A Note on Royal Peerages

Today it was announced that The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Forfar, was created Duke of Edinburgh, a title formerly held by his father. This had been speculated for years, but the intriguing part of the news is that the title is only for life – Edward’s son James will not inherit it. This is the first life peerage above the degree of baron for more than two hundred years, and the first given to a royal since medieval times.

For a newly-ascended king to denounce the principle of heredity seems unlikely. I think there is a more pragmatic reason for this – a desire to keep the title in circulation for the sons and brothers of future kings. The firm does not want to run out of place names (especially in Scotland) to use for dukedoms.

It has been tradition in Britain for the better part of a millennium that the younger sons of the monarch are granted dukedoms referring to prominent locations within the isles. Indeed, there is a lot of tradition in which particular place names are used, and even for which place in birth order.

On second thought, however, this shouldn’t be possible – if these honours are separately hereditary, and given to the offspring expected not to take the crown, then how do the same titles keep coming up time and time again. This paradox reveals an important detail about the royal dynasties of the past thousand years – their cadet branches normally don’t branch very far. It’s remarkably rare to find examples of a legitimate male line emanating from a younger son of a king that lasts for more than three generations. Most of the time either the junior line dies out (either only having daughters, or having no children at all), or the senior line fails so that the junior line ascends to the throne. To make matters worse, on the few occasions where a divergent line has managed to sustain itself, there has nearly always been some kind of intervention that prevented the title from doing so. What follows is by no means a complete history of the royal lineage, but a list of the most commonly-used royal dukedoms roughly in descending order of number of creations, with an explanation of what happened to them.


The first use of the northern city for a royal dukedom came in 1385, when Richard II bestowed the title on his uncle Edmund of Langley. This founded the House of York, which was to be one of the principal factions in the Wars of the Roses after Richard’s death. Edmund was succeeded by his son Edward of Norwich, who died at Agincourt, then his grandson Richard of York, who lead the opposition against the regime of Henry VI. Richard died before winning the throne, so the dukedom passed to his own son, who not long later succeeded as King Edward IV.

The title of Duke of York has since been conferred ten more times (thrice combined with Albany), nearly always for the monarch’s second son. Five dukes ascended to the throne, another four died without sons. Prince Andrew looks set to continue the latter tradition.


Conferred twice as a dukedom – the first was for The Prince Augustus Frederick, sixth son of George III. He married twice without permission so his children were deemed illegitimate and the title died with him. The second was for Prince Henry of Wales in 2018. He currently has one legitimate son. It is too early to speculate about grandsons. An earldom of Sussex was also given by Queen Victoria for her son Arthur (see Connaught).


Created as a dukedom five times (and used as an informal style on two others), the most memorable recipient being Richard III. All died without an heir until Prince Henry, son of George V, whose son Richard (b. 1944) holds the title to this day. He has a line of succession two generations deep (though only one person wide) so barring any accidents for Xan Windsor we can expect the title to escape from the royal family for most of the rest of this century. The title “Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh” was created once and inherited once, the second duke dying childless in 1834.


Five creations and two more stylings. The first four dukes died as small children. Prince George (1706) and Prince William (2011) were both directly in line to the throne so their honours were doomed to merge. Prince Adolphus, son of George III, produced an heir but his children were born outside the Royal Marriages Act so they could not inherit. His daughter’s son, Prince Adolphus of Teck, was created Marquess of Cambridge in 1917 and passed it to his son George ten years later, but George only had a daughter and Frederick, his brother, died a bachelor.


First granted by Robert II to his third son (also Robert) in 1398, the title passed to his son Murdoch in 1420, but five years later Murdoch was attainted and his peerages removed. Conferred again by James II on his second son Alexander in 1458, it passed to his son John, but John died childless and brotherless in 1536. James V’s son Robert was styled as such in 1541, but he died at eight days old. Mary I conferred the dukedom on her husband Henry in 1565 and it was inherited by their son – later James VI, merging with the crown on his accession. James recreated the title for his second son Charles, but his first son died so Charles also became king. Charles II upon his restoration gave the title to his brother James, who succeeded him on the throne. Albany was also created three times as a joint peerage with York. The final creation was in 1881 for Victoria’s son Leopold, and inherited by his son Charles (also Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) until he was stripped of it in 1919. The claimant today would be his great-grandson Prince Hubertus.


