “Royal Family” slimming down as it is simply by circumstance, the Crown could very well need more workers sooner than they think.

    On a completely different note, the title of your article reminded me of a question that has long bothered me:
    Since Philip was made Duke of Edinburgh in his own right before he married Princess Elizabeth; when the question of a change of name to royal house arose back in the ’50s why was the (made up) name “Mountbatten” always cited. If a change did/does happen shouldn’t it logically become the House of Edinburgh – not Mountbatten? And shouldn’t it be up the next monarch, not the present one, to grapple with that question? Food for a future article, I hope.

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