Royal Families


As readers may recall, in March last year we published guidance on the styles, titles and heraldry of Diana, Princess of Wales (in consequence of which some major websites, such as that of CNN, hyperlinked us to their pages and brought us many extra visitors - of whom most, we hope, have bookmarked our address).

Since her funeral, many of Diana's admirers, professing suspicion that some of the details they have read in the newspapers may be unreliable, have e-mailed requests for more information. Accordingly, we here present a consolidated brief incorporating the notes we published earlier together with the answers we have given to the specific questions sent to us more recently.


The Titles of Diana, Princess of Wales

The Hon. Diana Frances Spencer became Lady Diana in 1975 when her father succeeded his father as 8th Earl Spencer. Her marriage to Charles, Prince of Wales, brought to her the title of Princess of Wales and the style of Her Royal Highness (HRH). She did not with that marriage become "Princess Diana", nor did she become so with her divorce. That was an address introduced by news editors who knew no better (or perhaps, if they did, cared little for accuracy), and perpetuated by a public persuaded to accept that whatever newspapers do* or claim must be correct.

With the divorce that ended her marriage, Diana surrendered the title of The Princess of Wales. (The Princess of Wales is the wife of The Prince of Wales. The title is held through matrimony alone. It arrives with marriage and it departs with divorce.) Diana adopted as her new surname, in the manner established for the divorced wives of English peers, ",Princess of Wales", to become Diana, Princess of Wales, just as she became also Diana, Duchess of Cornwall and Diana, Countess of Chester. As she was no longer a princess the style of HRH accorded to British princesses was discontinued - or "lost" as the newspapers preferred to describe it - and, of course, she could no longer use the badge of the Prince of Wales. (The procedures in Scotland for the divorced wives of Scottish peers are different, so Diana could use the Duchess of Rothesay and Countess of Carrick names as if she were a widow rather than a divorcee.)

Technically, Diana became Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, but as she appeared to prefer not to use her premarital style, this was seen, if at all, very rarely in public print. (We have been asked also about "Fergie". The Duchess of York, Miss Sarah Ferguson before her marriage, is now Sarah, Duchess of York. She is not "The Duchess of York". She is not a duchess - even though her publisher** describes her as such.)

Many have asked how reference can now be made, correctly and respectfully, to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and whether the style of HRH might now be restored to her. To the latter query the response is clear. She was not a princess at her death (obviously our correspondents are concerned with the legal position of royal princesses, not with popularly designated "princesses" or politically designated "people's princesses") and thus, unless the Sovereign wishes to introduce new procedures for those mothers of "future kings" who are not princesses (as is undoubtedly the prerogative of the Sovereign as the fount of honour), the style of HRH is inappropriate.

As for the future reference to Diana, Princess of Wales, we might accept the affirmation of her brother, Earl Spencer, that she needed no royal title - and continue from there to the decision that nor does she need a surname of any kind. The single name, Diana, alone, is sufficient for her. Surnames, although they have become administratively and emotionally important during these last thousand years, are only appendages used by those who are required to distinguish themselves from others. Diana, as has been claimed so often during the days since her death, was unique. She needed no title; she needs no surname.


Diana and the Royal Standard

During the time of her marriage, Diana had the right to fly "a royal standard" ~ if we use that term loosely. Actually, it is a banner, illustrated here, featuring the arms of her husband impaling the arms of her father ("impaling" meaning that the husband's arms are in the hoist, i.e. next to the staff, and the wife's arms are in the fly). Her husband's arms are those of The Prince of Wales and feature what is essentially the Royal Standard differenced (or debruised) by a label of three points (whether that label is of white or silver is still a matter of argument) and in the centre by an escutcheon of the arms of the Principality of Wales ensigned by the coronet of the Sovereign's eldest son*** (as illustrated separately above)

Before we can examine the nonsense written about the Royal Standard during the days before Diana's funeral, it is necessary to describe the various flags with rather more precision than is habitual with some newspaper editors.

The national ensign of the United Kingdom, which may be flown by any British citizen or any British organisation, is the Union Flag. This features the crosses of St George, St Andrew and, notionally, of St Patrick (as illustrated here on a shield, an equally proper means of display). When flown in the bow of a ship, from the jackstaff, the Union Flag is known as the Union Jack. When incorporated in another display, as with the White Ensign of the Royal Navy or with the national ensign of Australia, the combination of the three Saints' crosses is termed "the Union".

