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Rules established by King George V in 1917 limited the number of royal highnesses in the British monarchy, and they still determine who gets the title of prince or princess.
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, suggested in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that her son Archie was being denied the title of prince for reasons beyond official rules.
Archie is Queen Elizabeth II’s great-grandson. He is currently seventh in line for the throne, and he could become a prince if his grandfather, Prince Charles, becomes king.
Prince Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey left many observers of the British royal family puzzling over one question: Why doesn’t their son Archie have the title of prince?
Meghan, who married Harry in 2018, said she was shocked to discover while she was pregnant that Archie would not get the title of prince or any associated security.
"They were saying they didn't want him to be a prince or a princess — not knowing what the gender would be — which would be different from protocol," Meghan said.
Meghan expressed concern over "the idea of our son not being safe, and also the idea of the first member of color in this family not being titled in the same way that other grandchildren would be."
Under existing convention, Archie could be named a prince should his grandfather, Prince Charles, ascend the throne, since children and male-line grandchildren of the king or queen receive the title of prince or princess. But Queen Elizabeth II made exceptions for Prince William's offspring, announcing years ago that they would all be princes and princesses.
According to Meghan, it's possible Archie would not be afforded either opportunity to become prince, based on conversations that she said took place while she was pregnant.
Asked by Winfrey if she thought Archie’s mixed race was a reason he didn’t get the title, Meghan said there were "also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born."
Some people watching the interview pointed out that Archie was not given the prince title at birth because of rules laid down by King George V more than 100 years ago.
King George V in 1917 limited which members of the royal family would have the status of "HRH," or His or Her Royal Highness. His declaration reserved prince and princess titles for the children of the monarch, the grandchildren of the monarch in the male line, and the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, according to the Guardian.
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Archie is the queen’s great-grandson, so he was born without the prince title.
But he could take the title on in the event that Charles becomes king.
At another point in the interview, Meghan described that possibility to Winfrey. "When Harry’s dad becomes king, automatically Archie and our next baby would become prince or princess," Meghan said.
Harry and Archie are currently sixth and seventh in line to the throne, respectively, although they could slide further down the line of succession as the family of Prince William grows. Meghan and Harry’s second child — a girl expected this summer, they revealed — will be eighth.
William’s oldest son, George, was a prince at birth because he, like William, is directly in line for the throne. But in 2012, the queen issued her own decree declaring that all of William's children would get the titles of prince and princess — a move she did not repeat for Archie.
Meghan told Winfrey that on the contrary, the royal family had actually discussed adopting new rules to bar Archie from ever being a prince. "I think even with that convention I’m talking about, while I was pregnant, they said they want to change the convention for Archie," she said.
The Guardian reported that such a change would align with Charles’ purported wish to shrink the monarchy. "What Prince Charles will do when he ascends the throne under a slimmed down monarchy is really what she’s talking about," said Carolyn Durand, the author of "Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of A Modern Royal Family," March 8 on CNN.
Archie was entitled to be Earl of Dumbarton when he was born in 2019. Harry and Meghan named him Archie Mountbatten-Windsor instead. Meghan disputed claims that they had not wanted Archie to carry the prince title, telling Winfrey she cared about the security.
Several other members of the royal family do not have titles, according to People, although the queen has reportedly offered to extend titles to some of them. For example, the children of Princess Anne, Peter Phillips and Zara Tindall, are grandchildren of the queen who don’t have royal titles.
CBS, CBS Presents Oprah with Meghan and Harry: A Primetime Special," March 7, 2021
Guardian News on YouTube, "Oprah says Queen and Prince Philip not behind Archie's skin colour comments," March 8, 2021
CNN, "CNN Newsroom with Brianna Keilar," March 8, 2021
The New York Times, "Why is Archie not a prince? Meghan says there’s more to it than following the rules," March 8, 2021
The Guardian, "Was Meghan's son Archie denied the title 'prince' because he's mixed race?" March 8, 2021
People, "Meghan Markle Explains Why Son Archie Isn't a Prince in Oprah Interview," March 7, 2021
BBC News, "Royal Family tree and line of succession," March 5, 2021
Vogue, 'Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Son, Archie, Doesn’t Have a Royal Title," May 16, 2019
The Los Angeles Times, "Archie, the newest British royal family member, has no title. Here’s why (we think)," May 10, 2019