Women in the upper echelons of European royalty carry illustrious titles, such as “Queen”, “Princess” and “Empress”, by which they are addressed and recognized. Although these three positions in particular often carry the same prestige in casual conversation, they can tell different things about a woman’s power, nobility, and even marital status.

How are queens, princesses and empresses different?

For all three titles, the most obvious observation we can make is that they denote the female equivalents of kings, princes, and emperors. However, women can become queens or empresses in many ways – through marriage, heritage, or personal power. Princesses can be made in the same way, but the title is typically used to mean female royal children.

What is a Queen?

In the simplest sense, a queen is a woman of royal blood who rules over a state for the rest of her life. She can also be called a female monarch. The powers and privileges of a queen vary according to her rights and relationships to the royal line. 

A queen regnant holds all of the power and prestige of a king by virtue of their royal bloodline and their rights of succession. 

Most queens gain their title upon becoming the wife of a king, thus receiving the title of queen consort. They enjoy their spouse’s rank and status, although the king usually holds most or all of the monarch’s authority.

When a king dies, the queen consort will retain her title, rank, and privileges and become a queen dowager. If the royal couple had successors who were not yet of age to rule, the queen dowager can handle the heir’s responsibilities and become the queen regent.

Once her heir succeeds her on the throne, the queen may retire and take the title of queen mother.

What is a Princess?

A princess is traditionally understood to be a female descendant of the royal family, although the title of “Lady” was more historically accurate. The roles and powers of a princess may vary – some princesses are monarchs in their own right, ruling over states called principalities, while others hold no specific royal responsibility. In fact, princesses were often married to the sons of influential families to secure alliances between states. 

Any woman married to a prince will usually receive the title of princess. Similar to her queenly counterpart, this type of princess is known as the princess consort.

What is an Empress?

An empress is a woman who acts as a monarch over an empire. The difference between a kingdom and empire can be vague, but empires are traditionally larger and can contain several client kingdoms. Much like a queen, an empress can hold varying levels of authority depending on her status within the imperial family and how she came to power. 

Empresses and queens can be categorized in similar ways: empresses regnant held primary rule over their state; empresses consort were wives of emperors, sharing their rank and prestige, but often not their responsibilities; and empresses dowager, who were the emperor’s widow.

Differences Between a Queen, Princess and Empress

Rank

Perhaps the most prominent difference between a queen, princess, and empress lies in their rank within their monarchies – be it a kingdom, empire or another type of state.

In theory, an empress outranks a queen in title, power and precedence. She is commonly seen as a queen of lesser queens whose realms are subordinate to her empire.

A queen is the highest female authority within her kingdom – she can hold power all by herself or share it with her king consort or successor. Queen consorts can similarly take on some responsibilities in the king’s stead.

A princess holds a lower rank than their queen, although princesses regnant can preside over their states as the highest local authority.

Realm

The size of these rulers’ dominions can determine their power and prestige among other states. However, the status of the realm concerns the regnant versions of each title the most.

Empires, kingdoms, and principalities are traditionally monarchic – places ruled by an individual for life. 

Principalities are the smallest out of the three, and thus may hold the least wealth, military strength, and influence. Princesses regnant are often local-level rulers that attend to a province or city.

Kingdoms can differ considerably in size. Both queens and empresses easily outclass princesses in power and riches. A queen’s domain, however, may simply be a part of an empress’ greater realm.

Roles and Responsibilities

The responsibilities of queens, princesses, and empresses are generally similar – the differences only become more distinct when their different sub-types are observed. 

The female monarch regnant is the foremost ruler of their territory, and must thus bear much of the burden of administration and executive authority. Depending on the nature of her sovereignty, she can rule by decree, grant pardons and honors, and declare wars. 

The consort versions may share their husband’s responsibilities in a cooperative or assistive manner, or handle them altogether while they are ill.

The regent versions also have the responsibility to prepare their successor for inheriting the throne.

Styles

Empresses and queens are addressed differently from princesses. The way they are styled also differs from state to state.

Most queens are addressed as Her Majesty. An empress, to differentiate the nature of their domain, holds the style of Her Imperial Majesty instead.

Princesses descended from the royal line are addressed as Her Royal Highness. As a rule of thumb, the Majesty style outranks a Highness.

Notable Examples

History has seen plenty of female sovereigns who were exceptional in ruling over their state.

Some of the most prominent queens include Elizabeth I, who proliferated Protestantism in England and crushed the belligerent Spanish Armada; and Hatsheput, an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh praised for her trade and infrastructure projects.

As empress, Queen Victoria oversaw the British Empire enter a golden age of industry, arts, and international influence. Catherine the Great of Russia also stands out for expanding Russia’s dominion, nurturing the arts, and integrating Russia to the rest of Europe.

Meanwhile, the philanthropic and art-loving Diana, Princess of Wales; and the Mulan-esque Princess Pingyang, the first Tang dynasty general, are among the world’s most notable princesses.

Comparison Chart: Queen Vs Princess Vs Empress

AreasQueenPrincessEmpress
RankHighest female authority of a kingdomLocal sovereignFemale sovereign of an empire; queen of queens
RealmKingdom – small to large countriesPrincipality – cities, provinces or regionsEmpire – usually huge, can contain many kingdoms
Roles and ResponsibilitiesAdministrative – dealing with the affairs of a large population.Administrative or patronal – dealing with several communities.Administrative – ruling over a huge population and many vassal states.
StylesHer MajestyHer Royal HighnessHer Imperial Majesty
Notable ExamplesElizabeth I, HatsheputDiana, Princess of Wales; Princess PingyangVictoria, Catherine the Great, Irene of Athens

How are Queens, Princesses and Empresses similar? 

Queens, empresses, and princesses all occupy highly influential positions and enjoy a superlative level of luxury and prestige. 

If they are the primary rulers, these women can dictate the course of their states’ progress and wellbeing throughout their lives. As consorts and mothers, they could also have a considerable say in how the king rules or makes decisions.

Female monarchs can excel in several aspects of government, including diplomacy, patronage of the arts, legislation, and even military affairs and the conquest of new territory.

FAQ

Does a princess rank higher than a duchess?

In the broadest sense, a princess outranks a duchess, although the dynamics of power between the two positions can be quite complex.

The duke is traditionally the second highest-ranking nobleman in the realm next to his king. When he marries, his wife is bestowed the title of duchess. As members of the aristocracy, they are ranked lower to the royal family on the order of precedence.

Is Catherine the Great a German?

Catherine II, one of Imperial Russia’s most accomplished sovereigns, was actually born as Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst to a poor aristocratic family in Prussia – part of modern-day Germany. 

When Catherine was 16, she married the future Peter III who would rule as the Russian emperor. Catherine dedicated herself to assimilating into the Russian lifestyle, learning the language and the machinations of the court. 

Peter, however, proved to be an ineffective ruler. He found himself overthrown and killed in a coup in 1762. As a result, Catherine became empress regnant and spent her reign revitalizing Russia’s economy, culture, and place in European politics.

Conclusion 

Queens, empresses, and princess hold significant sway in the monarchy’s rule over a state, influencing the sovereign’s decision or taking on the supreme role of authority by themselves.

The three titles commonly differ in the magnitude of their wealth, power, precedence, and size of their realms – while an empress regnant must preside over the affairs of entire armies, states or provinces, a queen oversees a kingdom, and a princess must tend more meticulously to concerns in her locality.

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