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What *is* a Sovereign Princess?
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maladaptive wrote in little_details
I'm working on a retelling of Swan Lake, and came across a cast list that named Siegfried's mother as a "Sovereign Princess." I've also seen productions with a king and queen, but having a single female ruler makes it easier for me so I'd like to go with that.

Only problem is, I can't figure out what a sovereign princess is. I've read up on the ruling family of Monaco, but nothing has explained what the title means (and Sovereign Princess there seems to be a tradition thing?). I have friends who know more about royalty than I do who've said it could be like a princess consort who succeeds after the King's death, but aren't sure.

If it helps, my story is set around 1250 - 1300 in fantasy Germany-- not to specific because I'm trying to keep it in fairy tale-ese, and Tchaikovsky wasn't exactly specific to begin with.

Bonus question: what on earth is the term of address for a Sovereign Princess? Just "Your Highness"? I've seen in Monaco it's "Serene Highness" but that could be for when/if Caroline becomes Sovereign Princess and not a long-standing title?

I've gotten a lot of hits about horses, alpaca wool, and Swan Lake has shown up a few times. I can easily change her to a regent, but I really like the sound of "Sovereign Princess," so I'd like to use it if it suits my purposes.

Searched: "sovereign princess," "what is a sovereign princess," "sovereign princess" + royalty, and other permutations. Google Scholar isn't very helpful either.

Google "sovereign prince" instead.

It basically means that said princess is the ruler of her principality in her own right - i.e. she is the supreme ruler. She may be unmarried, or have a "prince consort" as Queen Victoria did or Queen Elizabeth II does.

omg I can't believe I didn't think of "sovereign prince."

I still didn't understand what the difference between a queen and a "sovereign princess" is, but sovereign prince led me to this which tells me exactly what I need and the breakdown of the principalities. Or at least it's Germany specific, but that helps!

Someone below has been quite clear about this. There are two sorts of "Prince" and "Princess".

One is a courtesy title given to the child (or grandchild) of a 'sovereign' monarch - a king, queen, csar, czarina, emperor, empress etc.

The other is a title given to the ruler of something known as a 'principality' - i.e. a state where the ruler is a Prince or Princess.

Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. Take the Prince of Wales (please, and soon!) King William the Third of England was also a sovereign prince - the Prince of Orange.

The title comes from the Latin Princeps, which is often translated as 'Prince' but which is closer to 'first citizen', 'first person', and was the proper title given to what we now call 'Ceasar'.

Yeah, the later comments made the light in my head go off. I have a gift for overlooking the obvious connections if they're not explicitly put in front of my face, sometimes.

Thanks so much for laying that out!

I know that feeling - but I did a lot of research once for a story I wrote with a country that was an elective principality with a lot of baggage inherited from ancient Rome...

More on “Princeps”: the Roman Republic began when the Romans overthrew their king in the 5th century BCE. When the Republic became an Empire ruled by a dictator, it retained the trappings of a republican system: e.g., the dictator was formally granted power by the Roman Senate. Augustus Caesar (aka Octavian aka Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus) chose the title “Princeps Civitatis”, “First Citizen”, because calling himself a monarch was contrary to the whole let’s-pretend-we’re-still-a-republic framework.



The definition I have seen is that a Sovereign Prince/Princess is a descendant of the current monarch, and is in the line of normal succession.

As with the English Prince of Wales they may already be responsible for some semi-independent region without being crowned King or Queen.

Edited at 2012-11-07 04:19 pm (UTC)

This is untrue. In the days when the Prince of Wales actually governed Wales, he did so as an appanage of his father, the king. He could not, for example, have offered his fealty to the King of France instead, or raised a Welsh army to make war on someone England wasn't at war with.

The definition I have seen is that a Sovereign Prince/Princess is a descendant of the current monarch, and is in the line of normal succession.

Whoever wrote that was utterly wrong. The term 'sovereign prince' was coined precisely in order to distinguish a prince who is a sovereign (i.e. actually rules his own territory without reference to anybody else) from the sort of prince or princess who is just a child of a king or queen.

And no, the Prince of Wales is not a sovereign prince, and hasn't been one since the reign of Edward I. He is a subject of the monarch of the UK, just as a duke or an earl is.

A Sovereign Princess is the ruler of a principality, as was mentioned above. Like Princess Celestia.

A sovereign princess is a woman who has inherited a principality; were she a man she would be a sovereign prince; were the principality a kingdom she would be a queen regnant. Were the principality her husband's he would be a sovereign prince and she a princess consort. In a principality there is no king or queen.

The principalities of Liechtenstein and Monaco continue today.

...I just made the connection between principality and prince/princess. Hoo boy, no idea how I read so many historical things and comedies of manners without catching that one.

Well, they aren't very common (principalities that is); and many more people are princes/princesses in kingdoms.

Other comments have covered this well, but you might need to think which realm you are basing yours on: some in Germany, like Hannover, operated under the Salic Law which meant that a woman could not rule in her own right, or pass on a right to her heirs.

Austria would be a good model, although its succession law only came into focus in the 1730s with Charles VI having no sons.

