HRH The Princess of Wales

Titles and Address

On the day her divorce from the Prince of Wales becomes absolute, the Princess of Wales will lose the prefix of "Her Royal Highness" and will become "Lady Diana, Princess of Wales". (The style of "Lady" is owed to her birth as the daughter of an earl, is unrelated to her status as a member of the Royal Family, and has not been discussed during the negotiations on the divorce settlement.) This forthcoming loss of precedence has received much publicity, but has for the greater part not been clearly explained.

Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, to the surprise of many, will no longer be The Princess of Wales, for that is the title of the wife of the man who holds the Principality of Wales of his feudal superior, the Queen. Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, although correctly addressed as such, will not enjoy the title of Princess of Wales.

(It is probably appropriate here, while describing the new position, to explain that the Princess of Wales, during her marriage, has been always and only HRH The Princess of Wales. She has never been "Princess Diana" - for the style of "Princess Own-christian-name" in the United Kingdom can come only with birth, never with marriage, as is evident from the style of others who became princesses by marriage and are known accordingly as "Princess Husband's-christian-name".)

Before the final decisions were published, many had expected Diana to lose the title of Princess of Wales and to retain the style of "Her Royal Highness" (as some deemed appropriate for a mother of a future king). But two factors of significance were overlooked: one is that the Sovereign is the Fount of Honour (an ancient term, but precise) and is the ultimate judge of what honours may be bestowed and forfeited; the other is that although history has given no precedent for the divorce of a Princess of Wales, there are relevant parallels established for divorced duchesses which, for her own ducal titles, Diana will be obliged to follow, and these parallels could act as a guide for the Sovereign's decisions.

A divorced duchess continues to use her previous title, preceded by her christian name, but does so as if the title were a name. Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, is thus also Lady Diana, Duchess of Cornwall, and because the title is regarded merely as a name, the status held by the wife of a duke is lost, as is the style of a duchess ("Her Grace"). It thus would appear, although it has not yet been clearly explained officially to the public, that with respect to the analogy with a divorced duchess, Lady Diana, Princess of Wales will no longer be a princess, just as Lady Diana, Duchess of Cornwall will no longer be a duchess. The rank of princess came with marriage and it will go when the marriage ends.

The consequence of any remarriage for the Prince of Wales and for Lady Diana will emphasise these changes. The new wife of the Prince of Wales will become the Princess of Wales on her wedding day. She will become also Duchess of Cornwall and Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Chester and Countess of Carrick. Lady Diana will continue to be Lady Diana, Princess of Wales and, for example, Lady Diana, Duchess of Cornwall.

A remarriage for Diana will have a more noticeable effect, for in England she would normally take the name of her new husband. If she marries Mr John Smith she could become Lady Diana Smith and lose the Cornwall "name". However, as Diana will be Lady Diana, Duchess of Rothesay under Scots law, which treats divorced wives in the same way it treats widows, she would be able to retain the Rothesay "name" (unless she marries a peer).

At the present time the Palace appears to be taking a fairly relaxed view on these matters, and what the news media have published of the briefings their journalists have received suggests that this brave new world's thrust towards a classless society has at last begun to create the confusion social engineers seek to harness. One newspaper suggested that the Palace hoped everyone would just address Lady Diana by whatever style each individual wished, and recommended "Princess" or "Ma'am" in conversation. But the possibility of the Prince's remarriage, and the inappropriate usage of "Princess" as an address to someone who is not a princess, prompts expectation that soon after the divorce becomes absolute, the Palace will issue more precise guidelines.

The armorial consequences of the divorce are much easier to understand. During her marriage Diana has displayed an achievement with her father's arms featured alongside those of the Prince of Wales (technically impaled by the Prince's arms or accollé). She has also been authorised to use the "Prince of Wales feathers" and the famous motto Ich Dien as a badge on, for example, writing paper. (This is not in truth the badge of the Prince of Wales ~ it is the badge of the heir-apparent to the Crown, whether or not he has been created Prince of Wales.) These heraldic commemorations of their alliance will now cease, and Diana will use her father's arms displayed on the traditional lozenge, as shown at the head of this note.

15 July 1996

© 1996 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates

Return to Home Page