First created for Charles I’s nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine, then William & Mary’s brother-in-law Prince George of Denmark, then George II’s son Prince William. All died without sons to succeed them. Prince Henry Frederick, George III’s brother, was made Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn in 1766, but he died childless as well. George later made his fifth son, Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland & Teviotdale. Ernest passed the dukedom (and the Hanoverian crown) to his son George in 1851, then grandson Ernest Augustus in 1878, but he was deprived of the title in 1919. The claimant today would be the first duke’s great-great-great grandson Prince Ernest Augustus (born 1954).


Ignoring non-royal creations, the title was conferred on George V’s youngest (surviving) son in 1934, and passed to his son in 1942. Currently the duke is fortieth in line to the throne, with two direct heirs and six spares of his own, so neither extinction nor merging is likely in the forseeable future. The double-dukedom “Kent & Strathearn” has been used once, for Queen Victoria’s father, but he died with no sons.


Referring to the town of Clare in Suffolk, the first two creations were for the second sons of their respective kings, both dying without legitimate sons. The third creation was for George Plantagenet, brother of Edward IV. He was survived by a son, but the title was not passed on as he was attainted and executed for treason. The title fell out of favour until 1789 when George III made his third son (later William IV) Duke of Clarence & St Andrews. William had several children out of wedlock who used “Fitzclarence” as a surname. Queen Victoria ennobled her senior grandson Albert Victor as Duke of Clarence & Avondale in 1890, but two years later he died just before his planned wedding. An earldom of Clarence was already in existence, created nine years earlier for Victoria’s fourth son (see Albany).


Granted twice to John of Lancaster, son of Henry IV, but he died childless. Conferred on John Nevill, intended son-in-law of Edward IV, in 1470, but he was later attainted for treason. Given in 1478 to George, said king’s third son, who died young. Given in 1485 to Jasper Tudor, uncle of Henry VII, who died childless. Given in 1694 to the non-royal William Russell, whose descendants carry it to this day.


The first creation was by George I in 1726, for his senior grandson Frederick. Frederick predeceased his father, and the dukedom was held for nine years by his own eldest son, who then acceded as George III. Victoria gave it to her second son Alfred in 1866. He died in 1900, his only son having died the year before. The third and likely most significant creation was by George VI in 1947, for his son-in-law Philip Mountbatten. Philip spent a record time as royal consort and founded an award scheme under that title, raising the name to a significance it had not previously enjoyed (despite being a capital). Philip died in 2021 and his peerages were inherited by his eldest son Charles, who six months ago became King. Today Charles conferred the title for life on his youngest brother Edward.


Style of Charles II’s nephew in 1666. He died young.


Created by George VI for his brother, the former king Edward VIII. Edward died childless in 1972.

She Spoke to Serve

The late Baroness Boothroyd has fascinated me for as long as I have followed British politics, and hers was among the deaths I most dreaded.

Just last October, with my newly-registered library card, I took out her autobiography. There are eighty pages before she actually becomes an MP (and she goes into detail of her multiple failed attempts), describing her childhood in impoverished Dewsbury, then her time as a Tiller girl, then going into politics as a secretary to two Labour MPs, then going overseas to work for JFK. Even when she gets into parliament, her struggles are as within her own party as against the others – this being the age of entryism by Militant, which she was instrumental in rooting out.

Before the release of the 2018 parliamentary portrait series ,(and note that her image is the one used on the PDS blog) Boothroyd was one of the many prominent politicians for whom I struggled long to find a free photograph to use on Wikipedia. The only one on which I could lay my hands was a poor-quality screenshot from President Obama’s speech in Westminster Hall in 2011, published on the White House channel and thus public domain. The baroness is shown looking the wrong way, sandwiched awkwardly between George Osborne and Douglas Alexander. For the top (indeed, only) illustration in a prominent online biography it just wasn’t good enough.

