Queens and Queens’ Husbands: who gets what?

Husbands of Queens Regnant (queens reigning in their own right, not queens by virtue of being married to kings) have never been welcomed in England.  Elizabeth I was the canny one who realised that if she married a foreign royal her throne could be absorbed in a foreign kingdom:  and if she married an Englishman, she created an overmighty subject who would not be accepted by his peers.  (Plus the fact that whoever she married, it was pretty risky for a head of state to risk her life every year in the uncertain lottery of childbirth.)

The first woman to claim the crown of England after the Conquest was Matilda, daughter of Henry I and one of only two legitimate children.  When her brother, the heir, was drowned in the wreck of the White Ship in 1120,  Matilda had already been married to the Emperor Henry V;  so Henry I married again and tried to father another heir. He was unsuccessful but, fortunately for dynastic purposes, the Emperor died in 1125, which left Matilda free to inherit her father’s throne. As the Empress, she would not have been acceptable: England might have become another dominion of the Empire.  In 1127 she was accepted by the barons as heir, but they added to their oath the proviso that she should not marry outside their kingdom without their consent.  She ignored this and married Geoffrey Count of Anjou.  When Henry I died in 1135, Matilda’s right to the throne was challenged by her cousin, Stephen, son of Henry’s sister, Adela.  He managed to get himself crowned and approved by the Pope before she had got there, but most of his reign passed in civil war with Matilda and her son, Henry Plantagenet, the eventual Henry II.  Geoffrey remained Count of Anjou and Matilda was never in a position to give him an English title, even had she wanted to.  (The facts in this paragraph are taken from the Oxford History of England, Vol. III, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta by Lane Poole).

The next Queen Regnant was Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary.  She succeeded her brother Edward VI in 1553 and in 1554 married Prince Philip of Spain, soon to be King of Spain on the death of his father, the Emperor Charles V.  Bishop Gardiner, who conducted the marriage in Winchester Cathedral, announced that the Emperor had ceded the kingdoms of Naples and Jerusalem to Prince Philip, who was King of England by virtue of his marriage to Mary.  Garter King of Arms proclaimed Philip and Mary, by the Grace of God, King and Queen of England, France, Naples, Jerusalem, Ireland, etc. etc.  However, the Privy Council considered that Mary was the sovereign and Philip was her consort.  The marriage treaty did not provide for a coronation for Philip and despite his best efforts he was not honoured  with one.  But the King and Queen went together in state to Westminster for such ceremonies as the opening of parliament, where they sat on twin thrones. Mary announced herself pregnant, her dearest wish.  Philip rejoiced in the idea of an heir whose arrival would also increase his role in the governance of England. Sadly for Mary, the apparent pregnancy was probably the early sign of her terminal illness.  After many months of false alarms, Philip, tiring of his sick wife and his own lack of power, left to take up his duties in Spain. Mary died childless in 1558.  It was lucky for us that she didn’t achieve her dearest wish – to conceive and bear a Catholic heir.  A lot of Habsburg dominions were gained by dynastic conquest and we would doubtless have been one of them.

Mary was succeeded by her sister Elizabeth.  Whether or not at the expense of her own personal happiness, she used her unmarried condition as a bargaining power with foreign powers for many years of her reign and kept her English courtiers (in both senses of the word) vying for her favours until the end.

Mary II ruled jointly with her husband, William III.  When her father, James II, was ‘expelled ‘ and his Catholic son’s parentage queried by the story of the warming plan, his next heir was his oldest daughter, Mary.  England had recently been a republic and the noble Whigs and Tories, while anxious to rid themselves of a papist king allied too closely to expansionist France, did not fancy a return to republican rule.  Mary’s husband, her cousin, William Prince of Orange, son of James’s sister Mary Stuart, was the leader of the Protestant anti-French alliance. Mary was an acceptable choice as Queen Regnant, but William refused to act as her subordinate consort.  They would be offered the Crown jointly or it would not be accepted.  So we had the Glorious Revolution, the Declaration of Rights – and William and Mary.  After Mary’s death in 1695,  William continued to rule until his death in 1702.  William and Mary were childless and William had not remarried after she died.  He was succeeded by his sister-in-law, James’s younger daughter, Anne.

Queen Anne’s husband, the Lutheran Prince George of Denmark,  doesn’t seem to have objected to his subsidiary role, and nor to have acquired any title at all, apart from his role as Lord High Admiral.  Of their many children only one, William Duke of Gloucester, survived infancy.  When he died in 1700 there were fears that James II and his son would reclaim the throne.  It was then that the Act of Settlement was passed, limiting the succession to the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her descendants and to those in communion with the Church of England.

Our only Prince Consort was Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.  According to Elizabeth Longford’s biography of Victoria, she had set her heart on his being created King Consort, but this was ‘ruled out’ by her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne.  He also vetoed the grant of a peerage to Albert, fearing political danger if he became a member of the House of Lords. Victoria assumed that Albert would rank next in precedence to her, but her uncles, George III’s sons, the Royal Dukes, objected to this.  After her marriage she declared his precedence by royal prerogative.  It was not until 1857 that she was able to gain for him the title of Prince Consort.  There were suggestions that as he reached adulthood, the Prince of Wales might be given precedence over his father:  Victoria was not prepared to tolerate this.  Lord Palmerston, then Prime Minister, was willing, but reported that the Lord Chancellor had discovered a legal impediment to making Albert Prince Consort by Act of Parliament.  Once again Victoria’s prerogative was used and she created him Prince Consort by letters patent in June 1857.

Even in the twentieth century, with the marriage of Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II, and Philip, there were endless Ruritanian arguments, taken seriously by all the protagonists, about his title, his precedence, his surname and the surnames of his children.  The Queen solved some of the lingering disagreements by use of her prerogative once she became Queen.

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