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.