‘It's been done before!' How British royal history puts Meghan and Harry title row to bed

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Archie and Lilibet ‘should be treated like Wessexes’ says Lady C

Following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of King Charles III, several titles within the Royal Family changed. The Cambridges became the Waleses and Prince William inherited his father’s former styles — Duchy of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay. These changes were made clear on the Royal Family’s official website almost immediately, with the line of succession adjusted to reflect the shifts within the monarchy. But while William, Kate, Princess of Wales and their children’s titles were altered, the Sussexes’ styles remained the same — leading some to question what the future holds for three-year-old Archie and one-year-old Lilibet. 

Technically, a 1917 Letters Patent means Archie and Lilibet became prince and princess upon the accession of their grandfather. The patent stated: “The children of any Sovereign of these Realms and the children of the sons of any such Sovereign (as per the above Letters Patent of 1864) and the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales (a modification of the Letters Patent of 1898) shall have and at all times hold and enjoy the style, title or attribute of Royal Highness with their titular dignity of Prince or Princess.”  

However, Archie and Lilibet remain styled as ‘Master’ and ‘Miss’ on the Royal Family’s website. 

Marlene Koenig, a historian who has researched the Royal Family for over 40 years, referred back to the Letters Patent issued by King George V as a starting point in this global debate but claimed more critical precedence can be found later in royal history. 

She told Express.co.uk: “Technically, according to the 1917 Letters Patent — I use the word technically because there has never been a situation when you have great-grandchildren move up since 1917 — Harry’s children should be styled as Prince. But, so far, they’re not being styled as that. And there is another precedent. 

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Earl of Macduff / Meghan and Harry / Sophie and Edward

Meghan and Harry’s children’s future titles remain unknown (Image: Getty Images)

Sussexes

Archie and Lilibet are currently styled as ‘Master’ and ‘Miss’ (Image: Alexi Lubomirski/ Duke and Duchess of Sussex)

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“[Prince] Edward’s children were the same as Archie and Lili — Archie and Lili are now grandchildren of the Sovereign in the male line. Are Edward’s children styled as prince and princess? No, they are styled as children of an Earl.” 

Ms Koenig referred back to 1999 when Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys-Jones (now Sophie, Countess of Wessex) and it was decided their children would not use princely titles. 

The historian explained: “Back on Edward’s wedding day, there was an announcement — the Queen decided that this [Sophie and Edward’s children being styled as children of an Earl] was going to happen and Edward and Sophie agreed. 

“In the late Nineties, there was a group called the Way Ahead Group, which included senior royals, advisors and maybe some government officials, and they discussed how the monarchy would evolve. It, of course, came out of all the scandals of the Nineties. 

“One of the planned agreements was to downgrade Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie because it was already decided that they were not going to be working royals. They would have been styled as daughters of a Duke. Of course, that got vetoed. 

Wessexes

Sophie and Edward have two children: Louise and James (Image: Getty Images)

“But it was implemented for Edward because he did not have born children.”

In 2003, Louise Windsor, the eldest child of Edward and Sophie, was born and was given the title of ‘Lady’ rather than ‘Princess’. Similarly, four years later, when the Wessexes’ son was born, he was styled as James, Viscount Severn, not Prince James. 

“So you have that precedent already,” Ms Koenig said.

It has previously been suggested that the Wessex children would adopt new titles on their 18th birthday, but when Louise celebrated the occasion on November 8, 2021, it was not the case. 

It now begs the question that as grandchildren of the monarch, who decides which styles Archie and Lilibet use?

Lady Louise and James, Viscount Severn

The two Wessex children were grandchildren of the Sovereign but did not become prince and princess (Image: Getty Images)

When Archie was born, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle decided not to use the courtesy title, Earl of Dumbarton, and instead agreed that their son would be known as Archie Mountbatten-Windsor.

Ms Koenig said: “The Sussexes issued a statement that they were not going to use of Earl of Dumbarton at that time because they wanted their son to have a more private life.”  

However, now that Archie and Lilibet are entitled to be named prince and princess as grandchildren of the new King, it has been reported that Harry and Meghan want the decision to be their children’s. But this will only come to fruition if Charles decides to give them the titles in the first place — which they can then choose to revoke.

The Times reported: “Harry is understood to have expressed his desire to let his children decide when they are older, and to have emphasised that would only be possible if they were allowed to retain their titles now. The conversation is understood to have ended unresolved, and to have left the Sussexes dismayed.”

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Meghan, Harry and baby Archie

Meghan and Harry chose not to use Archie’s courtesy title (Image: Getty Images)

Another point of contention, that could be partly resolved if Archie and Lilibet are bestowed titles, is security for the Sussexes. It is understood that it may be easier for Harry and Meghan to have protections covered while in the UK if their children hold princely titles. 

When the Duke and Duchess stepped down from their senior roles within the Firm they relinquished their ‘HRH’ titles and were no longer eligible for taxpayer-funded police protection. The latter has led to the Duke filing lawsuits challenging the Home Office’s decision. 

While Archie and Lilibet are eligible for HRH titles, as Ms Koenig explains, they can be given as easily as taken away. In 1917, when King George V issued the Letters Patent, a young, little-known Prince was stripped of his title. 

Ms Koenig said: “One of the weird things that George V did was make a clause that said, only the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales would be styled as HRH Prince — the others would be styled as a Duke. Before, all the male line, except the children of the Prince of Wales, were HH Prince.