The other big challenge was her coat of arms – one of my earliest such works. Unlike her successor Michael Martin, Boothroyd’s arms were widely photographed and shown online. Recreating the lozenge visually was easy enough, though it wasn’t until years later that I tracked down the text of the blazon to go with it. My first attempt was not well-received by the residents of r/heraldry, so it was one of the few of my graphics which I completely remade.

I never got to see how the community (or anyone else) viewed my second attempt, for within hours of her death being announced another user, ProfAuthor, had replaced it with his own vector graphic. It is technically superior, of course, but still it is disappointing to know that my own efforts are made redundant. Something similar happened with Sir Ernest Shackleton the last time he was in the news.

Elizabeth I: A tale of betrayal and deception

Continuing the Treason theme pursued by the archives for the past year, Tracy Borman tonight gave a presentation about how the life of Good Queen Bess was shaped by the ever-present threat of insurrection against the crown.

The Tudors are among England’s (and perhaps the world’s) most celebrated dynasties, often associated with ideas of absolutism and supreme power, but in reality they were always fundamentally insecure on the throne. Henry VII’s descent from John of Gaunt and his mistress made a weak claim to the throne, and anyone outright seizing it by force would forever suffer the taint of usurpation. Henry played on the idea of treason right from the start – legally backdating his reign to the day before Bosworth so that Richard III’s supporters would be the traitors.

Henry VIII would take the concept further, regularly hurling treason charges at his ministers, blood relatives and even wives once they had fallen out of his favour. An example highlighted was the treatment of Anne Boleyn and Henry Norris – accusing them of adultery was not enough, it was also alleged based on an offhand joke that he was plotting to assassinate the king. The real motivation, of course, was that Anne had failed to birth a living son and thus Henry needed rid of her. That she would be beheaded was a foregone conclusion before the start of the trial. This is posited as one reason her daughter Elizabeth avoided conjugal attachments.

Another came after Henry’s death when her stepmother Katharine Parr swiftly remarried to Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley. He is rumoured to have behaved inappropriately toward Elizabeth, even plotting to marry her (without Edward VI’s permission) after Katharine’s death. He too was executed as a traitor following an incident where he shot one of the king’s dogs and broke into the royal bedchamber.

During the unpopular reign of Mary I & Philip of Spain, Elizabeth was used involuntarily as the figure head for Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebel movement. Mary imprisoned her sister for a time and only narrowly avoided killing her. Lady Jane Grey was not so lucky.

Once Elizabeth had actually ascended the throne, another Queen Mary proved similarly dangerous. Deposed in Scotland, Mary Stuart still possessed the strongest claim to the English throne. She sought Elizabeth’s mercy but instead became her prisoner. Her very presence made her a focal point for revolutionary intentions by English Catholics, made worse when Pious V actually issued a Papal Bull encouraging them to rise up. This led to the Treason Act 1571, which expanded the offence to include intent of harm against the monarch. Elizabeth ultimately executed Mary, but had to put on a show of reluctance about it, scapegoating her ministers to distance herself from regicide.

In the question period that followed, Borman rejected the theory that Henry VIII had been nice until his 1536 jousting accident. She said that he had always been paranoid and vicious. She also said that Cromwell and Wolsey were the only deaths for which Henry demonstrated any remorse.

Asked about Elizabeth, she said there were hints by a midwife about a lovechild with Seymour, but no evidence of substance. The Queen had to be subtle in her attempts to rehabilitate her mother’s legacy, for Anne was still hated by most of the English populace. Borman cited Miranda Richardson in Blackadder II as her favourite onscreen portrayal.

Public Domain Day 2023

Compared to previous years, the delivery of books and other media into the public domain this year – from authors who died in 1952 – is a little disappointing.

The last of the Sherlock Holmes canon entered the public domain in the United States, having already long lost its copyright in Britain, but the infamous test case Steamboat Willie is still one more year off.

The one book that stuck out to me was The Daughter of Time (1951) by Josephine Tey. It is a murder mystery novel, but instead of contemporary crimes her policeman investigates the murder of the Princes in the Tower in 1483 and comes to the conclusion that Richard III was innocent. Although a work of fiction and not a textbook, Fey’s valediction provides an insightful analysis of the interaction between fact, legend and propaganda, as well as a satire on many other types of historical literature.

