Is there a reason for a Queen's husband not to be referred to as King?

History Asked by canadiancreed on December 15, 2020

While watching the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II events going on recently, I noticed that the Queen’s husband is referred to as ‘Prince’– not ‘King’. Upon researching further, I found that Queen Victoria and Mary III’s husbands were both referred to as Prince, and not King. Is there a reason that a male marrying a Queen would not receive the title ‘King’, while a woman marrying a King would be elevated to the title of ‘Queen’?

6 Answers

While Queen may refer to both Queen regnant (sovereign) or Queen consort, the King has always been the sovereign. There are historical reasons for this hierarchy --in a long line of English monarchs you will find more Kings than you would find Queens. In fact, if you do not recognize Matilda's and Lady Jane's claim to the throne of England then Queen Mary I of England becomes the first female sovereign of England -- and that happened in 1553, when the institution was already about 800 years old (recognizing kings before 1066).

This [long absence of a female sovereign] obviously led to the general belief that the King was the highest authority in England (hence a Kingdom and not a Queendom). And since historically Kings had declared their wives as Queens, the Queen had come to signify a lower rank in the hierarchy. Thus, Queens never bestowed the generous title of King on their husbands.

There are two exceptions of which I am aware:

  1. Queen Mary I's husband was King Philip II of Spain, who was also referred to in the court as the King of England (Jure Uxoris). In theory he was the joint sovereign with Mary.
  2. Queen Mary II and her husband (and cousin) King William III reigned jointly. But in this case, both had a claim to the throne (an act of Parliament following the Glorious Revolution).

Correct answer by Apoorv Khurasia on December 15, 2020

In the United Kingdom and the earlier kingdoms within it, the title of king consort was sometimes granted to the husband of a queen regnant but not in the last few centuries when the title of a queen regnant's husband has varied.

Obviously a man has to gain the title and/or position of king in some way in order to be a king and be called a king. If he never goes through the process of becoming a king he never is a king and is never called a king.

There are two types of queens.

The most common type of queen is a queen consort. A queen consort is a queen because she is the wife of a king. Being the king's wife gives her the right to be queen. Her husband is king in his own right. Her husband gets to be king by inheritance, election, intrigue, successful treason, right of conquest, etc. or by some combination of two or more of the above.

The other type of queen is a queen regnant. A queen regnant is a queen who reigns and/or rules in her own right. Thus a queen regnant is sort of a kingess, a female with all the powers and duties of a male king. A queen regnant gets to be queen regnant by inheritance, election, intrigue, successful treason, right of conquest, etc. or by some combination of two or more of the above, just like a King does.

There have been European kingdoms where the King was the only member of the royal family with a special title. The King's children and other relatives and his wife didn't have special titles because after all the king was the only one in the family with the job of ruling over the kingdom. But over time it became normal for the wife of a king to have a special title and for the children and other relatives of the king to have a special title.

In the 9th and 10th centuries the kings of Wessex united the Anglo-Saxons to form the kingdom of the English or of England, which is officially listed as founded in 927. In 964 King Edgar the Peaceful married as his third wife Aelfthryth and had her crowned and consecrated as queen - previous spouses of kings had been described simply as "king's wife" or "King's consort" - the first queen consort of England.

Children of English kings were called lords and ladies until and unless granted a specific nobility title. In 1714 the new King George I started the practice of making children and male line grandchildren of a British monarch princes and princesses.

And other European kingdoms have changed the titles of King's wives and children over time.

When Mary Stuart (1542-1587) became Queen regnant of Scotland in 1542 and when Jane Gray (c.1537-1554) and then Mary I (1516-1558) became Queen regnant of England in 1553 there was little British precedent for queens regnant - the most recent was Margaret the Maid of Norway (1283-1290) who became Queen regnant of Scotland in 1286 but died on the voyage to Scotland. And there were precedents from foreign kingdoms where queens regnant married.

Mary Stuart, queen regnant of Scotland, moved to France and married the Dauphin Francis in 1558 who became king consort of Scotland, and when Francis became king of France in 1559 Mary became Queen consort of France. The widowed Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley in 1565 and made him King consort of Scotland. He wanted the crown matrimonial, which would have made him co-monarch of Scotland equal in power to Mary, but was murdered in 1567. Mary married the Earl of Bothwell in 1567 and made him Duke of Orkney and Marquis of Fife.

Frances and Marie be the Grace of God King and Queen of Scottis Daulphin and Daulphines of Viennoys

Franciscus et Maria Dei gratia rex et regina Francorum ac Scotorum &c.

Henrie and Marie, be the grace of God King and Quene of Scotis

When Lady Jane Grey (c.1537-1554) was made Queen regnant of England in 1553 making her husband Guildford Dudley (c. 1535-1554) king consort was considered, but there wasn't time in her short reign. Queen Mary I (1516-1558) married Philip II (1527-1598), son of Emperor Charles V in 1554. The Emperor gave Philip a couple of his spare kingdoms and Philip became king consort of England.

