Why a King’s Wife Is the Queen, But a Queen’s Husband Isn’t the King

Allan warren, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

At 133 words long, Prince Philip’s full title includes the words duke, earl, baron, royal knight, and just about every other noble designation you can think of. But the highest and perhaps most obvious moniker is conspicuously missing: king.

If you’ve watched The Crown or spent a lot of time reading about British monarchs, you might be aware that women who marry kings are referred to as queens—the most recent example was Queen Elizabeth II’s mother, who was known as Queen Elizabeth after her husband assumed the throne. The technical phrase is queen consort, where consort basically means that you gained your title through marriage. Why, then, did Prince Philip not become King Philip (or king consort) after his wife’s coronation?

According to Reader’s Digest, although parliamentary law doesn’t consider gender in determining the line of succession, it does factor it into the designation of titles. In general, a wife assumes the female form of her husband’s title. This is why Meghan Markle became the Duchess of Sussex when Prince Harry was named the Duke of Sussex, and it’s also why Kate Middleton will likely become Queen Catherine if and when Prince William is crowned king.

Husbands, on the other hand, don’t automatically match their wives’ titles, especially when it comes to the reigning monarchs. As Town and Country explains, queen can still be a symbolic title, but king only ever describes a reigning monarch. In other words, the word queen can either mean “female monarch” or “the wife of a monarch,” whereas king can only mean “monarch.” It’s a vestige of a historically patriarchal system of government that used to value sons over daughters (and it also sheds light on why kings rank higher than queens in a deck of cards).

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

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The Reason Supreme Court Justices Wear Black Robes

Judge Thomas Patrick Thornton (left) is sworn in as a federal judge by Judge Arthur F. Lederle (right) on February 15, 1949.
Judge Thomas Patrick Thornton (left) is sworn in as a federal judge by Judge Arthur F. Lederle (right) on February 15, 1949.

Professional attire can go a long way in communicating the level of respect you have for your occupation and the people around you. Lawyers don’t show up for court in shorts and politicians don’t often address crowds in sleeveless T-shirts.

So it stands to reason that the highest court in the country should have a dress code that reflects the gravity of their business, which is why most judges, including judges on the Supreme Court, are almost always bedecked in black robes. Why black?

As Reader's Digest reports, judges donning black robes is a tradition that goes back to judicial proceedings in European countries for centuries prior to the initial sitting of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1790. Despite that, there’s no record of whether the Justices went for a black ensemble. That wasn’t officially recorded until 1792—but the robes weren’t a totally solid color. From 1792 to 1800, the robes were black with red and white accents on the sleeves and in the front.

It is likely that Chief Justice John Marshall, who joined as the fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1801, led the shift to a black robe—most likely because a robe without distinctive markings reinforces the idea that justice is blind. The all-black tradition soon spread to other federal judges.

But according to former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, there is no written or official policy about the robes, and the Justices are free to source them however they like—typically from the same companies who outfit college graduates and choir singers. It’s certainly possible to break with tradition and arrive on the bench without one, as Justice Hugo Black did in 1969; Chief Justice William Rehnquist once added gold stripes to one of his sleeves. But for the most part, judges opt for basic black—a message that they’re ready to serve the law.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]