A Brief History
On August 15, 1950, Princess Anne was born to the future Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburg. Though the second child of a reigning monarch, she is only 11th in line of succession. She does, however, hold a title that currently no one else in the entire world is entitled to, namely that of Princess Royal.
The title of Princess Royal is an honorary title awarded to the eldest daughter of the reigning British monarch. It is the highest honor a female member of the royal family can receive. It is not an automatic right but instead is given at the monarch’s discretion. The holder carries the title for life but may not pass it down to her own daughters. During her lifetime, no other princess may receive the title. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, for example, was never Princess Royal because during the reign of her father, her paternal aunt, who held the title, was still alive.
It was Henrietta Maria of France who brought the tradition to England when she married Charles I. With the birth of her first daughter, she lamented that in England there was no title to give her, as was the custom in France where first-born daughters were addressed as Madame Royale.
This article lists of British princesses who have held the title of Princess Royal, those who had been eligible to receive it and one who was called it anyway. The date in the parentheses denotes the year the respective Princess Royal received her title.
As neither Prince Charles nor Prince William have a daughter, there is currently no one who might eventually be eligible to receive the title after Princess Anne.
1. Mary, Princess of Orange 1631-1660 (1642)
The first holder of the title Princess Royal, Mary Stuart, daughter of Charles I and his French wife, Henrietta Maria, married William II of Orange and was the mother of William III of Orange who would go on to reign over England with his wife Queen Mary II.
2. Mary II, Queen of England 1662-1694
Though never given the title of Princess Royal, as the eldest daughter of James II, she was eligible for it. Her Protestant religion may have been the reason why her Catholic father denied her this honor. She and her husband William III of Orange, who was also her first cousin, ousted her father in what became known as the Glorious Revolution, and together they reigned as the co-monarchs William and Mary.
3. Sophia Dorothea, The Queen in Prussia 1687-1757
The eldest daughter of the first Hanoverian king of Great Britain, Sophia Dorothea was already Queen in Prussia when her father George I ascended the British throne, thus there was no reason to honor her in Great Britain as well. She was the wife of Frederick William I, known as the “soldier king” and mother of Frederick the Great. Fact 1: From 1701-1772 the Electors of Brandenburg used the title “King in Prussia.” Only afterward did they become known as “Kings of Prussia.” Fact 2: Electors were German princes who had the right to directly elect the Holy Roman Emperor.
4. Luisa Maria Teresa Stuart 1692-1712
As the third daughter of James II of England, she actually had no right to the title of Princess Royal at all. Since her two elder sisters were Protestant, however, the Catholic supporters of her father, known as the Jacobites, designated her their Princess Royal during her lifetime. Born in France during her father’s exile, she never set foot in England.
5. Anne, Princess of Orange 1709-1759 (1727)
Despite her aunt Sophia Dorothea having the superior claim, Anne was created Princess Royal by her father George II. She was the wife of William IV, Prince of Orange and at his death in 1751, became Regent of the Netherlands on behalf of their son William V.
6. Charlotte, Queen of Württemberg 1766-1828 (1789)
The fourth of George III’s 15 children, she was also the eldest daughter, which entitled her to receiving the title Princess Royal. She married Duke Frederick II Eugen of Württemberg who was later made King of Württemberg by Napoleon for his support of the French Emperor. Charlotte’s father, an enemy of Napoleon, never acknowledged his daughter’s new German title and never referred to her as queen.
7. Victoria, Empress of Germany 1840-1901 (1841)
The youngest official recipient of the title of Princess Royal, she was just an infant when her mother Queen Victoria saw fit to give it to her. Often confused with her like-named mother, she was actually Queen of Prussia and later Empress of Germany by marriage. Soon after her father-in-law was made Emperor, which had not been foreseen at the time of the Princess Royal’s marriage, measures were taken in Great Britain to make her mother Empress of India as well, in part so that Queen Victoria would not eventually be outranked by her own daughter.
8. Louise, Duchess of Fife 1867-1931 (1905)
At the time her father Edward VII declared Princess Louise to be the new Princess Royal, he also made the proclamation that henceforth her two daughters were to be styled as princesses, allowing them to take their rank from their mother rather than their father, as was customary. The first Princess Royal to be given a military rank, in 1914 Princess Louise became colonel-in-chief of the 7th Dragoon Guards, and she later served as colonel-in-chief of the 4th and 7th Dragoon Guards when it was formed in 1921. Both were cavalry regiments of the British army.
9. Mary, Countess of Harewood 1897-1965 (1932)
Like most princesses who marry commoners, Princes Mary’s children were not automatically granted royal titles. When Princess Mary’s father George V made her Princess Royal, he did not elevate her two sons into royalty as his father had done for his sister. Especially active in the military, during WWII she held the position of chief controller and later controller commandant of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS, renamed the Women’s Royal Army Corps in 1949). In this capacity she visited its units as well as wartime canteens. After the war, she became air chief commandant of Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing service in 1950, and in 1956 she was made an honorary general in the British army.
10. Anne, Princess Royal 1950- (1987)
In her capacity as Princess Royal, Anne has a full schedule of royal engagements which includes the undertaking of official duties on behalf of her mother and the patronage of numerous charities. With over 500 public appearances a year, she is considered the hardest-working royal. She has also been given many honorary military appointments. Some even say she is the best queen England never had. Unlike her predecessor Princess Louise and like Mary, Countess of Harewood, her children do not have royal titles and thus no responsibilities to the British public and may lead private lives. Her daughter Zara Phillips, however, is a talented equestrian who, as Anne had also done, has competed at the Olympic Games. In fact, Princess Anne is the first member of the British royal family to have competed at such a high level.
As seen with the last three Princess Royal, in recent years, the title is not just a nice accessory, but it also brings a lot or responsibility and hard work.
Question for students (and subscribers): Who is your favorite Princess Royal? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information on Princesses Royal, the following books might be interesting:
Pakula, Hannah. An Uncommon Woman – The Empress Frederick: Daughter of Queen Victoria, Wife of the Crown Prince of Prussia, Mother of Kaiser Wilhelm. Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Parker, John. The Princess Royal. Viking Adult, 1990.
Waller, Maureen. Ungrateful Daughters. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004.
Wilding, Valerie. Real Princesses: An Inside Look at the Royal Life. Walker Books for Young Readers, 2007.