What does queen consort mean and how is it different to queen?

After King Charles III's coronation, his wife is now Queen Camilla

After the coronation, her title is now Queen Camilla. Photo: Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images
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Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September, there were several changes to royal titles. Prince Charles's became King Charles III. And, as his wife, Camilla, the former Duchess of Cornwall, became officially known as Her Majesty the Queen Consort.

In Queen Elizabeth's platinum jubilee message last year, she said it was her “sincere wish” that Camilla be known as Queen Consort when her husband becomes king.

Follow the latest news from the coronation of King Charles here

The title also means she sat at King Charles's side at his coronation on Saturday where she was also crowned. She is now officially Queen Camilla.

A queen consort is a royal by marriage, the king's wife. It is a symbolic role, meaning she is queen while the king is on the throne, but won't inherit the throne after he dies.

Queen Elizabeth, however, did inherit the throne from her father, making her the ruling monarch, the queen. Her mother, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, was also a queen consort. She was not Queen Elizabeth I, that title belongs to the Tudor royal and daughter of King Henry VIII, who was born into the role and reigned from 1558 until 1603.

When Prince William becomes king, after the death of King Charles, the Princess of Wales will probably become Catherine, Queen Consort.

Why wasn't Camilla automatically Queen Consort?

King Charles's marriage to Camilla is, famously, not his first. He was married to Diana, Princess of Wales, from 1981 until 1996.

He married Camilla in 2005, however, the title of Princess of Wales was not passed on in the marriage because it was still strongly associated with Diana. Instead, Camilla became a duchess; Duchess of Cornwall was the female version of another of Charles's titles.

Until Queen Elizabeth's announcement, the official position of Clarence House, the couple’s office, was that Camilla would be known as Princess Consort when Prince Charles becomes king, as per a statement released in 2005 at the time of their wedding.

"Camilla was not popular or well-liked, though this has changed a lot since the marriage as Camilla has taken on a lot of patronages," historian and royal family expert Marlene Koenig explains in her blog. "Still, [there was] a lot of tension and anger among a certain element of the population, so it was decided that Camilla would be styled as the Duchess of Cornwall, even though, of course, she is the Princess of Wales."

However, it has been suggested that behind palace doors it was decided Camilla would be known as Queen Consort years ago.

In 2010, Prince Charles was interviewed by NBC and asked if Camilla would “become Queen of England”, to which he sheepishly replied; "That’s well … we’ll see won’t we? That could be."

In the 18 years since their wedding, public opinion of the duchess has changed and the statement disappeared from the Clarence House website in 2018. At the time, British politician Andrew Mackinlay said: "This is absolutely unequivocal that she automatically becomes queen when he becomes king."

The British royal family's website now reads: "Her majesty the queen consort (formerly HRH the Duchess of Cornwall) supports her husband, formerly the Prince of Wales, now his majesty the king, in carrying out his work and duties. She also undertakes public engagements on behalf of the charities that she supports."

King Charles's title

It was not a given that Prince Charles would become King Charles III, however, it was confirmed by the royal family that he would take the title in the hours after his mother's death.

Royals are given the option to change their name when they take the throne.

Although Queen Elizabeth II kept her given name, her father was born Albert Frederick Arthur George, but chose to honour his father, King George V, and went by King George VI after his coronation in 1936.

The queen's great-grandfather, King Edward VII, was born Albert Edward, and even Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II's great-great-grandmother, chose a different name as queen as she was christened Alexandrina Victoria.

Why wasn't Prince Philip a king consort?

Queen Elizabeth's late husband Prince Philip was never named King Philip, per the tradition that a man who marries a queen is named Prince Consort.

The only figures in the British royal family to have the title of king, in any form, are born into the role.

Prince Philip was born a prince, but dropped his titles as Prince of Greece and Denmark when he married Princess Elizabeth, who became the Queen of England.

Scroll through the gallery below to see Queen Camilla's fashion evolution

This story was originally published on February 10, 2022

Updated: May 06, 2023, 12:14 PM