Why was Prince Philip not a King? Consort titles and roles explained

With Charles' accession to the throne, his wife of 17 years, Camilla, becomes Queen Consort.

Prince Philip was the longest serving consort in UK history, but he was not King Consort. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Prince Philip was the longest serving consort in UK history, but he was not King Consort. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

She becomes the first Queen Consort since Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who held the title during the reign of her husband, King George VI, from December 1936 until his death in February 1952.

It's been 70 years since the UK last had a Queen Consort, so a it's a title that many people have not come across during their lifetime.

What is a Queen Consort?

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was the UK's last Queen Consort before Camilla. Photo: PA/PA Wire

Royal convention dictates that the wife of a British monarch is given the title Queen Consort. But the title is different to the Queen, which Elizabeth II was.

A Queen, like a King, is a monarch who reigns over her kingdom. She has sovereign, military, and political powers. A Queen Consort does not.

While her title is Her Majesty, she has fewer powers and responsibility than the sovereign.

The Royal Family website says the role of a consort is "primarily to provide companionship and moral and practical support to the Monarch".

It adds that a consort "does not hold a formal position in the structure of government", and "does not see State papers or hold official audiences".

They do still get a coronation and a throne though, at events such as the State Opening of Parliament.

As with other members of the Royal Family, the Queen Consort can also support the King in his programme of public engagements and ceremonial duties, ranging from visiting local charities to hosting Heads of State.

Consorts can accompany the monarch during overseas tours but carry out a parallel itinerary of engagements, or complete their own individual tours representing the King or Queen.

Why was Philip not King Consort?

Prince Philip was consort for 69 years, but never had an official title. Photo: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire

When King George VI died in 1952, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was no longer Queen Consort as her husband was no longer the reigning monarch. Instead, Philip, Queen Elizabeth II's husband became consort.

Philip, famously described by the Queen as her "strength and stay", died in April 2021 after a 73-year marriage.

He died as the longest-serving consort in British history, but he was not King Consort.

The reason is, the husband of a reigning Queen does not become a King and is neither crowned or anointed at a coronation, unlike a Queen Consort.

The husband of a female monarch can become Prince Consort such as Queen Victoria's husband, Albert, in the 19th century.

However, Philip turned down the chance to use that title, according to correspondence by then-prime minister Sir Winston Churchill in 1954.

Sir Winston engaged in a series of secret letters with his Lord Chancellor about the prospect of Philip becoming Prince Consort. Other titles suggested included Prince of the Commonwealth and Prince of the Realm.

But the discussion was brought to an abrupt end by the non-nonsense Philip.

The two-time Prime Minister wrote that the Queen had made the suggestion to her husband, but that he “refused even to consider accepting any new title at present”.

He added: “Her Majesty asked that the matter should be allowed to rest indefinitely.”

Despite rejecting the official title, Philip - who was made Duke of Edinburgh by King George VI just before his wedding to Elizabeth in 1947, and prince of the UK by the Queen 10 years later - still remained a consort.

Queen Camilla

Camilla, seen here leaving the State Opening of Parliament in 2013, has now become Queen Consort. Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire.

Ahead of her Platinum Jubilee, the Queen said it was her “sincere wish” that Camilla would be known as Queen Consort when Charles became King.

When, in the fullness of time, my son Charles becomes King, I know you will give him and his wife Camilla the same support that you have given me; and it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service," she said in February 2022.

As Queen Consorts can be crowned, Camilla is expected to be at Charles' side at his coronation, although no date has been set for that event.

The last Queen Consort, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who died in 2002, was crowned alongside her husband, King George VI, in 1937.

Camilla is expected to wear the Queen Mother’s 1937 coronation crown.

As the wife of the King, Camilla is technically Her Majesty The Queen, but in their briefings and statements Buckingham Palace has kept to Queen Consort.

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