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Royal Calling Treatment for Prince and Princess history. Royal Styles and the uses of "Highness". See also the page on Royal Styles.

This is a summary on the history of the style of Highness for sovereigns and their families. What follows is a compilation from various sources listed at the end.

The main lesson from all this is the remarkable inflation in titles, which one observes quite steadily from the Renaissance onward. Not surprisingly, the inflation accelerates even as the actual political power of the individuals involved decreases or vanishes.

From the 12th to the 15th c., the kings of France, England, Castile, Aragon, Portugal used the style Highness (Fr: Altesse, Ger: Hoheit, It: Altezza, Sp: Alteza) as their prerogative, though not to the exclusion of other styles (French kings were also called Excellence until Louis XI in the 15th c.). Same went for the Emperor.

When Charles V became emperor (1519), he decided that Highness was not enough for his elevated status, and started using Majesty. Immediately, his rival Francois I of France insisted on the same: the treaty of Cambrai (1520) only styles the Emperor as Majesty, but the treaty of Crepy styles Francois as Royal Majesty and Charles as Imperial Majesty, and the Chateau-Cambresis treaty (1559) goes further with Most-Christian and Royal Majesty. Henry VIII of England followed suit, but in England the terms Majesty, Grace and Highness were all in use until the end of James I, when Majesty became exclusive.

Now that kings have moved to Majesty, sovereign princes and royal princes (i.e. members of royal families: English only has "prince" where German distinguished Furst and Prinz) could appropriate Highness. By the 17th c. every local ruler in Italy was a Highness. When the younger son of the king of Spain, don Ferdinand, traveled through Italy on his way to the Low Countries, he was upset at being undistinguished from all those highnesses around him. He agreed to call the duke of Savoy "Highness" if the latter would call him Royal Highness, its first recorded use (1633). When Gaston d'Orleans, younger brother of Louis XIII of France (and heir presumptive) encountered this style at Brussels, he immediately copied it for himself: after all, he too was a son of king. (The story is told in Diderot's Encyclopedie, s.v. Altesse Royale; the entry is at the end of this page). Gaston's children considered the Royal Highness to be part of their rank as "grandchildren of France". the next duc d'Orleans, brother of Louis XIV, never used it but insisted on it for his children as grandchildren of France.

Soon after Gaston, Charles-Gustavus of Sweden (nephew of Gustav-Adolphus) and the prince of Orange also called themselves Royal Highnesses. Victor Amadeo II, duke of Savoy (1675-1730), who suffered from being outranked by the Grand-Duke of Tuscany, lobbied all the chanceries of Europe over the last decades of the 17th century to upgrade his Higness to Royal, in spite of not being king of anything, or of a royal house, but based on his claim to the kingdom of Jerusalem and Cyprus. He ultimately became king of Sicily in 1713, exchanged for Sardinia in 1720, and became a Majesty. Of course, the Grand-Duke of Tuscany had to keep up, and Cosimo III (1670-1732) started calling himself Royal Highness as well. Other non-royal but sovereign rulers claimed the RH: the Emperor Leopold gave it to the duke of Lorraine in 1700. Louis XIV never used that style for either the Grand-Duke of Tuscany or the duke of Lorraine, but he did use Highness for all sovereign princes of Germany (see more on the styles used by the chancery of Louis XIV).

Once Gaston had moved from Highness to Royal Highness, the other French princes of the blood insisted on upgrading to Highness or Most Serene Highness (Fr: Altesse Serenissime, copied from the Italian). It is presumed that the idea of Most Serene came from the Republics of Genoa, Venice, and later Netherlands and Poland, which were so styled, as well as the order of Malta. The first French prince to use it was the prince de Conde in the 1650s; the dukes of Orleans followed suit upon losing the Royal Highness in 1723 with the rank of grandson of France. Louis XIV ordered French dukes to style the princes of the blood as MSH, without much success. Likewise, the families of Rohan, Bouillon and Guise, which ranked as foreign princes in France, tried to use Most Serene Highness in the late 17th c., with mild success. (Curiously, the Rohan became Austrians in 1808 and were given the Durchlaucht, or Most Serene Highness, which they so wanted; Bouillon died out in 1814, and the Rohan were made heirs by the treaty of Vienna but later deprived in favor of the Netherlands; more details in the page on Bouillon).

