Royal baby decisions doom palace
Let's play a very quick round of royal trivia. Do you know who the Earl of Strathhearn is? Or Baron Carrickfergus? Or Baron Kilkeel?
OK, OK, it's a trick question. The Earl of Strathern and Baron Carrickfergus are both other titles belonging to Prince William, while Baron Kilkeel is more widely known to as Prince Harry, who also happens to be the Earl of Dumbarton.
My point here is that if there is one rule that the house of Windsor abides by (aside from 'horses 4 eva' and politely ignoring all those Nazi adjacent relatives) is, why have one title when you can have positively oodles of them?
Titles in the royal context are not just a bit of magisterial frippery but carry with them actual import. Who gets what and when is something of an archaic means of Queenly semaphore, with Her Majesty dolling out spiffy new titles to mark birthdays and big occasions, in the way you or I might stump up for a JB Hi-Fi giftcard.
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For example, last year to mark Prince Edward's 55th birthday, the Queen gave Prince Edward the Earldom of Forfar in Scotland meaning that when he and wife Sophie travel north, they are known as the Earl and Countess of Forfar. (The Earldom of Forfar, for all you title nerds out there, is particularly meaningful given its proximity to Glamis Castle where the Queen Mother was born.)
Which is where Princess Eugenie, her ruddy-faced charmer of a husband Jack Brooskbank and their unborn bub, come into things.
Last week, Eugenie who is tenth-in-line to the throne announced that she was pregnant - hooray! - but where things get a wee bit sticky with Baby Brooksbank is where we come to the question of the tot's future title, or lack thereof.
According to Vanity Fair, prior to the couple tying the knot in 2018, "Jack was offered a title but chose not to take it" making him the only publicly known employee of George Clooney's Casamigos tequila brand to have come within a hair's breadth of an earldom. Not only did the choice mean that Jack stayed as plain old Mr Brooksbank, it meant that their future children would not automatically get a title.
"Even if the Queen offered them a title (for their baby) as a gift, it's not Eugenie or Jack's desire for their child to have a title," a family friend has told Vanity Fair. "Eugenie knows that a title can be a curse as well as a blessing and she and Jack want their child to live an ordinary life and eventually work to earn a living. Titles really don't matter to Jack and Eugenie, they just want a happy healthy child."
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The Brooksbanks' decision comes a year and a bit after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, decided that their son Archie would not use the title to which he would be entitled, the Earl of Dumbarton. The move should not have been that much of a surprise, given Harry years earlier had said "I am determined to have a relatively normal life and if I am lucky enough to have children, they can have one too."
Of the Queen's eight great-grandchildren only three have titles, namely William and Kate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's three adorable kids Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, putting them squarely in the minority.
While Prince Charles has espoused a slimmed down version of the royal family that would, in decades to come, mean the Buckingham Palace balcony is far less crowded with minor HRHs and the extended Windsor clan, there still need to be some titled hands on the palace tiller.
In 1973 Princess Anne and her then-fiance Mark Phillips turned down an Earldom for him ahead of his wedding so that they could give their kids a normal life. But, she was the horse-mad anomaly to the titled rule.
However, the next generation is taking up the 'normal' mantle with gusto.
And that bodes very badly for the institution of the monarchy.
For decades - centuries even - to be royal was to hold incredible power and to have great wealth. Wars were fought over it; myriad European marriages made to maintain a vice-like grip on it; literally heads rolled in a bloody fight to protect it.
However, no longer.
There is an implicit message in the recent choices around titles that to be royal is to be constrained and limited; to be denied the chance to build a life of your own choosing and that there is something abnormal about growing up with a predetermined identity dictated by a millennium-old institution.
To be royal in the 21st century is to face a nearly unthinkable level of scrutiny and judgment while also being expected to live up to a certain standard. For those not in the direct line of succession, being an HRH doesn't seem to be some sort of glittering addition to life but to enter the world trapped in a pair of golden handcuffs. In this day and age, the message is, a title is a burden.
Let me ask you: For royal children who are not going to be King, what is the actual benefit of being a member of a ruling house, aside from perhaps a free (most likely cramped) Kensington Palace cottage?
With Harry and Eugenie, we have a Prince and Princess very clearly sending the signal that they think their children's lives will be better if they are not encumbered by a title. And that, in turn, undermines the very core, accepted tenets of royalty.
The glaring issue for the palace here is, what does it say about the royal family if the institution's younger members are very clearly signalling that they don't want their own children to identify as royal? What happens if being royal is seen as an impediment in the modern world?
The power and majesty of the monarchy only works if it is seen as the absolute ne plus ultra - the absolute pinnacle. And the message that the Queen's grandchildren are sending, people mind who have spent their entire lives defined by their proximity to the throne, is essentially, it's not all it's cracked up to be.
In the decades to come, George will, like his father before him, begin the gradual apprenticeship that ends on the throne. But the big, flashing question mark is over Charlotte and Louis and how they will navigate the fraught no man's land between being royalty and building their own lives and identities.
If there is one thing we can pretty accurately predict about the house of Windsor is that in the 21st century, there will be plenty of spare titles lying around the palace. So, who fancies being a Scottish baronet then?
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.
Originally published as Meghan and Eugenie move dooms palace