Maybe you’ve already read about how Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle aren’t technically called princesses—if you haven’t heard, learn the difference between a duchess and a princess. But Prince Charles’ late ex-wife Princess Diana did use “princess” in her title, so why doesn’t his current wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, use it too? The reason has nothing to do with royal rules, but a touching personal choice.
A quick explainer on British royal titles: For Prince William and Prince Harry, the “prince” titles before their names are actually lower ranks than the ducal titles that Queen Elizabeth II gave them as Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex, respectively. Their style and titles of “HRH Prince” were inherited because they are male-line grandchildren of the monarch, meaning their wives could be called, say, Princess William of Wales, but not Princess Catherine, had they not been granted dukedoms upon marriage. Learn more about how the most famous royals got their royal titles.
Diana married Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, a title that is typically granted to the male heir to the throne by the reigning monarch. As the wife of The Prince of Wales, Diana had every right to be called The Princess of Wales (and later after their divorce, Diana, Princess of Wales) as she took the female styling of her husband’s highest-ranking title. References to the late princess as “Princess Diana,” while well-meaning, are actually the wrong use of her title since she was not a royal princess from birth.
Fast-forward to 2005, when Camilla Parker Bowles married her longtime lover, Prince Charles. Even though it was eight years since Princess Diana’s death, Lady Di was still the “People’s Princess” in the public mind. Many still hadn’t embraced Camilla or forgiven her for what they saw as tearing apart Charles and Diana’s marriage. In the weeks around the 2005 royal wedding, 57 percent of Britons didn’t want Camilla to become queen one day, according to a Gallup poll. Find out why Prince Charles didn’t marry Camilla in the first place.
Knowing that the public still held Diana in high esteem, Camilla didn’t want to step on any toes, according to Robert Jobson in his recent book Charles at Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes and Dreams. “This book’s exclusive insider source of the story had been spot on … that Camilla, when married, would not take the title HRH The Princess of Wales, even though it was her right to do so, as it would be insensitive and cause undue hostility with Diana, Princess of Wales, in mind,” he writes. “She uses the title HRH The Duchess of Cornwall instead, as the prince was Duke of Cornwall, which does not reduce her royal rank. It is a title of convenience.” Don’t miss the juicy story of how Princess Diana confronted Camilla about the affair.
Camilla’s choice of title was a sign of respect for Diana’s legacy, and she continued making it public that she wasn’t trying to replace Diana. When Camilla and Charles got married, an official announcement stated she had no intention of becoming Queen Consort (and would adopt the title of Princess Consort, instead) when Charles took the crown. A poll ten years later showed that only 15 percent of British adults wanted Camilla to become queen when Charles is crowned king, even though the royal family has switched its position from “definitely not” to “maybe.”
In a 2010 NBC News interview, Prince Charles admitted his wife “could be” given the title of “queen,” according to the Telegraph. More recently, the Week pointed out that Charles and Camilla had removed the question “Will the Duchess become Queen when The Prince becomes King?” from their FAQ page, sparking rumors that they might have changed their tune about keeping her from being queen.
Typically, the wife of a British king becomes “Queen Consort,” so only time will tell if she’ll break tradition to avoid a stir, or if the public will warm up to Camilla enough that she can play by the rules without risking much outcry. Or she could always give herself the royal treatment and ignore the naysayers. After all, she’ll have the king himself backing her up. Check out these other 15 things you didn’t know about Duchess Camilla.