Recently, the Queen stated her wish that the Duchess of Cornwall should become ‘Queen Consort’ when the Prince of Wales ascends the throne. But what, exactly, does that mean?
A Queen Consort is distinct from a Queen Regnant. The former is the wife of a King, while the latter is sovereign in her own right. Although she generally doesn’t have any constitutional functions, a Queen Consort is entitled to certain privileges. Most notably, she is often crowned alongside her husband, though this is not a matter of right (George IV infamously barred Caroline of Brunswick from his coronation in 1821).
A Queen Consort has her own Household headed by a Lord Chamberlain, as well as her own Attorney General and Solicitor General. She is also exempt from paying any toll, fine, or amercement, and she is entitled to the tails of whales captured near the coast (the head goes to the King!).
She is treated as if she were a feme sole (i.e., an unmarried woman). This is because, in the words of Joseph Chitty:
As the various duties, responsibilities, and cares of government, are fully sufficient to occupy the time and attention of the King, the law, as a further comment on the principle, that the royal functions should be unembarrassed by minute considerations, has wisely freed his Majesty from the necessity of interfering with the management of the domestic affairs of his consort.
This distinction was once quite significant since it meant a Queen Consort could hold and dispose of her own property independently of the King. But nowadays, it’s largely an antiquarian matter since married women have the same legal capacity as single women.
Killing a Queen Consort is considered treason under the Treason Act 1351, and it’s also treason for someone to ‘violate’ her. However, there is some uncertainty as to the meaning of this term. While it definitely includes sexual assault, some authorities have argued that it also encompasses consensual adultery on the part of the Queen Consort. It’s also been questioned whether violation of a Queen Consort would still be treason if she were too old to bear children.
Formerly, a Queen Consort was also entitled to ‘queen gold.’ This was a sort of surcharge on certain payments to the king, but the custom died off in the 17th century. A Queen Consort also had the right to sue by information without an indictment, though this privilege is essentially meaningless nowadays.
The prospect of Queen Camilla may rankle some, but it’s hardly a surprising development. Relegating her to a lesser role would make little sense now. Diana has been dead for almost 25 years, and Camilla has shown herself to be a hardworking member of the Royal Family. It’s time to move on.
I am grateful to Rowan Hall and Jacob Gifford Head for their assistance with this post.
 The legalization of same-sex marriage doesn’t affect the common law regarding the right to the title of Queen Consort. See Schedule 2(1)(a) of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Consequential and Contrary Provisions and Scotland) Order 2014.
 William III and Mary II (commonly known as ‘William and Mary’) were joint sovereigns, but this was a special case. Mary was the one with a hereditary claim to the throne, but she insisted that her husband rule alongside her. Earlier, Philip II of Spain bore a kingly title alongside Mary I under the terms of 1 Mar. Sess. 3 c. 2, but there were a number of limitations on his power that meant he wasn’t quite co-sovereign.
 The Regency Act 1937 allows a Queen Consort to have guardianship of an incapacitated sovereign. She is also entitled to be one of the Counsellors of State who can exercise the royal functions during the Monarch’s illness or absence from the realm.
 What follows comes from Halsbury’s Laws of England (2019), vol. 29, para. 31.
 According to William Prynne, this was done in order to provide the queen consort with whalebone for her corsets. See Prynne, Aurum Reginae (London: Thomas Ratcliffe, 1668), 127.
 The common law doctrine of coverture meant that a married woman (feme covert) had her legal personality subsumed to that of her husband.
 Joseph Chitty, A Treatise on the Law of the Prerogatives of the Crown (London: Joseph Butterworth and Son, 1820), 401.
 Graham S. McBain argues that only sexual assault that includes vaginal penetration qualifies a ‘violation’ under the 1351 Act based on the medieval law of rape. See McBain, “High treason—violating the Sovereign’s wife,” in Legal Studies, vol. 29, no. 2 (June 2009), 278, n. 101.
 The editors of Halsbury’s Laws of England take that view (“[The Queen Consort] herself will be guilty of treason if she consents to the violation of her chastity”) as does Blackstone, but McBain has argued that this is unlikely to be the case. See McBain, 269-271.
 McBain, 267.
 See William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. 1 (Boston: T. B. Wait and Sons, 1818), 219. See also Prynne, Aurum Reginae.
 The editors of Halsbury’s Laws of England suggest that this may still be the case (see footnote 12).