For other meanings, see Prince (disambiguation).

The term prince (from the Latin princeps), for a member of the highest aristocracy, has fundamentally different meanings - one generic, and several types of titles


Abstract notion

The original but least common use is as a GENERIC (descriptive, not formal) term -originating in the application of terminology from Roman (actualy Byzantine) law and classical 'ideology' to the European feudal society- in principle used for any ruling (hereditary or elective) Monarch, regardless of his title and protocolary rank.

Example from the early Renaissance: the title of Niccolň Machiavelli's book Il Principe (The Prince) refers to such type of prince.

The following parts of this article are only concerned with the use usages as a formal NOBILIARY (or analogous) TITLE.

Genealogical Princes, by birth or equivalent

A Prince of the blood (in some monarchies, however, this is an actual title in its own right, of more restricted use) is a male member of royalty or a royal family, depending on individual tradition either restricted (often to one or two generations after he monarch, and/or the line of succession) of allowed to run into very high numbers (as often applies in oriental dyansties).

Generally, when such a prince takes a (royal, imperial ...) throne he stops being styled prince as he becomes the ruling (or at least titular) Monarch, king or emperor (idem: princess - queen), Grand duke or one of many other styles, including Prince (see below) of a princedom.

  • The female form is princess, but this is also generally used for the spouse of any Prince (of the blood or of a principality), and the daughter of any Monarch, though in some monarchies (by law and/or tradition) the awarding is explicit, not automatical. Inversely, the husband of a born princess is (or was) in many monarchies not so readily styled prince, though it certainly happened. To complicate matters, the style Royal Highness, normally accompanying the title Prince in a dynasty (if of royal or imperial rank, that is), can be awarded seperately, one might say as a compromise or consolation prize.

In this system, a prince can be:

Although the definition above is the one that is most commonly understood, there are also different systems: depending on country, epoch and translation other meanings of Prince are possible: over the centuries foreign-language titles such as Italian principe, French prince, German Fürst, Russian kniaz, etc., are often rendered as prince in English.

Princes of principalities

Other princes (or the same, see below) derive their title not from their dynastic position as such (which must often be shared with brothers etc), but from their claim to a unique title of formal princely rank named after a specific principality, not after the suzerain/sovereign state even if they belong to one.

Princes as ruling monarchs

A prince or princess who is the head of state in a monarchy is a reigning prince, which had no other specific, formal (rank) title, and his domain, typically smaller than a kingdom, is called a principality.

  • This can be a regular nation, even sovereign, rather as a grand duchy.
Example: Prince Albert II of the principality of Monaco.

In the same tradition/vein many micronation "monarchs" establish themselves as (usually merely nominal) prince

Example: Prince Roy of Sealand
  • The term prince has also been used to describe, in languages like English that lack a specific word for this, the head of a feudal (vassal) state of lower rank; for example, \it has been used as a synonym for duke at times.

In German such a prince is also called "Fürst" (capital obligatory by German grammar), and there are equivalents in most languages in the tradition of the Holy Roman Empire, where these abunded.

Countries of Western Europe

In several countries of the European continent, notably in Germany and in France, a prince can be the title of someone having a high rank of nobility, but not necessarily royal, which makes comparing it with e.g. the British system of royal princes difficult.

Examples: Princess de Polignac (France); Prince Bismarck (Germany, translation of Fürst Bismarck)


In the Russian system, "knyaz" (translated as "prince"), is the highest degree of nobility, and sometimes, represents a mediatization of an older native dynasty which became subject to the Russian imperial dynasty. Rurikid branches used the knyaz title also after they were succeeded by the Romanovs as the Russian imperial dynasty.

Examples: Prince Potemkin

Titular royal princedoms

One type of princes belongs in both the genealogical royalty and the territorial princely styles : a number of nobiliary territories, carrying the formal style of prince, are not (or no longer) actual (political, administrative...) principalities, but are maintained as essentially hononary titles (though some land, income etcetera may be attached to them) awarded traditionally (or occasionally) to princes of the blood, as an appanage.

  • This is done in particular as primogeniture for the heir to the throne, who is often awarded a particalur principality over and over, so that it can become synonymous with the first in line for the throne, even if there is no legal automatism.