Simultaneously, in Germany lesser sovereigns and princes began using the Highness as well. The first were the Wuertemberg in 1664 which appropriated the Durchlaucht (usually translated as Most Serene Highness, though the Britannica 11th ed. notes wryly that the perfect translation is "Your Transparency"). Initially, Durchlaucht was used for the first time by the emperor Charles IV for princes-electors in 1375, soon after the Golden Bull of 1356 established the hierarchy of the Holy Roman Empire. Members of their families were durchlauchtig-hochgeboren (an impossible phrase to translate: "most serenely high-born"?). Erlaucht (Illustrious Highness) was more or less synonymous with Durchlaucht, but in the 18th c., when the mediate counts of the Holy Roman Empire began calling themselves Hochgeboren (lit., high-born), the immediate counts (the reichstaendische Grafen) appropriated the Erlaucht title, in spite of some ridicule. (See the styles used by the Emperor for his vassals ca. 1700).

Then came the French Revolution, and turmoil in Germany. Members of the Rhine Confederation founded by Napoleon I were called "Most Excellent Prince" (if they were not kings). After the Congress of Vienna and the reorganization of the map, a certain amount of chaos reigned. Meanwhile, in France Charles X extended the Royal Highness to the duke of Orl?ans in 1824, and soon after to the remaining princes of the blood, and this seemed to set off another scramble for titles in Germany; moreover, individual German sovereigns started issuing styles: Hesse was the first to give official recognition to the title of Erlaucht for its former immediate counts in 1820. A decision of the deutshcer Bund (itself styled Most Serene, by the way) intervened in 1825, giving Durchlaucht to all mediatized princes; a further decision in 1829 gave the Erlaucht to mediatized counts.

The situation in the deutscher Bund (until 1866) was thus :

    Majesty (Majesty)
Emperor of Austria, kings (Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Hanover, Sachsen)

    Royal/Imperial Highness (kaenigliche/kaiserliche Hoheit)
Crown-princes and royal princes, Grand-dukes (Sachsen-Weimar, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Oldenburg, Luxemburg, Hesse-Darmstadt, Bade) and Prince-Elector of Hesse

    Highness (Hoheit)
Hereditary grand-dukes (Erbherzaege, i.e. heirs apparent), grand-ducal princes (family members)

Sovereign dukes (Anhalt, Braunschweig, Sachsen-Altenburg, Sachsen-Meiningen, Sachsen-Koburg-Gotha), landgrave of Hesse-Homburg, sovereign princes, mediatized princes

Mediatized counts

Of course, sovereigns within the Bund could grant further titles or restrict the application of the Bundesbeschluss. Prussia in 1832 limited Durchlaucht to heads of 14 families. In Austria, the decisions were applied to heads of mediatized families, and extended in 1869 to families where the title of prince was hereditary for all descendants. In 1905 the Emperor granted The Durchlaucht to virtually every prince in the former Holy Roman Empire, even if they had never been sovereign. Bavaria, in 1818, decided to reserve the title of Prinz to members of the royal family, but later accepted its use by members of mediatized princely families, and extended the Durchlaucht to all members of such families in 1911. This (and the extension of Erlaucht of all members of mediatized countal families) seemed to become the norm by 1900, except in Prussia. Hesse-Cassel also conferred this style in 1862 on Gertrude Falkenstein, morganatic wife of Grand Duke Friedrich Wilhelm I, having in 1831 made her a countess with the style of Erlaucht (Illustrious Highness), the only exception to its use by mediatized families I know of in Germany.

