Why was Diana called Princess and Kate is not?

Princess Diana and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge are two of the most famous royal brides in recent history. Both married heirs to the British throne, yet only Diana held the title of Princess. This discrepancy often leads people to wonder: why was Diana given the title Princess, when Kate is simply known by her Duchess title?

Quick Answers

There are a few key reasons why Diana was styled Princess and Kate is not:

  • Diana married the Prince of Wales, who was the heir apparent. Kate married the Duke of Cambridge, who is second-in-line behind his father Prince Charles.
  • Wives take their husband’s titles upon marriage. Diana’s husband Charles was a Prince, so she became Princess. Kate’s husband William was a Duke, so she became Duchess.
  • Princess is a higher royal title than Duchess. Diana ranked above Kate in the royal hierarchy as Princess of Wales.

The difference essentially comes down to the royal titles and succession status of their husbands at the time of marriage. As the wife of the first-in-line Prince of Wales, Diana took the title Princess. Kate did not marry the heir apparent, so she assumed the Duchess title.

Diana’s Title

Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, who was the Prince of Wales and heir apparent to the British throne, on July 29, 1981. Upon her marriage, Diana automatically assumed the feminine form of her husband’s titles. She became Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Chester, and Baroness of Renfrew.

Of these titles, Princess of Wales was the most senior and important. The title is traditionally held by the wife of the Prince of Wales. As the heir apparent’s wife, Diana was entitled to the feminine version of Charles’ title. She was therefore known as Princess Diana after her wedding to the future King.

Had Charles not held the Prince of Wales title, Diana would likely have still been styled as a Princess. That is because the wife of the heir to the throne is typically considered a Princess, regardless of her husband’s specific title. However, being Princess of Wales gave Diana greater precedence and rank than being a Princess through marriage alone.

Why Heir Apparent’s Wife Becomes Princess

It is royal tradition for the wife of the heir apparent to the British throne to become a Princess. This reflects the heir apparent’s status as the next in line to the throne. Even if the heir’s official title is Duke, as in the case of Prince William, their spouse is often still designated as Princess.

In Diana’s case, she married the first-in-line to the throne during a time when the status of heir apparent was expected to lead to the throne. Prince Charles remains the heir apparent as the eldest son of the monarch. Therefore, as Charles’ wife, Diana was always destined to become Princess of Wales and eventually Queen consort.

Being the wife of the heir apparent signifies becoming Queen consort in future. So the feminine style “Princess” distinguishes the heir’s spouse and indicates their particularly important royal status.

Kate’s Title

Catherine “Kate” Middleton married Prince William, Duke of Cambridge on April 29, 2011. William was second-in-line to the throne at the time, behind his father Prince Charles. Upon her marriage, Kate assumed the title Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge.

William did not hold the Prince of Wales title at the time of their wedding. As the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, William’s title was His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales. However, the Queen gave him the Duke of Cambridge title on his wedding day, following royal tradition.

Therefore, Kate acquired the feminine version of her new husband’s title, becoming Duchess of Cambridge rather than Princess of Wales. She also assumed the rank of a daughter-in-law of the sovereign thanks to her marriage into the royal family.

Why Second-in-Line’s Wife Isn’t Typically Princess

Unlike the heir apparent’s wife, the spouse of the second-in-line to the throne does not automatically become a Princess. Kate did not attain the Princess title after marrying second-in-line Prince William because he was not the heir apparent at the time.

The heir apparent has a special status as the next in line to the throne, which is reflected in their spouse becoming Princess. The second-in-line does not yet have this direct path to becoming monarch. So their wife does not inherit the Princess title, unless specifically granted by the Queen.

As the second-in-line, there was less certainty around Kate becoming Queen consort at the time of her wedding. With the longer-living royal generations, Kate may have to wait many more years before potentially becoming Queen. Therefore, she was not initially given the Princess title reserved for the heir apparent’s spouse.

Princess vs Duchess Titles

The titles Princess and Duchess signify distinctly different ranks within the British royal family. Princess is the higher, more senior title, while Duchess is typically a non-royal peerage.

As Princess of Wales, Diana was a member of the royal family through marriage. She held a royal title which ranked above all non-royal peerages, reflecting her proximity to the throne.

