When it comes to queens, there are all sorts. There are bees, playing cards, rock-and-roll bands, and men who wear women’s clothing. And, of course, there is “The Queen,” the one person who can legitimately respond to any lame joke by saying, “We are not amused.”
Even in talking about the job title of queen, it turns out that not all queens are equal. No, we’re not referring to the comparative greatness of Elizabeth I, Victoria, or Anne. We mean that there are different types of queen titles.
Queen Elizabeth II recently announced her hopes that Prince Charles’ wife, Duchess Camilla, will become queen consort when Charles takes the throne. This sent the internet abuzz with talk about the future Queen Camilla. Is there any difference between the titles of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Camilla?
There are five types of queens recognized under the royalty structure in the United Kingdom.
A queen regnant is at the top of the list. This is the monarch with the same rank as the king, who happens to be female.
Please note that the title is queen regnant, not queen regent. That is a different sort of animal that will be described later.
The current queen regnant, Elizabeth II, holds the power of sovereignty and the ability to exercise that power through political and military authority. According to some, she is also immortal and is part of a race of lizard people, but that’s not a requirement that appears in the job description.
A queen consort is married to the king. She holds the female equivalent of her husband’s titles, but she does not share in any of the power, other than the power that every wife holds over her husband.
She does get to be crowned at the coronation but with a simpler ceremony than her husband’s.
If Queen Elizabeth’s wishes are carried out, Camilla will be crowned as queen consort when Charles becomes king.
If, however, the above-referenced theories hold true and Elizabeth is immortal, this is all moot.
Earlier we pointed out that the queen regnant is not to be confused with the queen regent. When the king or queen is a child, a regent is appointed to be the adult guardian of the monarch and to rule in his or her place until the child comes of age.
This can also happen if the monarch is under a disability or otherwise unable to carry out the responsibilities of the crown. When George III’s madness got out of hand, his son, the future King George IV, was appointed regent.
When the regent is female, she is the queen regent. The last queen regent of England was Catherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s wives. She was appointed as regent from July to September 1544 while her husband was on a military campaign in France. If he had been killed, she would have remained as queen regent until Henry’s son, Prince Edward, came of age.
A queen mother is the widow of a king and is also the mother of the reigning king or queen.
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon became the queen consort on December 11, 1936, when her husband ascended to the throne as King George VI. She held this title until his death on February 6, 1952. At that point, she ceased to be queen consort, but since she was the widow of a king and the mother of the reigning monarch, Elizabeth II, she assumed a new title: queen mother. She retained that title until her death in 2002.
Mary of Teck ruled as queen consort from May 6, 1910, to January 20, 1936, while her husband, George V, was king. Upon his death, she became queen mother, since she was the widow of a king and the mother of the reigning king, Edward VIII. Edward’s reign was short-lived, however. He abdicated after less than a year on the throne, handing the crown to his brother, George VI. Although there was a change in monarchs, this did not impact Mary’s title. She was still the mother of the reigning monarch, so she continued to be queen mother.
George VI died on February 6, 1952. His mother outlived him by another 13 months. For those 13 months, she no longer held the title queen mother. Although she was still the widow of a king, she was not the mother of the reigning monarch. She was Elizabeth II’s grandmother. This removed her from the queen mother role into the final category of queen.
A queen dowager is the widow of a king. It is someone who served as queen consort. She may have lost her husband, but she does not lose her importance.
All queen mothers are also queen dowagers, but not all queen dowagers are queen mothers. As seen in the above example of Mary of Teck, the queen mother title can be lost if one of her children is not on the throne.
A queen consort may also go directly to queen dowager without holding the queen mother title. Should Camilla become queen consort and outlive Charles, she would become queen dowager. She would not be queen mother, because she is not the mother of Prince William.
No one is seriously suggesting this, but it is, theoretically, possible that a person could move from the queen dowager role to that of queen mother. If, after Charles’ death, Camilla were to adopt William, she would suddenly find herself in the dual role of being both the widow of a king and the mother of the current monarch. Et voilà: instant queen mother.
It should also be noted that the British constitution is unwritten. That being the case, there is no written authority to answer the question of what to do with someone like France’s King Henri III, who was famous for cross-dressing. Would he be a king or a queen?