In 1867 the Austrian Empire became the double-monarchy (Austrian Empire and Hungarian monarchy) and Archdukes (Erzherzaege) became Imperial and Royal Highnesses. The novelties introduced by the German Empire were to give the Imperial and Royal Highness to the Kronprinz of the German Empire and his consort, and to create the title of Grand-ducal Highness for princes of the families of Baden and Hesse. The title of Durchlaucht was also extended to created princes, such as Bismarck. But the cadets of these "noble" princely families, i.e. Schaenaich-Carolath (in Prussia), Wrede (in Bavaria, 1814), etc. were Ferstliche Gnaden or Your Princely Grace, being equivalent to British dukes.

   by Steve Bousfield

As for the UK, the title of Royal Highness is governed by letters patent of 30.11.1917 by which the titular dignity of Prince/Princess, with the qualification of Royal Highness, was restricted to the children of the sovereign, the children of the sons of any such sovereign, and the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales (the title held by the heir apparent to the throne). A custom adopted this century has been for the children of a sovereign to be distinguished by the prefix "The" before the title of prince/princess.

Previous to 1917 letters patent of Queen Victoria of 30.1.1864 allowed for the grandsons of the sovereign in the male and female line to be styled HRH, although it was more usual for them to bear the style of Highness. Before this date the descendants in the male line were HH only, except the sons and daughters of the sovereign who were HRH.

Following 1917 the style of Highness was dropped in the British Royal family and the title of prince/princess only allowed for the issue of the sovereign and for the grandchildren in the male line of a sovereign (with the addition of the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales). By the letters patent of 1917 all titles of Royal Highness not borne under the above terms, and all titles of Highness and Serene Highness, ceased to be used, except in the cases of those titles already granted and remaining unrevoked. Thus all those members of the British Royal Family bearing titles and style other than RH (because they were the issue of a sovereign or grandchildren in the male line of a sovereign) lost their rights to bear such titles and styles unless specifically allowed to bear them.

In Italy, by decree of 1890 Royal Highness was given to the eldest son of the sovereign, his consort, his brothers and sisters, and his children. Most Serene Highness was given to the the rest of the descendants of the king. Before unification, some of the ancient Roman and Neapolitan families claimed it as a translation of the title "Celsissimus" which was accorded by the Holy Roman Emperor or Pope upon semi-sovereign families.

In Russia, the Czar was Imperial Majesty, the Grand Dukes (Czar's children & children of Czar's sons) were Imperial Highness. Great-grandsons and their firstborn sons were Highness and all other male-line descendants were "Svietlostj", translated as "Serene Highness". The Almanach de Gotha sometimes translates the style of a few Russian princes, Ssiatelstvo as Illustrious Highness and sometimes as Serene Highness. Fomeltosagu is Hungarian, which Gotha translates as Serene Highness.

Styles of various monarchs

Imperial Majesty (pre-1867)

Imperial and Royal Majesty

Most-Christian Majesty

Imperial Majesty (post-1871)

Apostolic Majesty

Most-Faithful Majesty

Most-Catholic Majesty

    United Kingdom
Britannic Majesty

Current usage

The titles are illegal in Germany since 1919, in Austria since 1919 and (former) Czechoslovakia since 1918 (along with all titles of nobility in the latter two cases). Princes of Monaco and Liechtenstein are Most Serene Highnesses, the grand-duke of Luxemburg is Royal Highness (following German tradition; members of the family also style themselves as HRH, following usage of Bourbon-Parma, even though they renounced membership to that family in 1987), the grand master of the Order of Malta is Most Eminent Highness. The use of titles has been reestablished in Hungary in recent years.


The current situation in Spain is regulated by a royal decree of November 6, 1987, whose original text and translation is available.

   by Charles Stewart

Currently, in Spain the King's children and children of King's eldest son are Infante, Infanta and Royal Highness. All other male-line descendants have recently been designated grandees with the style of "Excellency". Although the title of prince is not legally recognized, except for the Sovereign's eldest son, the cadets of the house all use the title Principe de Borbon, including some of the many morganatic descendants. Most of those who used it before the new restrictions claim that they are still entitled as Princes of Bourbon-Sicily or Orleans. But like the British system, the new usage is designed to gradually merge remote descendants into the "common herd".

