Why Harry and Meghan’s baby won’t be an HRH


Why Harry and Meghan’s baby won’t be an HRH – at least not to begin with: ROBERT HARDMAN explains the fantastically baffling royal rules that make our monarchy a cut above

There is one member of the Royal Family who knows exactly how it feels to wake up in the midst of a hectic overseas royal tour while also expecting a child for the first time. That is why the Queen will have every sympathy for the Duchess of Sussex this morning. For she was in the very same situation seven decades back as she embarked on her first visit to France while three months pregnant with Prince Charles.

And there is no way that the Duchess of Sussex will be expected to endure the sort of stress and challenges which Princess Elizabeth faced in May 1948 – including crowds of half a million, a late-night visit to a night club and long, champagne-fuelled five-course banquets with piles of unpasteurised food (Prince Philip succumbed to food poisoning).

As I discovered while writing my new book, Queen of the World, there was even a serious emergency on the royal plane on the way home. Coming in to land at London Airport, the Vickers Viking of the King’s Flight was heading for the wrong runway and only altered course after ground staff fired a salvo of flares.

Unlike the Duchess of Sussex, however, the future Queen was still keeping her condition a closely-guarded secret – so much so that she even won plaudits from French fashion writers for the slenderness of her waistline.

And when she did get home, it was considered so inappropriate to discuss a royal pregnancy that there was no formal announcement about her condition. Instead, the Palace simply issued a statement saying that Princess Elizabeth would ‘undertake no public engagements after the end of June’. Such were the niceties back in the age of deference.

The spotlight is less forgiving in the age of the iphone and 24-hour rolling news. Which is why the monarch will be keeping a protective eye on her granddaughter-in-law as the Sussexes embark on their big tour Down Under.

But while the Queen must be delighted by yesterday’s news, will she be minded to change the rules in order to make the child royal when he or she finally arrives? For, as things stand, this will not be a royal baby.

He or she will merely enjoy the same status as the child of any ordinary duke (if there is such a thing as an ordinary duke).

If the baby is a boy, then he will take the Duke’s courtesy title and be called the Earl of Dumbarton. If the baby is a girl, she will be either ‘Lady X Windsor’ or ‘Lady X Mountbatten-Windsor’ (for extremely complicated reasons, the ‘Mountbatten’ barrel applies automatically to descendants of the Queen’s two younger sons but is optional for the descendants of the Prince of Wales).

The child will be seventh in line to the Throne. Yet he or she will still not be royal. For that to happen, the monarch would need to change the rules laid down by her grandfather George V.

I understand that the Queen has no such plans. Nor do the Duke and Duchess of Sussex want it to happen. As a thoroughly modern royal couple, they are not about to start demanding extra royal perks in addition to the ones they already enjoy. Besides, as we shall see, any children from that marriage will eventually end up being royal one day anyway.

When he created the House of Windsor in 1917, King George V wanted to place certain limits on the size and scope of the Royal Family. After all, there was a war on, not to mention a revolution underway in Russia.

As things stand once the child is born the usual dynastic quirks will still apply
As things stand once the child is born the usual dynastic quirks will still apply

He decreed that only a monarch’s children and grandchildren (via the male line) could be called royal. It is why British royal titles carry more clout than the ten-a-penny continental variety which confer royal status on pretty much every branch of a family tree.

Europe is littered with people entitled to call themselves ‘prince’ and ‘princess’, especially in countries which abolished their monarchies years ago. With no overarching authority governing these titles, there have been plenty of bogus princelings, too.

In Britain, however, the monarchy serves as a sort of TOFFCOM watchdog for royal pedigrees. And the law is straightforward: except for the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the monarch, HRH status lapses after two royal generations. It is why, say, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent, Prince Michael of Kent and Princess Alexandra – all grandchildren of George V – are HRH but their children are not.

The rules can still be adapted, though, whenever the monarch wishes to do so. It is not widely known that the two children of the Earl and Countess of Wessex – Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor and Viscount Severn – are officially both HRH and could therefore be Princess Louise and Prince James. They do not use their royal titles, however, because their parents prefer it that way and the Queen has agreed.

In 2012, the Queen also changed the rules solely for the benefit of the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, even though they had yet to start a family.

She decreed that all of their children should become HRH, not just the first-born as George V had originally insisted. It explains why second-born Charlotte is Princess Charlotte and not Lady Charlotte – and why Prince Louis is not just Lord Louis.

It was not a question of Prince William wanting to give his children some sort of royal romotion. The reasons were actually political.

When the Queen made that change in the rules, legislation was already under way to reform the laws of royal succession and abolish the system of male primogeniture. It would have been pretty odd if the couple’s first-born child had been a girl who was in direct line to the Throne yet not considered royal. That issue does not apply to a child of Prince Harry since he or she is not in direct line to the Throne.

Hence, there is no pressing need for any change in the rules. Besides, once the Prince of Wales becomes King the child will automatically be upgraded to HRH by dint of being the grandchild of a reigning sovereign. So royal status is not being denied. It is merely deferred.

The new royal baby will be seventh in line to the throne yet he or she will still not be Royal
The new royal baby will be seventh in line to the throne yet he or she will still not be Royal

As things stand, once the child is born, the usual dynastic quirks will still apply. As a result, Harry and Meghan’s baby will not be royal, despite being seventh in line to the Throne.

On the other hand Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra will still be as royal as ever because she is the granddaughter of a ruling sovereign (George V) – even if the new arrival will push her down the pecking order to Number 54.

It is hardly surprising other countries find our royal titles baffling, if not inexplicable.

But never mind. They will all be watching next spring as the world’s media gather on the hospital steps for that first glimpse of a new royal generation. Such is the magic of monarchy.


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