Emperor Christian Victor I

Emperor Christian Victor I

Friday, 27 July 2012

Fascinating Fridays (Dowager Titles)

Dowager, now there is a word not often heard in modern democratic discussions. It is as if this word is a fossil from a long time ago when society was entrenched in hierarchical principles and of course Royalty.

When the head of a Royal or Noble House is male and marries, his wife gains his titles by courtesy. If he is a Duke, she becomes a Duchess in honour of her status as his wife. She does not become a Duchess in her own right. In order to gain a title in your own right you must inherit it or be granted it by a Sovereign Monarch. So if a lady gains a title through being married then that courtesy title passes on to her son's wife when he gains his father's title. What happens to the widow, is what today's post is all about.

A Dowager  is the widow of a Head of a Royal or Noble House. There is no such thing as a male Dowager, it is reserved for widows only. She will not be referred to as a Dowager unless the new holder of the title has a wife that in effect causes her to lose her own courtesy position and title. Let's use an example. The Count von Bismarck inherited his title upon his father's death. His mother is the Countess Von Bismarck by courtesy. Once the new Count marries, his mother becomes the Dowager Countess Von Bismarck. This serves in distinguishes between the two Countesses von Bismarck. Sometimes the widow might use her first name, as in Countess Maria von Bismarck but this can be considered demeaning due to the fact that first names are often used for daughters or sisters of a Count and not the mother or wife which should take precedence. This "rule" however changes between countries.

The mother of the current Grand Duke of Hanoveria is officially known as the Dowager Grand Duchess of Hanoveria due to her son's wife bearing the title, Grand Duchess of Hanoveria. She is also known by another title she bears in her own right namely, Princess Beatrice and could legally be called that.

The Dowager Countess Cartwright is the mother of the current Earl Cartwright but does not have to add Dowager to her title if she doesn't like to because her son remains a bachelor. She does however already announce herself as the Dowager.

A Dowager has the right to the title regardless of whether her son or nephew or even grand nephew inherits her husband's title after his death. This brings us to the titles of King and Queen, where special concession is made due to the high profiles of the people bearing these titles. Unlike other titles where the wife gains rank by courtesy of her husband, the wife of a King is actually crowned and made a Queen. Therefore if her name is Mary, she would be known as Queen Mary. She is not made a ruling Queen but a Consort Queen and bears this title for life regardless of her husband. When she becomes a widow she may continue to be referred to as Queen Mary. Strictly speaking she is a Dowager but would only be referred to as such if her name happens to be the same as the new King's wife. Finally, if she does not like the term Dowager, then she may be called Queen Mother but only if the new King is actually her son.

There are anomalies in the case of widows as can be expected with most situations. In the Kingdom of Hispania the current ruler, Queen Maria is the daughter of the Dowager Princess of Cataljone. This is due to the fact, that even though the Queen's mother was married to the heir to the throne, her husband never became King. The last Prince of Cataljone was killed in the 96 revolution before he succeeded to the throne and his young daughter became Queen Maria I. The Prince's wife therefore gained the title of Dowager Princess of Cataljone due to the fact that the title of Prince of Cataljone is reserved for the heir to the throne and is now held by the daughter of the current Queen Maria.

The Dowager Princess of Cataljone.


  1. Hey Dan,

    Interesting blog piece. I have a question - maybe it could become another blog-piece.

    When Kate Middleton got married, she became Duchess of *Cambridge*, married to William, Duke of *Cambridge*. Charles is Prince of *Wales*.

    How do these "geographical regions" get assigned to royals, and why? Andrew is the Duke of *York*, and Philip the Duke of *Edinburgh*. These all seem very random to me.

    Thanks a million,

    1. Thanks for the comment and the interest in my knowledge Etienne. I can indeed answer you but it will be difficult to keep it short without opening all the subtle anomalies and nuances of Titles is general. Suffice it to say, it is historic, semi-random and very tradition based why titles like these belong to some Royals. Please note that the titles are linked to major cities and region. These often have very particular historic connections with Royal history or also might bear a level of major prestige due to the size of the city or region. Wales is the most major part of Great Britian after England and Scotland and was always a Principality historically. When it was conquered somwhere in the 13th century, the victorious King of England created his son, the new Prince in order to bind the "independant" Principality to England forever. There are complicated nuances with this title and I refer you to wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_of_Wales for the full lecture. Edinburgh is the most major city after London and it seems relatively peotic that the Queen's husband and def facto, second in command should be linked top that city. Please again refer to wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_of_Edinburgh
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_of_Cambridge for detail on that title and any other you might question. The point is that these titles are all but randomly bourne by the Royals. after reading the wikipedia articles feel free to ask me about any aspect that doesn't make sense to you.

      Thanks for asking and I will expound futher on the principle as regard to the storyline of my blog in a post devoted to that purpose. Look out for it.

  2. Hello from Spain: thank you for explaining the concept of the royal widow.! . Keep in touch.