The Royal Dukedoms

The Royal Dukedoms


the royal dukedoms


Top image: HRH Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, 1820
Lower image: Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, 1836

The titles which have been given to royal princes have evolved slowly over time. In the Anglo-Saxon era the titles of earldorman and thane referred to territorial officials who were appointed by the king and whose positions were not necessarily hereditary although they could be. These titles were not used normally for the royal sons, who were simply called Atheling (belonging to a noble family) to designate their royal origin. The last to bear this designation were William the Atheling, son of Henry I, and William Clito (a Latin translation of Atheling), son of Robert Duke of Normandy. While royal sons were sometimes called princes to designate their status, the word prince was not used initially as a title, except in the case of the Prince of Wales, and only gradually came into use from the late medieval period, although the full title “HRH Prince” was not fully standardised until the Hanoverian succession. 

The sons of William I, one son of Stephen, and three of Henry II bore no English titles but were known by French titles, which they held through inheritance or marriage. William Earl of Surrey, son of Stephen and John Earl of Gloucester, son of Henry II, bore English titles through their wives. Richard, Earl of Cornwall was the first younger son of a king to be given an English title in his own right, and thereafter the younger sons were all created earls. Still, the future Edward I was simply titled Lord Edward before his accession. The older sons of Edward I and Edward II were created Earls of Chester until the title of Prince of Wales was bestowed on the future Edward II and all subsequent direct male heirs. Originally the title of duke referred to a semi-independent territorial magnate in Germany, such as the Duke of Bavaria, and in France, such as the Dukes of Normandy and Aquitaine. In 1337 Edward III created the first English dukedom for his eldest son, probably in imitation of the French king, who had created his elder son a duke in 1332.

The following list (with the date of first creation) shows the dukedoms that were conferred on legitimate sons and brothers (one legitimated) of the sovereign and on several close male relations and one female relative. The titles in heavy type are currently in use by individual members of the royal family.

CORNWALL (1337)

After the Conquest in 1066, most of Cornwall was conferred on Robert, Count of Mortain (d 1090), half-brother of William I, so he may be considered the first earl, but these lands were confiscated from his rebel son in 1106. The title was given in 1141 to Reynold de Dunstanville, illegitimate son of Henry I, who died in 1175 without male heirs. It was revived in 1227 for Richard (1209–72), younger son of King John, whose son Edmund (1250–1300) died without heirs. Edward II outraged opinion by conferring it in 1307 on his favourite Piers de Gaveston after whose execution (in 1312) it was given in 1328 to Edward’s younger son John (1316–36), who died unmarried. In 1337 Edward III created the Dukedom of Cornwall and bestowed it on his eldest son Edward, Prince of Wales, with the proviso that it pass to the heir to the throne thereafter along with the Earldom of Chester. This has been interpreted as passing to the heir male of the sovereign’s body so all subsequent male heirs have automatically become Dukes of Cornwall, while all female heirs have not. The present Queen was not styled Duchess of Cornwall on her father’s accession but her son Prince Charles became Duke of Cornwall when she acceded to the throne. With the passing of the gender-neutral Succession Act, one would assume that any future female heir would become Duchess of Cornwall and Countess of Chester as well as Princess of Wales.

LANCASTER (1351)

The Earldom of Lancaster was created for Edmund (1245–96), second son of Henry III in 1267. Edmund’s grandson, the fourth earl Henry (d 1361), was promoted to Duke in 1351 but the title became extinct on his death without male heirs. The title was revived in 1362 for his son-in-law John of Gaunt (1340–99), third son of Edward III. On his death, the lands and title of Lancaster were confiscated by Richard II, but John’s son Henry styled himself Duke of Lancaster until he usurped the throne as Henry IV. He created his son, the future Henry V, Duke of Lancaster in 1399, and since then the title and estates have been attached directly to the Crown, so the Duchy of Lancaster endures to this day with the sovereign as Duke of Lancaster. Queen Victoria used the title Countess of Lancaster when travelling incognito but was not amused when the notorious Countess of Cardigan married a Portuguese Count of Lancaster, descended from a daughter of John of Gaunt, and so became Countess of Lancaster as well.

