Look, dear reader, if you’re ever going to trust the many things I have to say about television, I have to be honest with you. And, that means admitting I never watched The Crown season 1. Blasphemy, I know, yet here we are. So, when I began binging the brand-new The Crown season 2 I was a little confused why everyone was calling the man known in my 2017-set mind as Prince Philip (Matt Smith) something very different. At the start of the Netflix period drama’s second season, the inhabitants of Buckingham Palace refer to the royal as “The Duke Of Edinburgh.” By the end of episode 3, “Lisbon,” the entire Prince vs. Duke mystery is explained, and it immediately reminds one of Meghan Markle’s future in the British monarchy she will also marry into by wedding Prince Harry.
Throughout the first three episode of The Crown season 2, Duke Philip is acting out. He’s possibly seeing a famous ballerina on the sly and he’s definitely growing a beard while touring the world with his adulterous best friend, Mike Parker (Daniel Ings). Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) heads to a private boat docked in Lisbon to finally talk through a marital detente with her husband, who can’t move on from the fact he will always come “second,” as he complains, to the literal Queen Of England. Since that will never change, and divorce is not an “exit route” for the leader of the Church Of England, what would it take to ensure Philip is “in” on his marriage? A better title.
Philip rages against the “snobbery and prejudice” of the “dreaded moustaches,” or Elizabeth’s trusted secretaries. “No more being sniffed at for being a foreigner with a background nobody understands,” he fumes. “I will earn their respect with the only thing those creatures understand: a gesture, a statement, something irrefutable that shuts them up and commands their respect. Right now I am currently out-ranked by my 8-year-old son!” Cut to the next scene, off of that accursed boat and back in the palace, where Philip is getting his wish.
It’s February 22, 1957, and Philip is raised from the “style and titular dignity” of a duke to that of the official “Prince Of The United Kingdom And Northern Ireland.” He even gets to wear a ridiculously fancy red cape-and-crown combo and wields an actual golden sceptre. No one was calling “Prince Philip” a prince before this moment because he wasn’t. He was merely a duke, in the same way Kate Middleton is now a duchess and Meghan Markle will be a duchess if Prince Harry, who legal name is Henry, FYI, is raised to the title of duke on his wedding day, as is widely expected.
If Philip, a person who married into the British Royal Family, was able to get the title of “Prince” in the front of his name, as opposed to a descriptor like “Prince Of, say, Edinburgh” it would stand to reason Markle may also get such treatment. Except that doesn’t exactly sound possible considering the extremely strict system of the monarchy.
The main reason Philip, who was originally born as The Prince Of Greece and Denmark and gave up his titles to marry then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, was raised to Prince Philip Of The UK is because he can never gain the title of king. The word “King,” even when it would be used in the moniker of “King Consort,” is saved for actual rulers, not men who serve as the husband to the official Queen Of England. Queen Victoria’s spouse Albert got the same treatment. Apparently, “King” is too serious a job description for a man who’s not actually in charge, so “Prince” is the highest any non-reigning guy is allowed to go. Queen Consort, however, can be bestowed up an actual king’s wife, as the title is so often ceremonial. Sexism at work, everyone.
So, the title of “Prince,” along with “Princess,” isn’t something the monarchy is handing out like royal marriage certificates. Even if Markle would like to use her “Princess” title — after all her husband in a matter of months is named Prince Harry — she will never get the honorific in front of her name like Philip. Such allowances are traditionally saved for women born directly into the Royal Family, like The Crown’s Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) or the real-life Princess Charlotte. While we all love calling Princess Diana, well, “Princess Diana,” her technical title was Diana, Princess of Wales.
If you’re confused about why Diana became a princess rather than a duchess, like Middleton and prospective Markle, the explanation is: her husband Charles’ major title became “Prince” in 1967 when Queen Elizabeth invested her born-royal son as the actual prince of Wales, a literal principality, the Huffington Post explains. Therefore, Diana, Princess Of Wales picked up the feminized style of Prince Charles’ major title.
Prince Harry’s major title, on the other hand, is expected to be “Duke” after he weds — which tops a “minor” prince title — so Markle will be given the feminized version of that, Duchess. If Duchess Meghan would like to use her husband’s more minor “Prince” honorific post-marriage, the future royal will be Her Royal Highness, Princess Henry of Wales. Again, sexism at work, everyone.
So, we may see Prince Philip galavanting around The Crown season 2 thanks to the monarchy's baffling, strict rules, but, we'll likely never see a Princess Meghan (played by the incomparable Zendaya in my imaginary casting scenario) glide through season 18. At least the dream of the 21 Century black princess will always live in our hearts.
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