Some cases :

    • Netherlands : Prins van Oranje (Prince of Orange, once a real principality around he homonymous city in southern France)
    • Spain : Principe de Asturias (Prince of the Asturies, once a separate kingdom)
    • UK (originally England) : Prince of Wales
  • Some states have an analogous tradition to confer another princely title, such as the British 'royal duchies' (for various royal princes), and formerly the french Dauphin (de facto primogeniture).

Both systems may concur, as in Belgium where Prince of Ličge=Luik is one of the traditional titles for royal sons (alongside Duke of Brabant, the highest, serving as the primogeniture if not yet taken; Count of Flanders, second in rank)

Prince in both meanings in various (western tradition) languages

(This list is partially based on a page in by Alexander Krischnig doing the same for various titles in 35 languages- but it is not entirely reliable nor completely verified yet, and more languages can be added : handle with care, and amend if you know better for certain)

In each case, the title is followed (when available) be the female form and hen (rarely available yet; obviously rarely applicable to a prince of the blood without a principality) the name of the territorial circonscription, each separated by a slash; if a second title (or set) is also given, then this one is for a Prince of the blood, the first for a principality Be aware that the absence of a separate title for a prince of the blood may nit always mean no such title exists; alternatively, the existence of a word does not imply there is also a reality in the linguistic teritory concerned, it may very well be used exclusively to render titles in other languages, regardless wether there is a historical link with any (which often means that linguistic tradition is adopted)

Etymologically, we can discern the following traditions (remark : some languages followed a historical link, e.g. within the Holy Roman Empire, not their linguistic family; some even fail to follow the same logic for certain other aristocratic titles) :

  • languages (mostly Romance) only using the LATIN root princeps
    • English Prince /Princess Prince /Princess
    • French Prince /Princesse Prince /Princesse
    • Albanian Princ /Princeshë Princ /Princeshë
    • Catalan Príncep /Princesa Príncep /Princesa
    • Irish Prionsa /Banphrionsa Prionsa /Banphrionsa
    • Italian Principe /Principessa Principe /Principessa
    • Maltese Princep /Principessa Princep /Principessa
    • Monegasque Principu /Principessa Principu /Principessa
    • Portuguese Príncipe /Princesa Príncipe /Princesa
    • Rhaeto-Romanic Prinzi /Prinzessa Prinzi /Prinzessa
    • Romanian Principe /Principesă Principe /Principesă
    • Spanish Príncipe /Princesa Príncipe /Princesa
  • languages (mainly GERMANIC) that use (generally alongside a princeps-derivate for princes of the blood) an equivalent of the GERMAN Fürst
    • Danish Fyrste /Fyrstinde Prins /Prinsesse
    • Dutch Vorst /Vorstin Prins /Prinses
    • Estonian [Finnish-Ugrian family] Vürst /Vürstinna Prints /Printsess
    • German Fürst /Fürstin Prinz /Prinzessin
    • Icelandic Fursti /Furstynja Prins /Prinsessa
    • Luxemburgish [German dialect] Fürst /Fürstin Prënz /Prinzessin
    • Norwegian Fyrste /Fyrstinne Prins /Prinsesse
    • Swedish Furste /Furstinna Prins /Prinsessa
  • SLAVONIC and (related) BALTIC languages
    • Belorussian Tsarevich, Karalevich, Prynts /Tsarewna, Karalewna, Pryntsesa
    • Bulgarian Knyaz /Knaginya Tsarevich, Kralevich, Prints /Printsesa
    • Croatian, Serbian Knez /Kneginja Kraljević, Princ /Kraljevna, Princeza
    • Czech Kníže /Kněžna Králevic, Princ /Králevična, Princezna
    • Latin (post-Roman) Princeps/* Princeps/*
    • Latvian Firsts /Firstiene Princis /Princese
    • Lithuanian Kunigaikštis /Kunigaikštiene Princas /Princese
    • Macedonian Knez /Knezhina Tsarevich, Kralevich, Prints /Tsarevna, Kralevna, Printsesa
    • Polish Książę /Księżna Książę, Królewicz /Księżna, Królewna
    • Russian Knyaz /Knyagina, Knyazhnya Tsarevich, Korolyevich, Prints /Tsarevna, Korolyevna, Printsessa
    • Slovak Cisár /Cisárovná Kráľ /Kráľovná Knieža /Kňažná Kráľovič, Princ /Princezná
    • Slovene Knez /Kneginja Kraljevič, Princ /Kraljična, Princesa
    • Ukrainian Knyaz /Knyazhnya Tsarenko, Korolenko, Prints /Tsarivna, Korolivna, Printsizna
  • other (incl. Finnish-Ugrian .. ) languages :
    • Finnish Ruhtinas /Ruhtinatar Prinssi /Prinsessa
    • Greek (New) Igemonas /Igemonida Pringipas /Pringipesa
    • Hungarian (Magyar) Herceg /Hercegnő Herceg /Hercegnő

