A handful of my middle school budding historians asked on Friday, “if there is a queen how come there was not a king?” It prompted me to write a short piece as to why. The quick answer is that the only way to be king is to inherit the title. Prince Philip married the heir to the throne so per British parliamentary law, he would become Prince Consort when his wife acceded to the throne.
But what is the backstory? The following is a quick primer.
In 1689 King William III was explicitly chosen to be King, as co-sovereign with Mary II, although she, as the daughter of James II, stood nearer to the throne than William did. But William refused to be crowned unless he alone exercised royal power.
The ‘Bill of Rights declared that the ‘sole and full exercise of the regal power be only in and executed by the said Prince of Orange in the names of the said prince and princess during their joint lives.’ For a more in-depth look see: Bill of Rights.
So Mary was only allowed to run the show when William was out of the country.
Queen Victoria married her husband Prince Albert in 1840, and he remained Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha for 14 years until she conferred upon him the title of Prince Consort.
The title does not carry any formal or constitutional powers. Prince Albert was, nevertheless, able to have a tangible impact on the monarchy. Just as Prince Philp had during the 69 years, he was by The Queen’s side.
The husband of a reigning Queen, unlike a Queen Consort, is not crowned or anointed during the coronation ceremony. However, the Duke of Edinburgh was the first layman to declare his allegiance to The Queen in 1953, following the archbishops and bishops during the coronation.
Unlike Prince Albert, Prince Philip was made a Knight of the Garter and conferred the titles of Baron Greenwich, Earl of Merioneth and HRH, The Duke of Edinburgh just before his marriage in 1947. Therefore he became a peer and member of The House of Lords. King George VI also made him a Privy Counselor in 1951, along with the then Princess Elizabeth.
The Duke of Edinburgh was created Prince Consort in September 1952, a few months following the coronation. The following year under the provisions of the Regency Act, he was created Regent Designate until Prince Charles became eighteen years old in 1966.
On 22 February 1957, Her Majesty created him a Prince of the United Kingdom. His title became HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Since 1967, as Prince Consort, he sat on the consort’s throne next to The Queen at the State Opening of Parliament.
The Duke of Edinburgh had no formal position in the structure of government. He was not privy to ‘red boxes,’ and he held no official audiences.
The Queen’s consort’s position is really what the holder chooses to make of it. Prince Philip had a massive impact on the monarchy and in his own right. From being a strong proponent for science and technological progress to conservation to his brilliant Duke of Edinburgh Award, he carved a path like no one before him.
The Duke of Edinburgh set the bar high and being that the next three heirs are male, it is unlikely there will ever be another Prince Consort like Prince Philip!