CLARENCE (1362)

This title was created in 1362 for Lionel (1338–68), second son of Edward III, who married an heiress of the de Clare family estates, but the title became extinct on his death without male heirs. It was revived in 1412 for Thomas (1387–1421), second son of Henry IV, who died in battle without heirs. It was conferred in 1461 on George (1449–78), younger brother of Edward IV, but forfeited on his execution. It was revived in 1789 for William (1765–1837), third son of George III, who later became William IV. The Earldom of Clarence was created for the Duke of Albany in 1881. The Dukedom of Clarence was revived in 1890 for Albert Victor (1864–92), first son of Edward VII, who died unmarried, since when the title has not been regranted.

YORK (1385)

This title was created in 1385 for Edmund (1341–1402), fifth son of Edward III and passed to his descendants until it merged with the Crown on the accession of Edward IV in 1461. It was then bestowed in 1474 on Edward IV’s second son Richard (1473–83), later murdered in the Tower of London, and thereafter was given to the second son or brother of the sovereign, namely: the future Henry VIII; the future Charles I; the future James II; Ernest Augustus (1674–1728), brother of George I; Edward Augustus (1739–67), brother of George II; Frederick (1763–1827), second son of George III; the future George V; and the future George VI. It has been held since 1986 by the Queen’s second son Prince Andrew. The title was used by the exiled Cardinal Henry Stuart (1725–1807), grandson of James II.

GLOUCESTER (1385)

The Earldom of Gloucester was created in 1122 for Robert (d 1147), eldest illegitimate son of Henry I, and passed to his son and his descendants in the de Clare and related families until 1347. The dukedom was created in 1385 for Thomas of Woodstock (1355–97), youngest son of Edward III, but forfeited on his death. Thomas Despenser (1373–1400), a descendant of the de Clare family in the female line, was created Earl of Gloucester in 1397, but forfeited the earldom in 1399. The dukedom was revived in 1414 for Humphrey (1390–1447), youngest son of Henry IV, who died without heirs, and was then bestowed in 1461 on Richard, youngest brother of Edward IV, later Richard III. The title was revived for Henry (1640–60), youngest son of Charles I, who died unmarried, and then was used for
William (1689–1700), son of Queen Anne, and apparently for Frederick, Prince of Wales. It was revived in 1764 for William (1743–1805), youngest brother of George III, but became extinct in 1834 on his son’s death without heirs. It was recreated in 1928 for Henry (1900–1974), third son of George V, and is now held by his son.

HEREFORD (1397)

The Earldom of Hereford was held by the Bohun family until 1373. The dukedom was created in 1397 for Henry, son of John Duke of Lancaster, who had married a Bohun heiress and later succeeded to the throne as Henry IV. The Viscountcy of Hereford is currently held by the Devereux family.

AUMALE/ALBEMARLE (1397)

The original title was Count of Aumale, derived from a branch of this French family settled in England. The title became extinct in 1272. The ducal title was created in 1397 by Richard II for his cousin Edward (1373–1415), elder son of the Duke of York. Edward was deprived of the title in 1399 and later succeeded his father as Duke of York. The Earldom of Aumale was bestowed on Thomas Duke of Clarence (d 1421) in 1412. The dukedom of Albemarle was later conferred on the Monck family (from 1660 to 1668) and used by the exiled Stuarts. The earldom has been held since 1697 by the Keppel family.

NORFOLK (1397)

The title of Earl of Norfolk was held by the Guader and Bigod families until it passed in 1312 to Thomas (1300–38), second surviving son of Edward I. His daughter and heiress Margaret (d 1399) was created Duchess of Norfolk for life in 1397 while in the same year her grandson Thomas Mowbray (d 1399) was also granted the dukedom. The Mowbray line became extinct in the male line in 1476, but the heiress was married to Richard, Duke of York (1473–83), son of Edward IV, who was created Duke of Norfolk in 1477. The dukedom was later conferred on a Mowbray descendant, John Howard, in 1483 and has been held by the Howard family since then.

