No family captivates the world quite like the royal family of the United Kingdom. From the birth of new babies to exciting dating rumors, there’s nothing we don’t want to know about Queen Elizabeth II and her fascinating relatives — and that includes the origins of their titles.
Prince William isn’t just a prince, after all; he’s also the Duke of Cambridge, though that’s not a title that he was born with — it’s one his grandmother bestowed on him when he married Kate Middleton. Why Cambridge? Because the queen said so, that’s why. OK, it’s not quite that simple, but it almost is.
The origin of the locations in royal titles (and non-royal titles) all go back to the United Kingdom’s rich history, even though the meaning behind those titles has changed over time.
The first thing you need to understand to get to the bottom of why there’s a Duke of York and a Duke of Kent is the peerage system. The system has its origins in feudal times, and it’s basically a system of ranking the nobles. According to the peerage experts at Debretts, peers of the realm would swear fealty to the monarch, who would then bestow land or money to them for their loyalty.
There are five possible titles in the peerage system, and, ranked from highest to lowest, they are: duke (duchess), marquess (marchioness), earl (countess), viscount (viscountess), and baron (baroness).
As a duke, a man is entitled to a dukedom. In the past, when Prince William became the Duke of Cambridge, he would have inherited the land that goes with the title, but these days, the titles are more honorary than anything else.
Only the reigning monarch can bestow dukedoms, and there are currently five royal dukedoms in use and at least 16 dukedoms that are “available,” in many cases due to the previous title holder not having a male heir to pass their title to. That’s right: only men can inherit titles, so if a duke or earl has no sons, their title could be transferred to a distant male relative or become extinct when they die.
While non-royals can be peers, it’s the royal family that captivates everyone’s imagination, and they are the ones whose titles you’re likely curious about.