All that is from the Wikipedia page, for I have not yet read the book itself. That said, I have read Philippa Langley’s The King’s Grave and attended many virtual lectures by the Richard III Society. Although the society and the wider Ricardian movement predate Fey’s book, they were of negligible size or influence by the time of its publication and many in the movement today are quite explicit about the role it played to revive academic research into the maligned monarch as well as shift public opinion.

Now that copyright has expired, I hope that LibriVox and similar organisations will not tarry in bringing out an audiobook, failing which I will search for a physical copy in my local libraries.

An Evening with Philippa Gregory

I have virtually visited the National Archives many times to hear talks from authors of historical fact. This time I got to see an author of historical fiction.

Shikha Sharma, the Events Manager, introduced the talk as part of the “What’s Online?” series. The interview was primarily centred on Dawnlands, part of the Fairmile series taking place in England in the seventeenth century, but there were questions and observations about Gregory’s other works as well.

Gregory said that a lot of people think they don’t know the Stuarts very well, and that it is much easier to convince publishers to print books about the Tudors. It was the notion of a family story developing into global affairs that got them interested.

Sharma reminded us that the talk was part of the Treason exhibition. The accusation of treason was the state’s supreme weapon to suppress rebellion and scrub out subversive ideas. She asked about the character of Ned Ferryman, who sticks to his personal ideals throughout but is considered a traitor by the law. Gregory said Ned was an old Cromwellian soldier who thought he was fighting for a new world of liberty. None of them could have predicted the restoration of the king so soon. Most of Cromwell’s soldiers were pardoned by Charles II, but those who had been directly involved in his father’s execution were pursued across the world. Ned is contrasted with Lyvia, who joins a long line of ambitious, manipulative women (nearly always Catholic and Italian), ingratiating herself at court, with occasional warm feelings never prioritised. Gregory said it was always helpful to have someone who can observe important historical events.

Sharma asked why it was important to tell these stories, and how the research is done. Gregory said that the life stories of lower-class women were not often recorded except as character assassinations when they stepped out of line, official records often differing sharply from personal accounts. Around 1660-80 there was a prominent increase in the number of women writing and publishing. The range of subjects on which books can be written was widened by the English Marxist historians of the 1950s. Each character presents a different research problem – she could find only two biographies about Mary of Modena, both very old and out of print. The working-class characters are usually composites from historical records rather than directly based on specific individuals. Her favourite character is always the one she’s just finished working on. Gregory covers her study with maps and drawings relevant to the book she’s writing, meaning she redecorates for each new book. She doesn’t want to delay the creative process for research – typically each new book takes 18-24 months in all, though by now she has a large stockpile of research from all the books she’s done before. We are separated from the Stuarts by generations of Whig historians, but you can often find hidden treasures in local museums.

Sharma noted that the books were prone to “painterly” descriptions, and asked if that was deliberate. Gregory said that if you pick up any historical fiction you know the author’s narrative voice. One’s idea of historical Venice is heavily mediated by Canaletto, as is London by Gustave Doré.

On the topic of historical accuracy and the grand sweep of her plots, she said that she doesn’t plan much for the series – it’s dictated by the real history but she has to decide as she goes along how her characters fit into it. Most family lineages start as peasants in the mud, much as they’d like to be aristocrats. If somebody points out an error in a book she corrects it in the next edition. She claims this has only happened 3-4 times in over thirty publications.

Sharma often asked questions from the audience but she did not name the members and often merged several similar questions together. I asked how close to the present day Gregory would consider setting her books. She said she had originally considered taking the Fairmile series as late as 1920, where British society was plagued by a fear of moral decay after the First World War and a sense that the prosperity of empire had reached its limits. Her plan had been to write two books per century, but she now finds herself writing four or five which may require the breadth of her series to be reduced.

The obvious question to ask of these kinds of authors is when they would go if they could travel through time. Gregory said she was less interested in specific eras than in solving historical mysteries, such as the Princes in the Tower or Amy Robsart.

