Prince William's Engagement

HRH Prince William of Wales, eldest son of the Prince of Wales, formally announced his engagement to Catherine Middleton, his girlfriend of eight years, in a press conference held at St. James Palace on 16 November 2010. In a year that has seen an exceptional helping of royal weddings - the wedding of the Swedish crown princess in June, the wedding of the former Greek king's son in August - the long-awaited announcement of the British heir's engagement surely tops them all.

At the press conference, the prince disclosed that he had bestowed upon his fiancee the same engagement ring worn by his late mother, Lady Diana Spencer. Ms. Middleton explained her excitement about the marriage to journalists but admitted that she found her role as future queen to be "daunting".

No date has been set for the wedding, but Clarence House (the official residence of the Prince of Wales and his wife and sons) stated that the nuptials will most likely take place in the spring or summer of 2011.

Further speculation comes in the question of which titles Ms. Middleton will receive upon marrying into the royal family. Officially, she will be known as Her Royal Highness Princess William of Wales. Contrary to popular belief, her formal title will not be Princess Catherine, as she is not a princess in her own right and only inherits the title of princess through her husband; thus, Princess William. This applied to her late mother-in-law, Diana, who was frequently (albeit incorrectly) referred to as Princess Diana. Diana's formal title was The Princess Charles, Princess of Wales, though she was generally referred to as simply The Princess of Wales.

However, by tradition the reigning sovereign generally bestows titles of nobility upon their children and grandchildren at the time of their marriages. Prince William's uncles, Andrew and Edward, were both awarded the titles Duke of York and Earl of Wessex, respectively, upon their marriages. It is likely that the Queen will grant William such a title before his wedding.

William will not be able to use the title Prince of Wales until his father either succeeds to the throne or dies; however, he does not automatically inherit the title as he must be created Prince of Wales by the sovereign. The title Duke of York will become vacant upon the death of his uncle Andrew (as he only has daughters and no sons to inherit it); however, the title is traditionally reserved for the second son of the reigning sovereign and could potentially be passed onto William's brother, Prince Harry, if the current Duke of York dies and the present Prince of Wales succeeds to the throne.

Some sources are already speculating that Prince William will be created Duke of Cambridge, a royal title which has been vacant since the death of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (a grandson of King George III) in 1904. Another vacant title is the Duke of Clarence (last borne by Prince Albert Victor of Wales, eldest son of King Edward VII, whose unexpected death in 1892 placed his younger brother, the future King George V, second in the line of succession). In the event that William inherits either of these titles, Ms. Middleton will take on their feminine forms (i.e. HRH The Duchess of Cambridge; HRH The Duchess of Clarence).

Though Clarence House announced that he sought the approval of Ms. Middleton's father for her hand in marriage, Prince William was not required to seek the permission of the Queen. According to the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, members of the royal family under the age of 25 cannot marry without the consent of the sovereign. Prince William is 28 years of age and is therefore able to marry without his grandmother's consent.