Kate’s title of Duchess of Cambridge places her on the level of a non-royal aristocrat. The Dukedom is a hereditary peerage bestowed by the Queen, rather than a royal style in itself. While a Duchess enjoys precedence and privilege, Princesses hold superior royal rank.

Other Ways to Become Princess

It is possible to become a Princess without marrying the heir apparent. Non-royals who marry the monarch’s sons also traditionally take the title of Princess.

For example, upon marrying the Queen’s second son Prince Andrew, Sarah Ferguson assumed the title Sarah, Duchess of York. Likewise with Sophie Rhys-Jones, who became Sophie, Countess of Wessex when she married the Queen’s youngest son Prince Edward.

Princess Michael of Kent acquired her title by marrying the Queen’s cousin, Prince Michael of Kent. Her title is distinctive because she is technically “Princess Michael” rather than “Princess Marie-Christine,” her own name.

The Queen can also grant Princesses the right to use that title before their Christian name via letters patent. This was done for William’s cousins Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, among other royal women.

However, marrying the heir apparent remains the most automatic path to becoming Princess in the British royal family.

Did Diana Have an Advantage Over Kate?

Some argue that Diana had an advantage over Kate in attaining the Princess title, for several reasons:

  • Diana married the heir rather than second-in-line to the throne. This entitled her to become Princess of Wales automatically.
  • Diana married the Prince of Wales. Becoming Princess was typical for wives of the heir, regardless of specific titles.
  • There was greater certainty Diana would become Queen consort due to the Queen being younger and reigning for fewer years at that time.
  • Kate did not inherit Princess title immediately because it is not traditional for wives of second-in-line to become Princess.

However, Kate’s position is highly comparable to Diana’s in some respects:

  • Like Diana, Kate married a son of the future King. Becoming a Princess through marriage was a possibility, if not automatic.
  • Kate assumed the rank of daughter-in-law of the sovereign through marrying into the royal family.
  • Succession laws at the time meant Kate would become Queen consort unless a male heir was born. In this way, she held similar proximity to the throne as Diana once did.

While Diana’s marriage clearly placed her in the inner royal circle in a way Kate’s did not initially, Kate’s marriage to William still positioned her close to the throne. Her future Queen consort status remained likely, if not as certain.

How Do Their Titles Compare Now?

In the years since her marriage, Kate’s place within the royal family has grown. Some key comparisons between Kate’s current status and Diana’s former title:

  • Once Prince William becomes Prince of Wales as the heir apparent, Kate will likely assume the Princess of Wales title that was held by Diana.
  • Kate ranks as a senior working member of the royal family who regularly represents the Queen.
  • She has taken on more prominent duties and patronages befitting her future Queen consort role.
  • After the birth of Prince George, a future heir, Kate’s position was further elevated within the royal family.

Therefore, although Kate did not immediately gain a Princess title like Diana, her role has expanded significantly. She enjoys comparable prominence and status as a senior royal and future consort.

Could Kate Ever Become Princess Catherine?

There are scenarios in which Kate could eventually acquire the formal title Princess Catherine:

  • Once Prince Charles ascends the throne, he could issue letters patent granting Kate the legal title Princess Catherine.
  • When William becomes Prince of Wales, typically his wife takes on Princess title. Kate would likely then become HRH Princess Catherine of Wales.
  • If anything happened to Prince George before succession, Kate would once again be poised to become Queen consort. Princess title may then be more appropriately bestowed on her.

However, these possibilities remain hypothetical. Kate appears content with her current Duchess title and its emphasis on her Cambridge duties. The Palace seems unlikely to re-designate her titles unless circumstances require it.


Diana, Princess of Wales and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge represent two prominent royal brides of recent decades. Diana automatically became Princess because she married the heir to throne, Prince Charles. Kate did not immediately gain Princess status after marrying second-in-line Prince William.

However, Diana’s marriage gave her little practical advantage over Kate. While Diana ranked above Kate initially, Kate’s role has grown substantially towards an equal standing. Both women have flourished as senior royals undertaking prominent work.

Ultimately, Kate may still one day acquire the Princess of Wales title held by Diana. But this will likely only occur if and when her husband William becomes the heir apparent as Prince of Wales. Kate’s current title as Duchess of Cambridge therefore reflects William’s second-in-line status, rather than any inherent difference between the two royal brides.

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