All descendants of the Grand Duke of Tuscany use HIH as members of the Austrian dynasty. It has never been established what their cadets would have been styled (since they were the only non-German Grand Duchy) if they had not been imperial Habsburgs.

   by Klaus Ole Kristiansen

In Denmark, the king (if any) is deres/hans majestat, the queens (of which we currently have two, the queen regnant and her mother, who got the title from being wife to king Frederik IX) are deres/ hendes majestatt.

   by Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard

For royal princes, the rule has since the 19th century been (and is since the constitutional reform and the reform of the law of succession of 1953) as follows :

    Royal Highness (kongelige jhed)
Used by the children of the monarch and in-general-these only.

    Highness (h?jhed)
Used by all other members of the royal family, i.e., grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc., of a monarch (as long as they are members of the royal family, i.e., that their marriages have been approved by the Council of State).

A further difference in title (since 1953) is that those who are potential heirs to the throne officially have the title of prince/princess to Denmark, while others are referred to as prince/princess of Denmark. This is relevant since 1953 it has been possible for someone to be a member of the royal family and not being able to succeed to the throne, i.e., the constitution of 1953 limits succession to the descendants of king Christian X. (It should be pointed out that this difference in title is by practice and not by law and is unknown to most people, including the media.)

In a few instances the monarch may decide that the style of Royal Highness may be used by others.

One example is that of the children of prince Valdemar (son of king Christian IX), who were granted this style extraordinarily, despite the fact that they were only grandchildren of a monarch.

Another example is that of the current Prince Consort (Prince Henrik), who was granted this style upon his marriage to the present Queen Margrethe II.

Another exception to the rule (albeit for different reasons) is that of the members of the Greek royal family, who are descendents of prince Vilhelm, who became king Georg I of Greece. These have (in contrast to the Norwegian royal family) maintained the titles as princes/princesses of Denmark, but since they are also princes/princesses of Greece and as such all Royal Highnesses, they all use this style.

As concerns the use of the style of Highness for other people than the members of the royal family, it should be noted that there really are no non-royal princes or dukes in Denmark. The dukes of Schleswig-Holstein in reality are not Danish dukes but German and as such use the style of Durchlaucht. There is only one Danish dukedom, namely the French family of Decazes, who were given the title of Duke of Gliecksbierg. It is generally presumed that these Dukes, if they lived in Denmark, would rank in the 1st Class of the Order of Precedence and as such have the style of Excellency. An answer to this question is, however, as quite academic as the question. The only other hereditary styles in Denmark is that used by the counts of Danneskiold-Sam samee (an illegitimate line of the royal family); these are all by birth Excellency. In general this style is also granted to those princes (Highness) who marry without approval and become counts of Rosenborg, but it is not so automatically.

   by Dag Trygsland Hoelseth

In Norway, we have the same system as above, but nobility is forbidden. King Harald V's two elder sisters, who both married commoners, lost their titles "Royal Highness", and are now known as Princess Ragnhild, Mrs. Lorentzen and Princess Astrid, Mrs. Ferner. In Burke's Royal Families of the World I, Europe, London 1977, they are styled as "HH", but I have never seen this in any publication in Norway or in communiques from the Royal Palace.

In the Yugoslavian Royal Family, the system is almost the same as in Denmark: Crown Prince Alexander, his wife and three children are styled "Royal Highnesses" as well as his two uncles Prince Tomislav and Prince Andrej, while their children and the descendants of Prince Paul are styled only as "Highnesses".

The present head of Hessen, Prince Moritz (Landgraf von Hessen), uses "His Royal Highness", as does his son; this is confirmed in Burke's, and Debrett's is wrong on this point.

Today, almost everywhere in the world, a more liberal attitude is accepted, for instance about high rank noble peoples being adopted or even Prince, enjoying the same privileges as their counter-parts. On the other hand, it is now an accepted fact that old "Imperial" families's heirs,can use the treatment "Royal" mostly because their empire is no longer existing.

Finally, a lack of serious since middle of 1980's (international rules) has permitted in a way, that many countries have adopted their own ways to treat such matters (like Canada, Luxembourg, Arab countries, Scotland, Brazil, Portugal and even England).


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