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Queen vs. Queen Consort: What’s the Difference?

Ellen Gutoskey
Queen Elizabeth II and Camilla, then–Duchess of Cornwall, at the Royal Ascot in 2013.
Queen Elizabeth II and Camilla, then–Duchess of Cornwall, at the Royal Ascot in 2013. / Anwar Hussein/GettyImages
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During Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign, her husband Prince Philip never graduated from prince to king. He quite simply couldn’t. Thanks to the monarchy’s centuries-old patriarchal practices, the title king is inherently considered superior to queen. So if Prince Philip became King Philip, it would have automatically implied that he outranked his wife. It’s the same reason Queen Victoria’s husband was always Prince Albert rather than King Albert.

If a king is on the throne, however, his wife can be called a queen. But it comes with an asterisk in the form of the word consort—an otherwise pretty obsolete noun that basically just means “partner” or “companion.” When Prince Charles became King Charles III, his wife, Camilla—then Duchess of Cornwall—became Camilla, Queen Consort. As NBC News reports, the honor was hardly a surprise. During Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebration earlier this year, she said it was her “sincere wish” for Camilla to be named queen consort when Charles assumed the throne. 

As the title suggests, a queen consort is there to support her husband in his role as king. She’s also a counselor of state, a position always given to the monarch’s spouse and “the next four people in the line of succession who are over the age of 21,” per the official royal family website. Counselors of state essentially function as monarchical proxies; they can sign documents, attend meetings, and perform most of the monarch’s other duties.

So what can a queen do that a queen consort can’t? Appoint a prime minister, for one, or decide to dissolve Parliament. (That said, a queen consort or another counselor of state can dissolve Parliament if the monarch specifically instructs them to.) A reigning queen—technically called a queen regnant—can also create new members of the peerage. Camilla, Queen Consort, isn’t allowed to make you a baroness, no matter how much she might want to.

[h/t NBC News]

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