Queen Elizabeth II is saluted by the Officers of HMS Lancaster during a visit to HMS Lancaster at Portsmouth Naval Base (Picture: Alamy).

Why the Queen's Frigate is named after a duke when the monarch is a woman

Queen Elizabeth II is saluted by the Officers of HMS Lancaster during a visit to HMS Lancaster at Portsmouth Naval Base (Picture: Alamy).

It may be confusing to anyone other than an astute Royal observer why a ship known as the Queen's Frigate is named after the traditionally male title of duke, rather than, say duchess.

HMS Lancaster, like all the ships in the Type 23 class is named after a duke, even though the duke in question for this title is Queen Elizabeth II.

The Royal Navy warship, which has just left Portsmouth Naval Base to start a three-year deployment to the Middle East in the Gulf, has the prestigious status of having the Queen as a sponsor and Her Majesty is known to take a keen personal interest in Lancaster's activities around the globe.

But why is the ship, one of 12 Duke Class ships in the Royal Navy and referred to as the Queen's Frigate, actually named after the title Duke of Lancaster when the reigning monarch is a woman?

HMS Lancaster departs Portsmouth before heading to Bahrain
HMS Lancaster departs Portsmouth before heading to Bahrain.

That comes down to the history of the Royal Family and the Duchy of Lancaster, a Royal estate that was considerably financially enhanced under the reign of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster from 1340 to 1399.

He was a Royal prince, military leader and statesman, a highly influential Royal of his time and who, due to several beneficial marriages and lands bestowed upon him, was also one of the richest men of his era.

It was King Henry IV, Henry Bolingbroke, who, upon his accession to the throne in 1399, passed a Royal Charter to decree that the ancient inheritance of the Duchy of Lancaster estate should be handed down through the reigning monarchy in its own right, separately from all other Crown possessions, ensuring that the Duke of Lancaster title would always be held by the ruling monarch.

Many years later, the headstrong Queen Victoria, following her accession to the thrown in 1837, took exception to being referred to as Duchess, because she believed that the title of duchess referred to the spouse of a duke rather than the head and holder of a Royal dukedom.

She ruled instead that the title of duke could be held by the reigning monarch, regardless of gender, and she began using the title of Duke of Lancaster.

Watch: HMS Lancaster heads to Bahrain.

The current Duke of Lancaster is, of course, Queen Elizabeth II, and the title continues to be used for a female monarch, with even a toast in her name when gatherings of Lancastrians within the County Palatine, which is a county in which Royal privileges and exclusive rights of jurisdiction are held by its earl or lord, are known to raise the toast: "The Queen, Duke of Lancaster."

Naming Type 23 frigates, otherwise known as the Duke Class, after the titles of dukes is a Royal Navy convention that began in 1989 with the first of its type, HMS Norfolk, which was later decommissioned and sold to Chile in 2005.

The 16th Type 23 frigate, HMS St Albans, was commissioned in 2002.

HMS Lancaster, one of 12 Type 23 frigates in the Royal Navy fleet, joined the Royal Navy fleet in 1992 after she was launched by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990 and, as the Duke of Lancaster title is a subsidiary title of the Sovereign, the ship became known as the Queen's Frigate.

The Queen may have a particularly special relationship with HMS Lancaster as the Duke of Lancaster but it is important to note that Her Majesty, as Sovereign, is the head of the Armed Forces.

She holds the rank of Commander-in-Chief of all of the United Kingdom's Armed Forces and holds numerous military appointments and honorary ranks, including Colonel-in-Chief of many regiments, Air-Commodore-in-Chief of several branches of the Royal Air Force and other titles such as Royal Honorary Air Commodore and Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets.

In particular, as the Duke of Lancaster, she holds the rank of Colonel-in-Chief of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, a regiment historically known as The Lions of England.

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