Oriental and other native counterparts

One must bear in mind that all of the above is essentialy the story of European, christian dynasties and other nobility, also 'exported' to their colonial and other overseas territories and otherwise adopted by rather westernized societies elsewhere (e.g. Haiti).

However, the practise of applying these essentially western concepts and even terminology to other cultures, even when they don't, is common but in many respects rather dubious. The reality is that their different (historical, religious ...) backgrounds have also begot significantly different dynastic and nobiliary systems, which are poorly represented by the 'closest' western analogy.

It therefore makes sense to treat these per civilization.

islamic traditions

  • Arabian tradition since the caliphate
  • Malay countries
  • In the Ottoman empire, the sovereign of imperial rank (incorectly known in the west as (Great) sultan) was styled padishah with a host of additional titles, reflecting his claim as political sucerssor to the various conquered states. Princes of the blood, male and female, were given the style sultan (normaly reserved for muslim rulers)
  • & other Near East
  • etc

Far East (hindu,buddhist etc)

  • China

In ancient China, the title of prince developed from being the highest title of nobility (synonymous with duke) in the Zhou Dynasty, to five grades of princes (not counting the sons and grandsons of the emperor) by the time of the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

  • Japan

In Japan,the title of prince (kôshaku 公爵) was used as the highest title of kazoku(華族Japanese modern nobility) before the present constitution.

Prince is also used as the translation of shinnô (親王(literally king of the blood) female;naishinnô(内親王(literally queen(by herself) of the blood) and shinnôhi親王妃(literally consort of king of the blood)) or ô (王(literaly king) female;nyoô(女王(literaly queen (by herself)) and ôhi(王妃(literally consort of king)). The former is the higher title of a male member of the Imperial family and the latter is the lower.

  • Korea
  • Indochina : Vietnam, Laos
  • and many other


Except for the Arabized, muslim North and some other monarchies that simply adopted islamic practices, usually the systems are completely independent or almost.

Princes of the Church

There is a certain amount of ambiguity when speaking of a "prince of the church", which is an expression used nearly exclusively for Roman Catholic clergymen :

So-called Princes of/within the Church

By analogy with secular princes (in the broad 'generic' sense, regardless of the style), it made perfect sence in the feudal class society to regard the highest members (Prelates) of the clergy, as the privileged estate besides the nobility (in some cases even given protocolary precedence over it!), as social equivalent, especially as it became common for sons (mainly younger ones, notably when excluded from succession - there other common alternative was a military carreer, which might even bring a new domain of there own, especially in crusades and reconquista) of the aristocracy to occupy many of the highest prelatures.

  • The precise and absolute use of Prince of the Church is for a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, because their college (but since XXth century reforms, in fact only a regulated, 'young' part of the cardinals are still allowed in the conclave) had aquired the pivotal status of Electors of the Pope, in any senses equivalent to (at least the three prince-archbishops amongst) the Prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire (seen as the highest echelon of 'German' nobility, regardless of the styles of each 'electorate', i.e. their secular princedoms)
  • Informally, members of the the higher hierarchic echelons of the Catholic church are in recent times also occasionally called "princes of the church", in which case this "title" can sometimes be intended more or less ironical by the speaker.

Cleric offices holding princely temporal power/titles

First clergymen could own land and rule over it, as "monarch" type of princes. In modern times only the Roman pope is still (literally) such a "prince of the church", be it in a limited manner (Vatican City as the territory of the Holy See) - for all other clergymen "prince"-like worldly power is considered as conflicting with the prescriptions of the church, but that has not been always so:

Example: for a period of time the bishop of Ličge was a prince (the "prince-bishop" of Ličge) ruling a vast part of what later would become Belgium.

See also

da:Prins de:Prinz es:Príncipe ja:王子 sv:Prins nl:Prins fr:Prince it:Principe la:Princeps

Sources and References

  • Almanach de Bruxelles
  • RoyalArk

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