ROTHESAY (1398)

This title was created in 1398 for David (1379–1402), elder son of Robert III of Scotland and entailed upon the heir to the Crown like the Dukedom of Cornwall. The present holder is the Prince of Wales.

ALBANY (1398)

This title was created in 1398 for Robert (d 1420), younger son of Robert II of Scotland, but was forfeited by his son on his execution in 1425. It was recreated in 1458 for Alexander, second son of James II of Scotland, but became extinct on the death of his son in 1536. It was bestowed on Arthur (b and d 1541), second son of James V; in 1565 on Henry Lord Darnley (1545–67), husband of Mary Queen of Scots; and then passed on his death to his son, the future James VI, who succeeded to the throne shortly thereafter. With York, it was used thereafter for second sons until 1827. Queen Victoria broke with tradition and created her fourth son Leopold (1853–1884) Duke of Albany but the title was forfeited in 1917 by his son, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The title was also used by the exiled Stuarts as Prince Charles Edward Stuart created his illegitimate daughter Charlotte, Duchess of Albany.

BEDFORD (1414)

The Earldom of Bedford was awarded in 1366 to Edward III’s son-in-law Enguerrand de Coucy (1340–1397) who resigned it in 1377 and died without male heirs. John (1389–1435), third son of Henry IV, was created Duke in 1414 but died without legitimate heirs. The title was briefly held by the Neville family between 1470 and 1478 but was then bestowed in 1478 on George (1477–79), third son of Edward IV, who died in infancy. It was revived in 1485 for Jasper Tudor (1431–95), uncle of Henry VII, who died childless. The earldom and since 1694 the dukedom has been held by the Russell family.

EXETER (1416)

The dukedom was created in 1397 for John Holand (1352–1400), maternal half-brother of Richard II, who forfeited it in 1399 on his execution. The title was bestowed in 1416 on Thomas Beaufort (1377–1426), legitimated halfbrother of Henry IV, who died without heirs, after which it was in 1439 returned to the Holand family before being forfeited in 1461. The Marquessate of Exeter was held from 1525 by Henry Courtenay (executed 1539), maternal cousin of Henry VIII, and is currently held by the Cecil family.

SOMERSET (1443)

The Earldom of Somerset was created in 1397 for John Beaufort (d 1410), legitimated half-brother of Henry IV, who was later promoted to Marquess in 1397, but this title was later cancelled in 1399. His son John (1403–44) became Duke of Somerset in 1443 and the title passed to his brother and nephew before being forfeited in 1465. The present Dukes of Beaufort are descended from an illegitimate son of this family. The title was used for Edmund (1499–1500), third son of Henry VII, who died in infancy, and awarded in 1525 to Henry Fitzroy duke of Richmond (1519–1536), illegitimate son of Henry VIII. It is presently held by the Seymour family.

ROSS (1488)

This ancient Scottish earldom was forfeited in 1476. The ducal title was created for James (1476–1504), second son of James III of Scotland (d 1488), who had been named Earl of Ross in 1481, and became extinct on his death. The title was revived for Alexander (1514–15), second son of James IV, who died in infancy. The earldom was later awarded to Henry Lord Darnley in 1565, his son James VI and Charles I.

CUMBERLAND (1644)

The earldom was held by the Clifford family from 1525 to 1643. In 1644 the Dukedom of Cumberland was given to Charles I’s nephew Prince Rupert (1619–82), who died without legitimate heirs. It was then bestowed in 1689 on Prince George of Denmark (1653–1708), husband of Queen Anne, who also died without heirs. It was recreated for Prince William (1721–65), second son of George II, who died unmarried. The title was then given to Prince Henry (1745–90), third son of Frederick Prince of Wales, who left no heirs. It was revived in 1799 for Ernest Augustus (1771–1851), fifth son of George III, whose descendant the Duke of Brunswick was deprived of the title in 1917.