The title of Philip and Mary in England was:

King of England, Spain, France, both Sicilies, Jerusalem, Ireland; Archduke of Austria; Duke of Milan, Burgundy, Brabant; Count of Habsburg, Flanders, Tyrol;

Philippus et Maria, Dei Gratia Rex et Regina Anglie Hispaniarum Francie utriusque Sicilie Jerusalem et Hibernie fidei defensores Archiduces Austrie Duces Burgundie Mediolani Brabancie Comites Haspurgi Flandrie et Tirolis

Mary's sister Elizabeth I never married.

In 1688 William III (1650-1702), Stadtholder of the Netherlands and Prince of Orange, invaded England and overthrew his uncle King James II. William and his wife Mary II (1662-1694), elder daughter of King James, became joint monarchs of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Gulielmus et Maria, Dei gratia, Angliae, Scotiae, Franciae et Hiberniae Rex et Regina, Fidei Defensores, etc.

Mary's younger sister Anne (1665-1714) became queen regnant in 1702. Anne married Prince George of Denmark (1653-1708) in 1683. George was created Duke of Cumberland, Earl of Kendal, and Baron of Okingham in 1689. When Anne was queen she wanted to ask parliament to make George king consort, but the Duke of Marlborough persuaded her not to.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) of the United Kingdom married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1819-1861) in 1840. Victoria wanted to make Albert King consort but because of opposition she made him Prince consort of the United Kingdom in 1857.

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (born 1924) married Prince Philip (born 1921) of Greece and Denmark in 1947. Philip abandoned his foreign titles and was created Baron Greenwich, Earl of Merioneth, and Duke of Edinburgh in 1947 and was made a prince of the United Kingdom in 1957.

So in the United Kingdom and the former kingdoms within it husbands of queens regnant were sometimes made kings consort in the 16th, but not in the 18th, 19th, or 20th centuries.

Answered by MAGolding on December 15, 2020

The simplest answer is that in a male dominated world, monarchs were usually male and it was understood that the man was in charge. When you had a king and queen people understood that the king was the ruler. Where you have a woman who is queen because she is the ruler, not because she is the wife of a king, there may be confusion as to who is in charge. By giving her consort husband a clearly lower rank, i.e. Prince or Duke, there is no confusion.

Answered by Hans Stoltenberg on December 15, 2020

One reason, certainly in the UK, is that a woman has historically, and still, taken her title/status from her husband not the other way round. So, if Miss Jane Smith marries the Duke of Basingstoke, she becomes the Duchess of Basingstoke. But when Countess Mountbatten succeeded her father in default of male heirs, her husband did not become an Earl.

Medieval practice was different, and if men married the last female heir to a title, he assumed her father's title sui uxoris. I am not sure when this practice died out. Whilst not related to the UK, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden's husband is merely "Prince" not Crown Prince.

I suspect as more females inherit under gender blind primogeniture, this may well change.

Answered by TheHonRose on December 15, 2020

There is a very good reason not to refer to the Queen's spouse as "King" - because they aren't the King. King is a job title in the government (like President or Prime Minister, or Mayor, or Senator), not a role in a marriage.

The monarch/sovreign of a country acquires the title "King" based on their role in the governance relationship.

The spouse of the sovreign does not share the role of monarch any more than the First Lady aquires the title President, or the wife of a policeman gets a badge.

Interesting, if less than completely relevant note; if the Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge gives birth to a female child, that would be the first woman in history who would have full and unchallenged right to the title of Queen of England. (Prior to this, a female child would be supplanted by a subsequent male heir). In that case, her husband would also be "Prince".

Answered by Mark C. Wallace on December 15, 2020

There are two types of queens. A Queen Consort is the wife of a King. A Queen Regnant is a ruler in her own right, a "female king" of you will.

The husband of a Queen Consort is just the King, per the above. But the husband of a Queen Regnant is a Prince Consort. "Prince" is one level below King, and the Consort's title is held at a level below the Queen's.

Queen Elizabeth II is a Queen Regnant, having inherited the title from her father King George VI, and that's why her husband Philip is a Prince Consort.

There are instances when the King of country A marries the Queen Regnant of country B. (E.g King Philip of Spain and Queen Mary of England.) Then the husband is generally referred to as "King," because that's what he is in his own country (A). But he's really a "Prince Consort" in country B.

There is also something called the Crown Matrimonial, whereby a Queen Regnant will give "equal" (kingly) powers to her husband through her marriage (matrimony). Sweden's Queen Ulrike Eleonora did this in the 18th century. But that's rare, and is a form of de facto "abdication."

Answered by Tom Au on December 15, 2020

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