Royal rule: How titles survive despite royal scandals – ‘title greater than the beholder’


ROYAL titles are usually received at birth but can be granted and taken away by the Queen as she sees fit. A constitutional expert has explained why royal titles usually outlive any scandals attached to their beholders.

Royal titles and HRH styles are a complicated topic intrinsically linked to the British constitution. Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and her immediate family all posses HRH styles as do most of their offspring. Over the years some dukedoms have been tainted because of scandals attached to their beholders but the titles have survived nonetheless.

Dukedoms are a type of hereditary peerage traditionally gifted by the Queen to her sons and grandsons on their wedding day.

As first-in-line to the throne, Prince Charles automatically holds the dukedoms of Cornwall and of Rothesay, which will pass to Prince William when Charles becomes king.

Prince Andrew was created the Duke of York when he married Sarah Ferguson in 1986.

While Andrew’s title would traditionally pass to his sons, as he has no daughters there is a chance his title could fall out of use following his death.

Royal rule

Royal rule: How titles survive despite royal scandals – ‘title greater than the beholder’ (Image: GETTY)

Royal rule

Royal rule: The scandal surrounding Andrew’s links to Epstein are unlikely to affect the Duke of York title (Image: GETTY)

The Duke of York withdrew from royal life last year after a controversial interview about his links to dead sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Epstein was facing child sex trafficking charges when he killed himself in a New York jail cell last year.

The Duke of York’s friendship with the dead paedophile is still a source of controversy as the FBI investigation into Epstein is ongoing.

However, the scandal surrounding the Duke of York’s links to Epstein is unlikely to affect the future his title.

Royal rule

Royal rule: Andrew has stepped back from public life but maintains his Duke of York title (Image: PA)

According to one constitutional expert, any discrepancies attached to a royal titleholder are rarely enough to put the peerage out of use.

Royal expert Iain MacMarthanne told “Royal scandals come and go, and over the centuries titles have frequently been tainted by the incumbents behaviour in their lifetime.

“Such is the historical importance of the dukedom of York, however, and despite the behaviour of any holder of the title, its use has prevailed, suggesting it will continue to be used in subsequent generations.

“The view seems to be that the title is always greater than the holder, and any misdemeanours in one generation will not be visited upon the next.”

He added: “Notwithstanding past usage and custom the monarchy owes its survival in adapting to current mores, and this might come to impact upon any future decision concerning the granting of the dukedom of York, or any other royal title for that matter.

“Royal titles have come and gone, and in the past been quietly ‘retired’, or in more extreme cases suspended, as occurred under the Titles Deprivation Act of 1917.

“An example of the latter being the dukedom of Albany, which had in times past had been frequently granted to the second son of the Scottish monarch, and after the regnal union of 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded to the English throne, it was frequently teamed with the dukedom of York.”

Asked who is most likely to be the next Duke of York, Mr MacMarthanne explained both Prince Harry and Prince Louis are possible successors.

Royal rule

Royal rule: Meghan and Harry are still the Duke and Duchess of Sussex despite stepping back (Image: GETTY)

He said: “Without a son, and by the terms of the letters patent under which the dukedom of York was again created in 1986, the death of the present duke will see the title merge with the crown.

“Historically it is a title that has been granted to the second son of the sovereign. Arguably, with Charles’ accession, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex becomes the sovereign’s second son and could under the custom become the next duke of York in addition to being duke of Sussex.

“The fashion for creating multiple dukedoms, such as during the reign of Victoria has however died out.

“Additionally, the custom of new creations has invariably become linked with marriage and as that has already occurred, together with his withdrawal from front line royal duties, his creation as Duke of York seems unlikely, should the title be available.

“As such, Prince Louis of Cambridge is presently the most likely candidate to become the next Duke of York. However, it will be for the sovereign of the day to determine its usage when it becomes available to be granted in future generations.”


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