CAMBRIDGE (1660)

The Earldom of Cambridge was first given in 1340 to William Count of Juliers (d 1361), whose son surrendered it on his father’s death. It was then bestowed in 1362 on Edmund, future Duke of York (1341–1402), and eventually passed to his second son Richard (1376–1415), who forfeited the title on his execution for treason. Through his son Richard, Duke of York (1411–60), the earldom of Cambridge was inherited by Edward IV. The title was bestowed on the Hamilton family from 1619–51. It was then given to Henry, Duke of Gloucester, in 1659. The Dukedom of Cambridge was created between 1660–77 for four sons of the future James II, who all died in infancy. It was revived in 1706 for the future George II. It was recreated in 1801 for Adolphus (1774–1850), sixth son of George III, and passed to his son George (1819–1904), who died without legitimate heirs. The Marquessate of Cambridge was given to Adolphus of Teck (1868–1927), brother of Queen Mary, but became extinct when his son George (1895–1981) died without male heirs. The dukedom was revived in 2011 for Prince William, son of the Prince of Wales, who became the second person after George II in direct line to the throne to hold this title.

KENDAL (1666)

The earldom was created for John, Duke of Bedford, and then was bestowed on John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (d 1444). It was given to Jean de Foix in 1446 who surrendered his title in 1462, although his descendants continued to use the title Comte de Candale. The ducal title was used for Charles (1666–67), son of James, Duke of York (later James II), who died in infancy. The Earldom of Kendal was bestowed in 1689 on Prince George of Denmark, husband of Queen Anne. The ducal title was revived for Melusine von der Schulenburg (1667–1743), the mistress of George I, and has not been granted since, although there was speculation at one time that it might be conferred on Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, husband of Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV.

EDINBURGH (1726)

This title was created in 1726 for Frederick (later Prince of Wales), son of George II, and passed to his son George III; it was later conferred on William, Duke of Gloucester (see above). It was revived in 1866 for Prince Alfred (1844–1900), second son of Queen Victoria, and became extinct on his death without surviving male heirs. It was recreated in 1947 for Prince Philip, husband of the present Queen.

STRATHEARN (1766)

The Earldom of Strathearn was an ancient Scottish title, which eventually was forfeited to the Crown and used for the future Robert II (d 1390) and two of his sons. The dukedom was created in 1766 for the Duke of Cumberland and again in 1799 for the Duke of Kent and in 1874 for the Duke of Connaught. The earldom was revived in 2011 for Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.

KENT (1799)

The Earldom of Kent was first granted after the Conquest to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux (d 1097), half-brother of William I. It was later given to Hubert de Burgh (d 1243). It was revived in 1321 for Edmund (1301–1330), third son of Edward I, and passed to his sons and through his daughter into the Holand family until 1408. It was then conferred on the Neville and Grey families whose last holder, Henry Grey (1671–1740), was promoted to the Dukedom of Kent in 1710 but died without heirs. It became a royal dukedom when it was bestowed on Prince Edward (1767–1820), fourth son of George III, in 1799, but became extinct on his death without male heirs. His daughter Queen Victoria created her son Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh and Earl of Kent, but the title died with him. The dukedom was revived in 1934 by George V for his fourth son Prince George (1902–42) and is currently held by the latter’s son.

TEVIOTDALE (1799)

This title was created along with the Dukedom of Cumberland in 1799.

SUSSEX (1801)

The original Earldom of Sussex passed through the d’Aubigny, de Warenne and later Radclyffe, Savile, Lennard, and Yelverton families until it became extinct in 1799. The dukedom was created in 1801 for Augustus (1773–1843), sixth son of George III, and became extinct on his death without legitimate heirs. The earldom was revived for Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught (see below), but became extinct in 1943. The Dukedom of Sussex was bestowed on Prince Henry (Harry), younger son of the Prince of Wales, on his marriage in 2018.

CONNAUGHT (1874)

The Earldom of Connaught was created for William, Duke of Gloucester, in 1764 and became extinct on his son’s death. The dukedom was created in 1874 for Prince Arthur (1850–1942), third son of Queen Victoria, and became extinct on the death in 1943 of his grandson and heir.

AVONDALE (1890)

This title was created along with the Dukedom of Clarence.

WINDSOR (1936)

This title was created in 1936 for the former King Edward VIII (1894–1973) and became extinct on his death without heirs.

M. L. Bierbrier
June 2017

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