(For the OP: The Austrian Habsburgs had more-or-less forged a series of laws giving them elevated status in the Empire, such as the title of Archduke. The last of these entitled a daughter to inherit if and only if there were no male heirs left. When this came to pass, in 1740, the new sovereign Archduchess Maria Theresa had to fight a war against her cousins to retain the title, while fighting off other rivals like Frederick the Great who wanted to steal her territory. She won, and reigned for 40 years - but could never be Emperor, so she let her husband take that title.)

In German, mercifully, the words for prince and for sovereign prince are totally different!

A prince who is the heir of a king (or grand duke, or emperor) is styled Prinz (feminine Prinzessin). They are addressed as Highness (Höheit), Royal Highness (Königliche Höheit) or Imperial Highness (Kaiserliche Höheit) as appropriate.

A prince who is the sovereign ruler of a principality is referred to as Fürst (feminine Fürstin. A prince whose overlord is not the Emperor ('mediatized') is addressed as Serene Highness (Durchlaucht - literally something like 'transparency'); but a truly sovereign ('immediate') prince, with no overlord, or only the Emperor, would be addressed as High-Born (Hochgeboren) or Princely Grace (Fürstliche Gnaden).

I'd recommend 'Your (Princely) Grace' as an English form of address for an early-medieval sovereign princess. It always galls me slightly when TV and films show English medieval monarchs being addressed as 'Majesty'; until Henry VIII, it was definitely 'Your Grace'.

An 'immediate' sovereign prince answers to no-one except the Emperor. They would be expected to command their own army, attend the Imperial Diet (parliament), levy taxes, oversee their own feudal lords, and generally act like a monarch in all respects except when dealing with the Emperor.

How sensible of German! Though if I dimly remember my A-level history, Germany went in for principalities, so it makes sense it would have a solution ;-)

(And I really need to read a basic book on earlier continental history.)

Yes, there was a bunch of principalities, including tiny ones. This is what it looked like in 1815.

Agreed about Your Grace/Your Majesty. Until Henry VIII, "Majesty" was a term strictly reserved for the Emperor, and implied the very highest level of sovereignty (subject only to God, if that). This was a settled aspect of European political theory until the 16c. Mere kings were "your highness" or "your grace." Henry VIII insisting on Majesty being used for himself was highly controversial & seen as an extraordinary piece of presumption. (He then went further and explicitly claimed that the King of England was emperor in his kingdom - it went part & parcel with denying the right of both the Emperor and the Pope to meddle with him.)

Once Henry VIII claimed to be a Majesty, Francis I of France had to do the same, and their successors continued it. The usage spread to Spain as well (Charles V had of course actually been Emperor as well as King. Philip II was only King, but he was a Majesty too.)

There's the added complication that in the 16th century 'Prince' was still often used in its original meaning 'ruler. Elizabeth I quite correctly referred to herself and Philip of Spain as 'princes' in this sense. (E.g. her Armada speech at Tilbury:'I ... think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm'; 'you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you'; 'I have been your Prince in peace, so will I be in war'.)

...Holy moly this is amazing. Thank you!

I was hoping to keep the story at a bare fairytale level, but the terms of address actually tripped me up, like Benno von Sommerstein. No title, so I just gotta figure out what a dude who would be hanging out at the castle would be ranked and how people would address him as, same as the villain von Rothbart, though I guess he's a baron or -graf. So this is helpful, and possibly dangerous because it gives me even more ways to creatively mess up.

I think that in Germany "von" indicates that one is of a noble family.

A little more historical background:

In the Middle Ages, the title of 'King' was a big deal. It had a lot of prestige and tradition attached to it, and implied that you were chosen and anointed by God to rule. Just because you conquered a large tract of land for yourself, you couldn't just start calling yourself the king of it - or rather you could, but all the 'proper' kings would laugh at you and treat you with contempt. The only approved way to get the title of 'king' was for the Pope to grant it to you - or possibly the Holy Roman Emperor had that power too. A few monarchs did upgrade their titles this way - the Duke of Bohemia became the King of Bohemia, for example. The Duke of Burgundy, on the other hand, never got permission to become King of Burgundy despite many years of trying.

So what did you do if you couldn't get the coveted 'King' title? Well, one thing you could do was make do with being a Prince. 'Prince' was at first just a generic word meaning 'ruler' - a usage maintained in the title of Machiavelli's book 'The Prince' - but it eventually became recognised as a specific rank just below 'King'. In the specific context of Germany/the Holy Roman Empire, all the rulers who answered directly to the Emperor with no feudal intermediaries were referred to as a 'prince' (Fürst), but many of them also had other traditional titles such as Duke, Margrave, Count and so forth which they normally used instead. Those who didn't have such a title started using 'Prince' as their official title.

Incidentally, the German word Fürst is a direct translation of the Latin word 'Princeps' (from which 'Prince' is derived), and both originally meant 'First'.

Incidentally, the German word Fürst is a direct translation of the Latin word 'Princeps' (from which 'Prince' is derived), and both originally meant 'First'.

How did I miss the obvious etymological link between 'first' and 'Fürst'?

Thank you!

I didn't realise either until I looked it up to double-check my post!

Of course the word for 'first' in modern German ('erster') doesn't start with 'F' - though apparently it did in proto-Germanic ('furistaz') and that version of the word was preserved in English, but lost in German.