The Dukedom Hierarchy
Dukes are the highest-ranking hereditary peers, above marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons (in that order). The term comes from the Latin dux which means "leader of a province" and referred to a military commander without a definite rank during the Roman era. The holder of dux also held sovereign status. For example, William the Conqueror (1028-1087) was also Duke of Normandy. King Edward III (1312-1377) created his son and heir Edward of Woodstock, also known as The Black Prince (1330-1376), the first Duke of Cornwall in 1337. He was later the first Prince of Wales in 1343.
Traditionally, the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, and the Scottish dukedom of Rothesay are allotted to the heir to the throne and so are now held by Prince Charles (b.1948.)
In 1520 a decree by the incumbent Lord Chamberlain decreed that a “Duke of the Blood Royal” was to receive precedence over a peer not related to the sovereign but this does not extend to all royal descendants.
There is an official order of precedence for dukes that carries no mention of royal or non-royal holders:
- Dukes created by an English monarch.
- Dukes created by a King of Scotland.
- Dukes of Great Britain with titles created 1707 – 1801.
- Dukes of Ireland (in 1801 the United Kingdom peerage included Ireland.)
- Dukes of the United Kingdom.
The year of the title's creation can also be used to determine the order of precedence.
Good Etiquette Reigns Supreme
There is no real difference between a royal duke and a non-royal duke. There are no perks, prerogatives, extra insignia, not even a pin badge declaring "I'm a royal duke!" Despite the 1520 decree, there has never been a set rule that the royal must always be given priority, it is more of a respectful gesture and a nod to their status in the royal family and the country. It would be considered extremely insulting to place yourself as a non-royal. For example the Duke of Abercorn or the Duke of Bedford, ahead of a royal duke.
The royals abide by the rule of seniority rather than on dukedoms and their ages for their succession and the order in which they arrive at events such as the Chelsea Flower Show (May) and the Festival of Remembrance. (November.)
The Seven Current Royal Dukedoms:
Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay - Prince Charles
1st Duke of Cambridge - Prince William
1st Duke of Sussex - Prince Henry ("Harry")
1st Duke of York - Prince Andrew
2nd Duke of Gloucester - Prince Richard
2nd Duke of Kent - Prince Edward
Sadly, Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh passed away on 9th April 2021. The dukedom will not be awarded to Edward, Earl of Wessex until after the Queen has also left us. It will be within Charles' gift to bestow it.
Elizabeth II Has Been A Duke Since 1952
Queen Elizabeth II holds the titles of the Duke of Lancaster and the Duke of Normandy. These titles belong to the crown.
Queen Victoria (1819-1901) had strong feelings about "Duchess of Lancaster" being inappropriate. Her Majesty decided that “Duke” was the correct title for the owner of a dukedom whether they were male or female. This Victorian alteration means that the Queen is the Duke rather than the Duchess of Lancaster and people in the county of Lancaster raise a toast to “The Queen, Duke of Lancaster.”
1917's Royal Name and H.R.H. Duke Changes
In June 1917 King George V (1865-1936) issued his announcement that the royal family name would cease to be Saxe Coburg Gotha. During the First World War anti-German sentiment was extended to the royal family so they became quintessentially British by taking the name of Windsor at the suggestion of Lord Stamfordham, George's advisor.
Later that year the King restricted the style of Royal Highness and Prince or Princess of Great Britain and Ireland to the children of the Sovereign, the children of the sons of the Sovereign, and the eldest surviving son of the eldest living son of a Prince of Wales. His letters patent also stated that "Royal Highness, Highness or Serene Highness, Prince and Princess shall cease except for those titles already granted and remaining unrevoked."
This decree means that when the current Dukes of Gloucester and Kent (Richard and Edward) die their titles will go to their eldest sons, Alexander, Earl of Ulster, and George, Earl of St. Andrews but these dukedoms will cease to be considered as royal.
James, Viscount Severn can choose whether to use the H.R.H. that he can legally claim when he reaches maturity. He will inherit the Dukedom of Edinburgh from Prince Edward. Earls George and Alexander are not H.R.H.'s in line with George V's decree.
Not confusing at all, right?
- HM The Queen, Duke of Lancaster
- Royal Dukes | Unofficial Royalty
- Duke | title | Britannica
Duke, a European title of nobility, having ordinarily the highest rank below a prince or king (except in countries having such titles as archduke or grand duke). The title of dux, given by the Romans to high military commanders with territorial respo
- Regency History: A Regency History guide to dukes, marquesses and other titles
- Britain’s King George V changes royal surname - HISTORY
On June 19, 1917, during the third year of World War I, Britain’s King George V orders the British royal family to dispense with the use of German titles and
- From Gotha to Windsor, the British Monarchy Name Change in 1917; ABC Diamond
© 2021 Joanne Hayle
Liliane Najm from Toronto, Canada on June 27, 2021:
I enjoyed reading your article esp that I had questions who has a higher rank, a marquess or an earl.
Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on June 25, 2021:
Thank you, I enjoy reading about the history of the Royals.