Why Prince Phillip Wasn’t King of England—Explained

Sixty-seven years ago, Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne to become Queen Elizabeth II, while her husband, Prince Philip, remained a prince. So why was Prince Philip not 'King Philip'?

Editor’s Note: Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth II, has died at 99 years old.

In a statement on April 9, 2021, the Palace said: “It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.”

“His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.

One of the more curious facts about Prince Philip is that he was not the King of England. Rather, he was Prince Philip (also known as the Duke of Edinburgh). Yet when Prince William becomes King, his wife, Kate, will be known either as “Queen” or “Queen Consort” for as long as William lives—after which Prince George is in line to become King, and Kate will take on a new title reflecting that she has become the widow of a king and mother of the reigning monarch (assuming she outlives William).

So, you might wonder: If Kate is eligible to be Queen, then why was Prince Philip not King?

So, why was Prince Philip not King Philip?

The answer is found in British Parliamentary law, which determines who’s up next for the throne, and also what title his or her spouse will have. In terms of succession, the law looks only to blood, and not to gender. This rule makes the royal family tree sounds complicated, but it’s actually easily explained. In terms of the spouses of royalty, however, that law treats men and women differently.

  • When a male in the royal bloodline marries: His wife takes whatever is the female form of his title. Thus, when Prince William married Kate Middleton and became Duke of Cambridge, Kate became Duchess of Cambridge, and when Prince William becomes King, Kate’s title will change to match William’s. And delving back a couple of generations, when Queen Elizabeth II’s father, George VI, became King, his wife’s title became “Queen Consort,” although she was usually referred to as “Queen Elizabeth” (having been born Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, not to be confused with Queen Elizabeth I of England, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn). Queen Elizabeth held her title until George died, at which point Elizabeth II ascended to the throne, and her mum became “Queen Mother.”
  • When a female in the royal bloodline marries: Her husband is not eligible to take the male form of his wife’s title, as Marlene Koenig, a royal historian and writer of the Royal Musings blog, told Town and Country. That’s why Princess Eugenie’s husband, Jack Brooksbank, remains “Mr. Jack Brooksbank” when they got married in October 2018.

In keeping with this, when Philip Mountbatten married then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, he did not become Prince. It wasn’t until 1957 that Queen Elizabeth bestowed the title of “prince” on Philip by issuing a letters patent. Fun fact: Philip was born a prince to both the Greek and Danish royal families but renounced his right to those thrones and titles to marry Elizabeth, and presumably as an incentive to do so, was designated His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh on the eve of the wedding, a title he retained until his death in 2021.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.