The Subtle but Powerful Significance Behind the Titles Duke and Duchess of Sussex

Updated: Sep. 01, 2023

These titles were the most logical choices for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to receive, but they carry a deeper meaning that could predict how the couple will use their new roles to instill change.

Prince Harry and Meghan MarkleDavid Fisher/Shutterstock

It’s official: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s titles are now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. If you want to get specific, their full titles are His Royal Highness The Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton, and Baron Kilkeel and Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex. Queen Elizabeth II conferred these honors on the couple on their wedding day, May 19, 2018, a date you probably have memorized by now.

Royal family experts and fans alike correctly speculated that these would be their titles. The Queen has traditionally conferred a dukedom to senior male members of the royal family as a wedding gift; that’s why Prince William and Kate Middleton became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge upon their marriage as well.

As for the location, it had to be a dukedom without a scandalous reputation. For example, the New Yorker reports that one Duke of Clarence was executed by his brother and another duke of the same title was involved in a gay prostitution ring scandal. Needless to say, the titles of Duke and Duchess of Clarence likely weren’t an option.

The history behind the Sussex dukedom is less scandalous, but not without controversy. There was only one previous Duke of Sussex, Prince Augustus Frederick, the ninth child of King George III. The title became vacant upon his death in 1843. Although the Duke had two children with Lady Augusta Murray, their marriage was not approved by his father, the king, and the couple eventually separated, deeming the kids illegitimate for the title, the Washington Post reports. That separation is also why Meghan is the very first Duchess of Sussex.

However, what makes these titles so significant for Prince Harry and Meghan is that the former Duke of Sussex supported the abolition of the slave trade—a serendipitous fact, considering the Duchess’s African-American heritage. He also supported the removal of restrictions on Jews, Catholics, and dissenters. These liberal political stances eventually estranged him from his father and the court, according to the Royal Collection Trust.

With a limited number of respectable titles for the Queen to bestow, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were almost givens for Prince Harry and Meghan—but no other titles could have been more appropriate. These two, as individuals and as a couple, are known for the times they have broken royal protocol and their willingness to take matters into their own hands. They, like Prince Augustus Frederick, have strong, progressive beliefs, but fortunately, live in a time when the royal family is progressing as well. They have the tools and the drive to make the societal impact the previous Duke never could.

That the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been given these titles, then, seems to be a powerful work of fate, one that may foreshadow the changes they will impart on the world through a legacy that was never supposed to exist. Now that you know why Prince Harry and Meghan have been named Duke and Duchess of Sussex, see if you know the differences between a duchess and a princess.