Sharma asked specifically about the baby in the warming pan. Gregory said we know what happened in the birthing chamber because James VII was forced to hold a public inquiry. Princesses Mary and Anne both claimed to believe the story in order to justify the later coup, but the books written now cannot present it as fact.


A New Regency Bill

Ever since the state opening earlier this year, the topic of counsellors of state has been prominent in my mind, and in the minds of many others. Just as Elizabeth II’s health was failing and the necessity of this constitutional device was more pressing, so the actual availability of counsellors was at its lowest since the device was invented. Many in academic and political circles were discussing possible updates to the legislation. I even had a go at drafting a new bill myself. As the original 1937 Act had already been amended twice, and as I wanted to avoid a confusing change of pronouns mid-paragraph, I did consider neatening things up by repealing it wholesale and typing out most of its provisions again, but that version turned out to be too long-winded for the amount of actual change I needed to effect. By early September it was nearly in a presentable state, but then Her Majesty’s death seemed to render the matter moot for a while.

Today the Lord Chamberlain of the Household announced that King Charles wished his siblings Anne and Edward to be re-appointed as counsellors. This will require new legislation, which we can expect to be brought forward swiftly. I hope it’s not too late to send in my own.




Amend the provisions for a regency in the event of the incapacity of the sovereignty due to illness or minority, and for the performance of certain of the royal functions in the name and on behalf of the Sovereign in certain other events.

BE IT ENACTED by the King’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1. The Regency Act 1937 is amended: –

  1. In subsection (1) of section two, replace “Lord Chancellor” with “Prime Minister” and “Chief Justice of England, and the Master of the Rolls” with “Speaker, and the President of the Supreme Court”.
  2. In subsection (2) of section two, replace “His Majesty’s Dominions and to the Government of India” with “His Majesty’s Realms and to the Commonwealth Secretariat”.
  3. In subsection (1) of section five, replace “mother, if she is living” with “living parent”.
  4. In subsection (1) of section six, replace “by telegraph” with “electronically”.
  5. For all of subsection (2) of section six, substitute “The counsellors of state shall be any five persons of His Majesty’s choosing, appointed by Statutory Instrument under this Act and subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.”.

2. The Regency Acts of 1943 and 1953 are repealed.

3. This Act may be cited as the Regency Act 2022, or it and the Regency Act 1937 may be cited as one.

4. This Act takes effect upon the approval by both Houses of Parliament of the first statutory instrument passed under section one.


This bill updates the Regency Act 1937, as well as repealing the 1943 and 1953 Acts which had amended it already.

Section 1 (1) changes the list of persons empowered to determine the monarch’s absence or incapacity. It adds offices whose jurisdiction encompasses the whole United Kingdom (Prime Minister, Lord Speaker, President of the Supreme Court) and removes those whose roles are only applicable to parts of it (Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls).

Section 1 (2) removes reference to defunct bodies and adds reference to current ones.

Section 1 (3) updates the list of potential counsellors of state. The original text specified the consort and the first four adults in line to the throne. In early 2017 this would have meant Princes Philip, Charles, William, Harry and Andrew. By 2022 the former had died and the latter two had withdrawn from royal duties, leaving only two counsellors still active: the minimum for this provision to be used. The accession of King Charles III dulls the urgency of the situation by adding Queen Camilla and Princess Beatrice to the list (as consort and fourth adult in line respectively) but the current arrangements are still less than ideal. The new text allows for counsellors to be added or removed as necessary without the burden of new primary legislation each time.

Section 2 repeals intermediate legislation whose provisions are now redundant. The 1943 Act lowered the age of eligibility for the heir-apparent to be a counsellor, but that is negated by this Bill. The clause regarding counsellors’ absence is also covered by the revised wording. The 1953 Act anticipated minority reigns by persons who have since reached the age of majority and gave powers to persons who are now deceased. The sole active provision of the latter Act is to reduce the age at which the heir-apparent could be regent from twenty-one to eighteen years, but as the present heir-apparent is over the higher age that point is likewise moot.

Section 4 delays implementation of the legislation until His Majesty’s appointments have been approved, to avoid an interim situation in which there would be no counsellors of state at all.