In case you somehow missed it, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married last weekend as the sun shone down on Windsor Castle. As with all senior royal marriages, Queen Elizabeth bestowed a gift to the newlyweds: the honor of new titles.
Just hours before the nuptials on May 19, Kensington Palace announced that the couple were to officially become the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Sussex is a county on the south coast of England, home to beach resorts, historic towns and picturesque landscapes. Prince Harry’s elder brother, Prince William, became the Duke of Cambridge after his marriage to Catherine Middleton in 2011. She is now formally known as the Duchess of Cambridge.
But no royal title is complete without its own rich English history. The Sussex dukedom dates back to 1801 and harbors the tale of two marriages, family disputes and one particularly controversial prince.
The first to hold the title of the Duke of Sussex was Prince Augustus Frederick, who was born in England in 1773. He was the sixth son and ninth child of King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte.
The prince led a somewhat rebellious life, breaking with royal tradition when he secretly married Lady Augusta Murray in Rome in 1793 — without the consent of his father, King George.
Bad idea. The 1772 Royal Marriages Act stipulates that royals (or at least the first six in line to the British throne) must seek approval of the reigning monarch when it comes to picking a partner to marry.
Failing to get permission from his father meant that the marriage of Prince Augustus and Lady Augusta Murray went unrecognized and was technically void. The couple separated in 1801, the same year Prince Augustus was granted the Dukedom of Sussex. As a result, neither Lady Augusta nor her two children inherited the title of “Sussex.”
When the duke married his second wife, Lady Cecilia, in 1831, their marriage also contravened the Royal Marriages Act and so went unrecognized. Like the duke’s first wife, Lady Cecilia never acquired the title of duchess.
Augustus didn’t cause a stir only when it came to marriage. The duke was an avid reader with a passion for science, religion and learning. He was particularly proud of his musical talents, according to a BBC profile, which quoted him boasting: “I have the most wonderful voice that was ever heard — three octaves — and I do understand music.”
He was known for his liberal and political views. According to the Royal Collection Trust, he supported abolition of the slave trade and fought to end restrictions on Jews.
In 1815 he was made a patron of the Jews’ Hospital and Orphan asylum in Mile End, East London, now known as Norwood House. Despite his efforts to challenge inequality and social injustices, the prince’s activism drove a wedge between the family, leaving him and his father very much estranged.
Although centuries apart, it can be argued that the two Dukes of Sussex share more than just a title.
Like Prince Harry, the first Duke of Sussex was considered somewhat of a regal rebel who challenged age-old traditions and shattered royal stereotypes throughout his lifetime. Despite his complicated family relationships, the Duke of Sussex was considered Queen Victoria’s favorite uncle and did the honor of escorting her down the aisle when she married Prince Albert in 1840.
Prince Augustus died in London in 1843. His title — the Duke of Sussex — expired with him until Queen Elizabeth revived it for her grandson.
Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle, is the first Duchess of Sussex, which means the outspoken mixed-race American has made history once again.
The new Duchess of Sussex immediately generated headlines Monday by declaring herself a feminist on the official website of the British monarchy. Her new biography states: “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.”
The first Duke of Sussex would be impressed.
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