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How royal titles work

Andrew has been stripped of most of his military titles but is still a prince and duke

The Queen has stripped Prince Andrew of his honorary military titles and patronages after a US judge ruled that a civil lawsuit over sex abuse allegations against him could proceed to trial.

Buckingham Palace announced the decision following the publication of an open letter signed by more than 150 Royal Navy, RAF and Army veterans that urged the Queen to remove her second son’s eight British military titles.

Some of these titles were inherited by Andrew from his late father, Prince Philip, including Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, described by the BBC as “one of the most senior infantry regiments in the British army”. 

But Andrew “has not lost everything”, wrote Craig Prescott, a law lecturer at Bangor University, in an article on The Conversation. Along with his rank of vice admiral in the Royal Navy, Andrew retains his birth title of “prince” and “remains the Duke of York, which is a peerage”, Prescott explained. And he is also still ninth in line of succession to the throne.

How the peerage works

The peerage is a centuries-old ranking system for British nobility. Five ranks of the peerage still exist today: duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron.  

Duke is the “highest and most important rank”, explained online history magazine Historic UK. Edward III created the first duke, in 1337, when he made his eldest son the Duke of Cornwall – a title now held by Prince Charles. Dukes (and duchesses, the female counterpart) are addressed as “your grace”. 

Andrew became Duke of York when he married Sarah Ferguson in 1986. The title is traditionally granted to the monarch’s second son and has previously been held by the Queen’s father, George VI, and her grandfather, George V. 

Unlike military titles, Andrew’s peerage can only be removed by an Act of Parliament. A peerage removal “can only be done by statute, passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and receiving royal assent, which means the agreement of the Queen”, said the i news site.

Calls for Andrew to lose his duke title have been growing, particularly in York, where a city council member has launched a campaign backing the move. 

But there is no historical precedent for the removal of a title of peerage by the Queen: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are still the Duke and Duchess of Sussex despite quitting royal life in January 2020.

Other ranks of the peerage

A marquess, which is next in the line of nobility after a duke, is formally addressed as “lord”, and the wife of a marquess is a marchioness, addressed as “lady”. Only one woman in history has been created a marchioness in her own right: Anne Boleyn, prior to her marriage to Henry VIII.

The next rank in order of precedence is earl. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon “eorl”, meaning military leader. After earl comes viscount, a title created in the 15th century, and then baron, a name derived from the Old German word “baro”, meaning freeman.

Titles of the peerage may be hereditary or granted for life. Historically, hereditary peers have had the right to sit in the House of Lords. However, following the House of Lords Act of 1999, most hereditary peers have now been “ejected”, with fewer than 100 remaining. 

These days, new hereditary peerages are only granted by the Queen to members of the Royal Family. According to The Independent, the grandchildren of sons of the reigning monarch are automatically given the title of “prince” or “princess”, but any title beyond that – such as duke or duchess – “is granted by courtesy”.

The meaning of HRH

Although Andrew will retain his His Royal Highness (HRH) title – described by The New York Times as “a prized symbol of his status as a senior member of the Royal Family” – he will not be able to use it in any official capacity. This puts him on the same footing as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex following their move to California.

HRH titles have been issued to children and grandchildren of the monarch since the early 18th century, at the discretion of the monarchs of the time. 

“Not everyone has accepted the offer of an HRH,” said CNN. The Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, turned it down for her children, Peter and Zara.

“That’s in contrast to Prince Andrew, who allowed his daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, to carry it,” added the US-based news network.

Andrew and the Sussexes are not the first royals to be prevented from using the HRH titles. The Queen also stripped Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson of the title following their divorces from Charles and Andrew respectively. Diana was instead given the courtesy title of “Diana, Princess of Wales”.

How royal patronages work

As well as losing his honorary military titles and the use of HRH, Andrew has also been stripped of his many royal patronages –  when members of the Royal Family lend their name to a charity or organisation.

These shows of royal support can provide “vital publicity” for a cause and “add status”, according to the family’s official website.

In November 2019, “when the Duke of York stepped down from public duties, he held 230 patronages”, said the i news site.

But many “rushed to distance themselves from the Queen’s second son” following his “disastrous” Newsnight interview about his friendship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, the paper continued.

However, prior to the Palace’s announcement last week, “more than 90 organisations still appeared on the official website in the list of the duke’s charities and patronages”.

Andrew’s patronages have now been returned to the Queen and will be redistributed to other members of the Royal Family.


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