When most people picture royalty, they envision palaces filled with kings, queens, princes and princesses. However, while the title of duchess is less common, the role is certainly no less important. In general, a duchess either inherits her title or receives the title from a monarch. As a member of the royal family, a duchess has public duties that support the monarchy, auxiliary duties related to those obligations and family duties.
The duties of a duchess include public appearances representing the royal family at national events and during travels abroad as well as activities assigned to heads of state. Duchesses also perform work behind the scenes to prepare for their public roles and run their households, including preparing the children for roles in the royal family.
The title of duchess is a rare one in modern society. Among the European royal families, only the House of Windsor in the United Kingdom and the House of Bourbon in Spain continue to use the title "duchess." The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg gives the higher title of Grand Duchess to the wife of the head of its royal family.
The public duties of a duchess support the work of the monarch or, as in the case of the Duchess of Cornwall, the heir to the British throne. She attends engagements that have become annual cultural traditions, travels to other countries on behalf of the monarch and represents the royal family at nationally significant events. The duties of a duchess also include working with charities, serving as a royal patron to nonprofit organizations and appearing at public and private sector events designed to recognize and encourage humanitarian accomplishments.
While some aspects of a duchess' duties merit media exposure, many aspects of her duties occur behind-the-scenes. These include attending meetings, preparing remarks or speeches and keeping up with correspondence. Prior to traveling abroad, she reviews background information about the countries on her itinerary and studies cultural traditions and protocol to avoid any missteps. The Duchess of Cambridge performed her own research before selecting the charities for her patronage.
Duchesses help their spouses fulfill their royal roles, coordinate household activities with their staff and oversee their children's upbringing. The latter is a particularly important role when the child is in line for the throne. An inherent duty of British duchesses is that of public role model, especially since the Queen is the titular head of the Church of England.
Head of State
During their reign, Luxembourg's former grand duchesses Marie-Adelaide and Charlotte performed the same duties as the current Grand Duke Henri, which included representing Luxembourg, promoting trade and leading the country’s military. The duke's wife, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, is an active philanthropist and humanitarian in addition to working beside her husband to support their country.