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Artillery Row

Title Dodgers

It’s not just Harry and Meghan who have dropped their titles

As the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk are stripped of their Royal Highness stylings, The Abdication is cited as the great parallel — another pushy raven-haired American catalyst — but in fact Title Dodgers are legion. Title grasping is of course well documented; there have been the peerage-buyers, the title-diggers (“Lady Heather” McCartney et al). As well as those who have doggedly sought to cling-on: both Princess Diana and the Duchess of York, wrangled long, hard and unsuccessfully to retain their HRHs. For all this, there has always been a gang of those who seek to duck their duchies. 

There are myriad motives for these evasive manoeuvres. There is the woke crowd who don’t do titles. Call-me Bill, groovy photographer and Earl of Burlington did not move onto the Marquess of Hartington when his grandfather died and has let it be known that he never wants to succeed his father the Duke of Devonshire, on egalitarian grounds. Lady Mary Charteris is no lady when DJing, whilst the Duke of Beaufort goes by “Bunter” when rocking out with his band, The Listening Device. Nor does his campaigning ex-wife Tracy, Marchioness of Worcester, use her title on the picket line. The noble literary gang are traditionally reticent — Lord (Max) Egremont, calls his title, “another block between the reader and the writer” whilst Lord (Jeffery) Archer, with characteristic integrity is loath to capitalise unfairly on his status. Thesps. too, tend to run scared. Jamie Lee Curtis has yet to be named Lady Hadden-Guest or Tim Bentinck (who plays David Archer) the Earl of Portland, in the credits. 

Then there is the political band who seek to shake-off their coronets when heading into the Commons. Tony Benn, rightly known as the 3rd Viscount Stansgate, had to turn to the law in order not to be booted into the House of Lords when he a succeeded his father. The resulting Peerage Act 1963, gave him the right to formally dodge his title and stay an MP. The Act was particularly useful that year, with both Quintin Hogg, 2nd Viscount Hailsham and Alec Douglas-Home, 14th Earl of Home discarding their titles when attempting to replace Harold Macmillan as PM. 

Michael Ancram is a case study in title picking. For whilst the family name of the former Chairman of the Conservative Party is Kerr, he was born with the courtesy title of the Earl of Ancram. Ancram chose to remain a Mr whilst working as lawyer; he worried the jury would be muddled when the judge addressed him as milord. As a politician Ancram continued his avoidance tactics. Despite coming into his father’s title of the Marquess of Lothian in 2004, and despite the House of Lords Act, 1999 which no longer called for hereditary peers to recant their nobility, he stuck as Mr Ancram (or “Norman Crumb” to friends). A happy titular compromise was eventually reached, when Ancram was created Baron Kerr of Monteviot in 2010. 

Ironically, one of the great factors in title dodging has historically been money

What of the new blue bloods? Baroness Morgan of Cotes, also known as Nicky Morgan, is happily juggling her ennoblement with ministerial work. It is unlikely, on the other hand, that Sir Keir Starmer will play the knight errant when schmoozing the Unions in his leadership bid. In fact out-and-out title refuseniks are most common of all. Among the illustrious and reluctant, number: Winston Churchill turning down the London Dukedom, Chamberlain an Earldom, John Cleese a Peerage, David Hockney a Knighthood. The list goes on. 

What are most interesting of all are the reluctant royals. The letters patent issued by King George V in 1917, means that it is only the children of sovereigns and their male-line grandchildren who are entitled to be HRHs. In order that Princess Anne’s children be given a title of some sort, Mark Philips was offered an Earldom on his marriage which he politely refused. Prince Edward’s children on the other hand do have automatic HRHs, but have chosen not to use theirs. 

The question then, is into which faction do the Sussexes fall in shirking their titles? There is no question that they are part of the woke brigade; Meghan was said to unnerve courtiers by too much hugging and much too much “call me Meghaning”. There might even be a thesp. element. There is talk that Meghan is set to return to acting to help to pay some bills (even Princess Grace left her title at home when playing the screen goddess). Ironically, one of the great factors in title dodging has historically been money. Robert, Lord Salisbury, for instance, refused to take up his place in public life on the grounds that he would have had to divulge his wealth. Might there be an element of this to Harry and Meghan’s dodge? Although we know that they are taking a £2.4 million hit when they pay back the money spent on renovating Frognall Cottage; in dropping their HRHs they drop the need for financial transparency. Perhaps the most important question is what is to happen to poor disenfranchised Mr Archie Mountbatten-Windsor? Will he be the next generation’s title-grasper?

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