The Union Flag may be flown at half-mast to signify mourning or a national disaster, in which case it is raised to the top of the mast and then lowered to the midway point, not being allowed to remain still during this procedure. Apart from the naval pendant, only the Union Flag is historically correct for this purpose (although there is no reason to complain if corporation flags and club flags are used similarly), so to insist that the Royal Standard be flown at half-mast as a sign of mourning has as much sense as requesting that ladies' stockings be rolled up only to the knee, or that car windows should be left half open.

The Royal Standard known to historians is properly 33 feet long (and thus a fairly tall staff would be required if it were to be flown at half-mast on a day of slack winds). Its use signals the rallying point for the Sovereign's supporters, and thus its design includes the national ensign (today the Union, but in earlier times in the British Isles the cross of St George or of St Andrew) plus a few of those Sovereign's badges that the supporters would be expected to recognise easily.

The Royal Standard used today is properly the Royal Banner, featuring the arms of the Sovereign and signalling the Sovereign's physical presence, but it has come to be known as a square standard. As the original Royal Standard fell into disuse, the Royal Banner assumed the name of the original and acquired some of the original's symbolism. Thus today the Sovereign's Banner-Standard is used as a banner to display the arms of sovereignty of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland (Wales, never a kingdom and ranking today as a principality, is not present), and as a standard it is flown only from the highest position, never lowered to half-mast, not even at the death of the Sovereign.

The role of the modern Royal Standard as a banner requires it to be flown only when the Sovereign is present, a custom that holds for all banners featuring the arms of their owners. Thus its appearance flying above Buckingham Palace can signify only that the Sovereign is within the gates. The suggestion that its non-appearance at half-mast was "an insult" to Diana is nonsensical. Such an odd occurrence could mean only that Her Majesty was present and that the flag's halyard had slipped the groove and was jammed in the staff's pulley. The claim that an excessive devotion to protocol exercised by "pompous courtiers" was responsible for the "insult" was perhaps to be expected. Anyone who resists the arbitrary corruption of the traditional meaning of words ("forensic" is a typical example) and symbols (such as flags) is a natural target for those who claim to represent "the people" - as so many British newspapers now do.

Misunderstandings about the Royal Standard continued to be promulgated until Diana left London for her last journey home. The Royal Standard did not cover her coffin. That flag, illustrated below as if it were flying from a staff, was a banner blazoned as

Quarterly 1 and 4 Gules three lions passant guardant Or, 2 Or a lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counterflory Gules, 3 Azure a harp Or stringed Argent, a bordure Ermine.

It is thus a differenced version of the Royal Banner.



*Yes! As several readers have queried, it was used by so-called "quality newspapers" too, and, incredibly, by the BBC, for which abuse it was subsequently claimed that this was the style the public preferred, and that media editors merely responded to the public. It was an abuse for which Prime Ministers of both the major parties were equally guilty, despite the Government's own guidance, published by the Stationery Office (HMSO) in 1992, that

The wife of The Prince of Wales is The Princess of Wales. The wife of Prince Charles, the former Lady Diana Spencer, should always be referred to as such, never as "Princess Diana".

Those editors who believe none of this to have any importance may have a strong argument to support their views, but it is impermissible to insist that these matters are irrelevant to modern life while simultaneously complaining in print and on air about the "cruel" loss of such styles as HRH and the "insulting" non-use of the Royal Standard.

**MY STORY by "Sarah The Duchess of York", was published by Simon & Schuster, London (ISBN 0-671-51676-0). It claims that "The right of The Duchess of York to be identified as author of the work has been asserted by her in accordance with Sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designers and Patents Act, 1988." On the date of the alleged assertion there was no such person as The Duchess of York. Where this leaves the "copyright" position is perhaps now questionable.

***These words - "the coronet of the Sovereign's eldest son" - are precise. That coronet with the single arch is the coronet of the Sovereign's eldest son whether or not he is The Prince of Wales.

Diana's Badges

Mists of Antiquity ~ The Spencers and the Despencers

Return to Contents Page