What does Queen Consort mean - and why is the title changing for Camilla?

Queen Elizabeth II said it was her ‘sincere wish’ for Camilla to have the title of Queen Consort

Camilla Queen Consort pictured shaking hands of well wishers
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II (opens in new tab), King Charles III - formerly the Prince of Wales - has ascended to the throne. This means the title of his wife, Camilla, previously Duchess of Cornwall, has also changed. So what does 'Queen Consort' mean?

In a message to mark the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne and the Platinum Jubilee (opens in new tab), the late Queen Elizabeth announced in February 2022 that her 'sincere wish' was for Camilla to be Queen Consort upon King Charles III's coronation (opens in new tab). When Camilla Parker Bowles became the Duchess of Cornwall in 2005, press from Clarence House made it crystal clear that she would be HRH The Princess Consort. It had been eight years since the death of Princess Diana (opens in new tab) and public perception of Camilla - who some held partially responsible for the breakup of the royal marriage - wasn’t as good as it is today. 

But after years of charitable work and campaigning, royal experts advised the late Queen that giving the former Duchess the title of Queen Consort as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations would finally push her into the public favour. And as King Charles ascends the throne and Camilla takes on the new title, we take a look at what does Queen Consort mean? Plus, why Prince Philip was never called King (opens in new tab).

What does Queen Consort mean?

'Queen Consort' is the title of the wife of a reigning monarch. As is customary, the Queen Consort shares her husband’s status and holds the female equivalent of many monarchical titles. 

Therefore, one of the changes that has happened after the Queen's death (opens in new tab) and King Charles has ascended to the throne is that Camilla will be known as Queen Camilla. She’ll also be crowned and anointed alongside King Charles at his coronation, although she won’t share the same political or military powers - many of which are under the role of the prime minister in modern times anyway. 

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The announcement marked a U-turn from when King Charles married Camilla in 2005, as officials then revealed that she would be Princess Consort when Charles became King. This was also the case for Prince Philip, the Queen’s late-husband, who became Prince Consort when they married. However, Prince Philip did not become King when he married Queen Elizabeth II, because of a rule that men who are married to British Queens do not become King, they can only hold the title of Prince Consort.

The Queen’s personal announcement of the Duchess of Cornwall’s new future role followed another announcement in January 2022 in which she said that Camilla would also become a member of the Order of the Garter. As the highest order of chivalry, it’s a huge honour. With this new title change, royal experts say it shows how Camilla has been included in the Firm. Duchess Camilla is also replacing Meghan Markle (opens in new tab) in one of her key roles following the young couple's move across to the US. 

“[The Queen] has clearly been thinking about the importance of a partner and a consort to her. She has just lost her own consort. And I think that’s a big factor in why we’re hearing it now,” historian Robert Lacey told the BBC. “They call it the Firm (opens in new tab) - and this really brings Camilla into the Firm properly.” 

Clarence House said that Charles and Camilla were “touched and honoured” by the gesture.

The new title was confirmed by Buckingham Palace in a statement (opens in new tab) announcing the death of Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022, which said "The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon. The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow."

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What’s the difference between Queen and Queen Consort?

Officially, Queen Consort is the title of a woman who is the wife of the reigning king. The title of Queen is for female monarchs who have ascended the throne when the monarch dies - as was the case of Queen Elizabeth II, who inherited the throne from her father. 

This means that now King Charles has inherited the throne from Queen Elizabeth, Camilla is Queen. Up until recently, many thought that she would have the title of 'Princess' - just as Prince Philip retained the title of Prince - because of the negative perceptions over her affair with Prince Charles.

A spokesperson for the King did not rule out a shift when asked whether Camilla would forever be known as Queen Consort, or whether she could become known simply as the Queen. They said "I think those who saw the Queen Consort yesterday movingly meeting people outside Buckingham Palace know how moved she is at the moment and that’s her focus, so that will be a question for the future."

In King Charles' first address to the nation, he paid tribute to his 'darling wife' Camilla, saying "I count on the loving help of my darling wife, Camilla. In recognition of her own loyal public service since our marriage 17 years ago, she becomes my Queen Consort.

“I know she will bring to the demands of her new role the steadfast devotion to duty on which I have come to rely so much."

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Will Camilla be Queen Mother?

It’s very unlikely that Camilla will be Queen Mother when Prince William takes the throne from Prince Charles, because she is not his biological mother. 

Queen Elizabeth, Queen Consort to King George VI and mother of Queen Elizabeth II, last had the title before her death in 2002 because she was the biological mother of the Queen. Princess Diana, who died in a car crash a year after her divorce from Prince Charles, was the biological mother of future king Prince William and his brother, Prince Harry. 

The path to public acceptance hasn’t been a smooth one for Camilla, especially as Prince Charles publicly admitted adultery in 1994. He said the relationship began after his marriage to Diana had broken down “irretrievably”. But many blamed Camilla for its ending. It's even thought that Prince Charles has fears Prince Harry's memoir will 'publicly blame' Camilla (opens in new tab) for the event.  

Previously to Prince Charles, Camilla married Andrew Parker Bowles. They had two children - Thomas and Laura - before dissolving the marriage in 1995. 

Charles and Camilla finally went public in 1999 after a careful PR campaign. They then had a civil marriage in 2005, where Camilla became Princess Consort. 

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