When Prince Philip passed away in April 2021, his death marked the passing of Britain’s longest-serving royal consort in the nation’s history. But one question many had upon his passing was why Prince Philip was not a king, despite being married to Queen Elizabeth II for over 70 years? The answer has to do with a surprising royal tradition.
Long before Prince Philip’s death at the age of 99, he was given the titles of Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich upon his marriage to Queen Elizabeth II in 1947—but he was not named king. In fact, the Iron Duke did not even receive the title of Prince Consort, a designation given to the spouse of a female reigning monarch, right away. It wasn’t until 1957, nearly five years after the Queen’s coronation, when he was made an official Prince of the United Kingdom. The Queen named him Prince Consort in a statement released by Buckingham Palace in February of that year, which read:
“The Queen has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm bearing date 22nd February, 1957, to give and grant unto His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, K.G., K.T., G.B.E., the style and titular dignity of a Prince of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Whitehall,” the letters patent began, as per Town & Country. It continued: “The Queen has been pleased to declare her will and pleasure that His ‘Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh shall henceforth be known as His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.”
So if the Queen could name her husband a British Prince, why couldn’t she give him the title of King Consort? It all boils down to a royal technicality, courtesy of… the patriarchy. While any spouse of a ruling king or queen gets called a consort, it is only the wife of a king who gets the title of Queen Consort as a kind of symbolic gesture. For example, Duchess Kate Middleton is likely to take on the title of Queen Catherine when her husband, Prince William, becomes King—but that doesn’t make her a ruling monarch.
Meanwhile, husbands of queens are referred to as Prince Consort instead of King Consort. This is due to a royal tradition that dictates anyone with the title of King would be the reigning monarch, so for Queen Elizabeth II to remain the royal in charge, her husband cannot be King. Seeing as how Prince Philip was also not in any way in line for the throne, he instead remained her dutiful Prince Consort until the day he passed.
For more about Prince Philip’s life, check out Ingrid Seward’s biography about the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip Revealed, Seward, a Majesty magazine editor who has been covering the British royal family for decades, unravels the “enigma” known as Prince Philip. From his early childhood in Paris and his mother’s battle with schizophrenia to his military service in World War II, Seward covers topics that many royal followers may not know about or haven’t seen on The Crown. The book also discusses how Prince Philip was “initially distrusted” by the royal court before he found his place in Buckingham Palace.
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