“In 1914, Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught had a son — Alastair; he was His Highness Prince Alastair Arthur of Connaught because his father was a grandson of Queen Victoria. In 1917, the new Letters Patent came out, he [Alastair] is a great-grandson in the male line but not the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, so he lost his title. He was no longer a prince.  

Earl of Macduff

Prince Alastair Arthur became the Earl of Macduff in 1917 (Image: Getty Images)

“Since his mother was Duchess of Fife in her own right, he was styled as Earl of Macduff. So here you have a precedent of a three-year-old, who was a prince but lost his title — another precedent. 

“I’m saying it’s been done before. There is precedent — you have 1917 when Alastair lost his prince title, you have the decision — made by the Queen — regarding the Earl and Countess of Wessex’s children and of course, the 2013 Letters Patent where this could have been solved then and there.” 

Here, Ms Koenig refers to the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 which was passed to replace male-preference primogeniture with absolute primogeniture for those in the line of succession born after October 2011. It meant that the eldest child, regardless of gender, preceded any siblings in the line of succession. 

This affected the placing of Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales’ three children — Prince George, nine, Princess Charlotte, seven and Prince Louis, four. It did not change the line of succession for the late Queen’s children, with Anne still falling behind her younger brothers. 

Ms Koenig explains: “If the 1917 clause was still in place and Charlotte was born first, she would have been styled as Lady Charlotte and would have been behind her younger brothers in the line of succession. So that had to change. Queen Elizabeth issued a Letters Patent which gave the HRH Prince or Princess titles to all of the children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales.”

Kate, William and their children

The Waleses children all use the prince and princess titles (Image: Getty Images)

Archie and Lilibet’s royal titles on hold over ‘caveat’ from King Charles, expert claims

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Notably, the late Queen did not issue a Letters Patent to include Harry’s future children. 

Ms Koenig said: “If there were plans for Harry’s children to hold the same titles before Charles became King, the Queen could have put in that Letters Patent: ‘The children of all sons of the Prince of Wales.’

“She didn’t, she didn’t do it then. So the assumption was that they would be styled as children of a Duke.” 

Similarly, Victoria Arbiter, a long-time royal commentator, described this as a “grey area” but argued that the Queen’s 2012 Letters Patent “suggests Harry’s children were never destined to be burdened with an HRH.” 

Writing for Australian outlet 9Honey, she noted: “Though many have cited the Queen’s 2012 decision to amend the 1917 Letters Patent to include all children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales as ample reason for him to follow suit, it’s important to note she only did so in response to the changes in the Laws to Succession.

Royal Family line of succession

Archie and Lilibet are 6th and 7th in the line of succession (Image: Express.co.uk)

“Knowing Harry would one day marry and have children of his own she could have altered the ruling to include all grandchildren of the Prince of Wales, but she didn’t, which suggests Harry’s children were never destined to be burdened with an HRH.” 

This global debate comes over two years after Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, during which the Duke and Duchess claimed there were talks of their son not receiving a princely title due to his race. 

Meghan said: “They didn’t want him to be a prince . . . which would be different from protocol, and that he wasn’t going to receive security. 

“We have in tandem the conversation of: ‘He won’t be given security. He’s not going to be given a title.’ And also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

At the time, Archie was not entitled to the title of Prince as great-grandchildren of the monarch are not princes or princesses, except for children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales. 

Buckingham Palace commented on the interview in an official statement, saying: “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”

Royal Family tree

The Queen had 12 great-grandchildren at the time of her death (Image: Express.co.uk)

Now that Archie and his sister’s titles have been put back in the spotlight, experts have questioned whether a prince or princess style is actually a blessing or in fact a curse. Neither Archie nor Lilibet are likely to be working royals and their parents have made their determination to safeguard the two youngsters’ privacy clear — so are the regal titles necessary? 

Ms Arbiter claimed carrying the titles “would only further fuel the public interest they so despise. Surely there are better ways for a grandfather to show his love.”

She continued: “With the benefit of hindsight, the Sussexes may eventually see that if he does choose not to offer their children the titles they crave, he will have granted them a gift far greater than any HRH: the unrestrained freedom their parents relinquished royal life to secure.”

However, Katie Nicholl, author of the book ‘The New Royals’ has disagreed, arguing that Archie and Lilibet being named prince and princess would give them a better chance of leading low-profile lives. 

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry

Meghan and Harry reportedly want their children to be able to choose whether they use the titles (Image: Getty Images)

She told Entertainment Tonight: “I think one of the key issues for Harry and Meghan, who we know very much want a below-the-radar lifestyle for their children, was security. That, of course, comes with being an HRH — it means that every time Harry and Meghan come over here with their children they get taxpayer-funded royal protection security.” 

It remains to be seen whether King Charles III had decided to bestow any titles upon his US-based grandchildren, with some claiming the new monarch is waiting for the release of the Sussexes’ long-awaited projects — Harry’s tell-all memoir and the couple’s at-home style Netflix documentary — before he reveals his stance. 

It has been described as an “enormous decision” for the new King, whose relationship with Harry has been in the spotlight since the Sussexes’ exit. Ms Arbiter suggested that Charles will be “keen to quell any future barbs” from Meghan and Harry, saying “it’s imperative he use the early days of his reign to tie up loose ends by addressing the issues that may prove detrimental to the crown”.

But, Ms Koenig insists that royal history lays out a precedent that must be paid attention to and believes there “is going to be a new Letters Patent,” which she expects will reflect decisions set in stone decades ago.



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