What’s the difference between queen and ‘Queen Consort’?

King Charles III now presidents over the British monarchy. And by his side: Queen Camilla.

Wait a second. When Queen Elizabeth II, who died Sept. 8, 2022, reigned for her 70 years, her better half wasn’t King Philip but rather HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. As with many things royal, it’s complicated.

Camilla’s new title was set in motion in February 2022, when Elizabeth decreed during festivities marking her seven decades on the throne that the Duchess of Cornwall should be known as Queen Consort, as opposed to Princess Consort, when Charles ascended to the throne.

“Queen Consort” is the fancy name for the wife of a reigning king, which the United Kingdom has not had since 1952, when King George VI died and his widow, Queen Elizabeth, became the Queen Mother.

Confused? You’re not alone. We shall endeavor to explain.

What is a queen consort?

All previous wives of British or English kings were queen consorts (which includes all six of Henry VIII’s wives, at least while they were married to him). In the 20th century, there were two: Queen Mary, wife of King George V, and Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII (Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother and great-grandmother, respectively).

Handy hint: Here’s how you can tell the difference between the two Elizabeths: Queen Elizabeth II had a Roman numeral after her name, signifying her as the second sovereign of that name, not a consort.

Also for the record, there have been only six British or English reigning queens among the 41 monarchs since 1066 – Mary I, Elizabeth I, Mary II, Anne, Victoria, Elizabeth II – so it’s easier to tell them apart.

What does a Queen Consort do?

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall is now known as

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall is now known as “Queen Camilla,” in keeping with Queen Elizabeth II’s expressed wishes.

As with the first lady of the United States, there’s no job description, no official duties and no salary. But there’s high visibility, high pressure and high expectations from the public whose taxes pay for the monarchy.

In general, a queen consort’s job is to support the king in any way he can. Job No. 1 is to birth heirs, but that isn’t an issue for Charles, 74, and Camilla, 75, who each have children from their previous marriages. The royal succession is set for three more generations: After Charles comes his elder son, Prince William, 40, and after that William’s elder son, Prince George, 9.

As the wife of Charles for the past 17 years, Camilla has already been doing what a queen consort would do: She is a royal patron to scores of charities and good causes, accompanies her husband on royal tours, meets thousands of people every year, and is gracious and charming with everyone.

One no-no: getting involved in political matters.

Who could be a model for Queen Camilla?

King George VI and his consort, Queen Elizabeth, in a carriage in London on June 26, 1938.

King George VI and his consort, Queen Elizabeth, in a carriage in London on June 26, 1938.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who became queen consort after her brother-in-law King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, helped save the British monarchy by steeling her husband, who was nearly undone by the pressures of being an unexpected king, especially during World War II.

She went with him everywhere, visiting bombed-out Londoners in the East End and spreading her brand of royal magic that people fondly remembered many decades later. When Buckingham Palace was bombed in 1940 and the king and queen narrowly escaped harm, she said she was glad because it “makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.”

When she died in 2002 at age 101, an estimated 200,000 people filed past her casket at the Palace of Westminster over three days. The line stretched more than a mile along the River Thames.

Do we have to call her Queen Consort Camilla?

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall listen as Queen Elizabeth II delivers the Queen's Speech in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament in 2014.

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall listen as Queen Elizabeth II delivers the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament in 2014.

No, Queen Camilla will do. It’s nicely alliterative and the “consort” part is understood.

The official palace press operation will always refer to her as “Her Majesty” in any news release, but American media rarely use HM or HRH, for “Her Royal Highness,” referring to Camilla now.

However, Buckingham Palace officially identified her as Queen Camilla for the first time in April when revealing its invitation design for King Charles’ coronation. Camilla will be crowned alongside her husband at the ceremony on May 6.

The title is notable because it marks a step in the remarkable transformation of a woman once derided as a homewrecker because of her role in the breakdown of Charles’ marriage to the late Princess Diana.

Why isn’t Camilla the Princess of Wales?

Because of Diana, the late Princess of Wales, who long blamed Camilla for the breakup of her marriage to Charles (even though that wasn’t all Camilla’s doing) and because public fury at Camilla remained when she and Charles were married in 2005, eight years after Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris.

At the time, it was decided that Camilla would take one of Charles’ lesser titles, Duchess of Cornwall, to help soothe public feelings.

The title Princess of Wales is now held by Prince William’s wife, the former Kate Middleton. Following Queen Elizabeth’s death, King Charles named William and Kate the Prince and Princess of Wales, making Kate the first to hold the title since Diana’s death in 1997. In fact, she is one of only three princesses to be known as Princess of Wales since 1901.

How come men married to sovereign queens aren’t called ‘King’?

Because by sexist definition, a king outranks a queen, and if she is the heir – the elder daughter of a king – and she has no brother, as in the case of Elizabeth II, then she is the sovereign and not her husband. He has to walk a few paces behind her for the rest of their married life.

That’s especially true if he’s foreign-born, as was the case for Prince Philip.

Will Queen Camilla be crowned?

Yes. The most important head at any coronation is that of the sovereign, but the queen consort is crowned, too.

And according to The Mail on Sunday, Camilla will be crowned with the Queen Mother’s platinum and diamond tiara, created for George VI’s coronation in 1937. The crown features thousands of diamonds, including the infamous 105-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond from India , which came into British hands and the British Crown Jewels by murky means in the colonial era. It was last seen in public resting on the Queen Mother’s casket at her funeral.

By contrast, when Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey in June 1953, she was alone on the throne above the Stone of Scone, and she alone received St. Edward’s Crown from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

If King Charles dies, will Camilla be queen?

While we call her Queen Camilla, she will never be the reigning queen. Only members of the royal family who are born in the direct line of succession can become the monarch.

With Prince William and his son Prince George the next two in line for the throne after King Charles, a reigning queen is unlikely to come anytime soon. (There have only been six reigning queens in British history since 1066.)

More royal news

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why is Camilla queen? The royal title of King Charles’ wife, explained

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