The Art of the Royal Signature

Ok, this might seem silly but what the heck! Royal signatures are fun to analyze, whether they are on important documents (such as the one that The Queen signed with Prime Minister Trudeau in 1982 which formally repatriated the Canadian Constitution, pictured above) or if they are simply on Christmas cards.  Confession: after seeing that Princess Diana signed her correspondence with simply “Diana”, we went about doing the same thing in our (much) younger years. That was all fine and good until a bank teller when we were around 12 or 13 pointed out that a last name was actually required on certain documents. Ha! Oh, well it was fun while it lasted. Last names aren’t something the British Royal Family really deals with all that much. The official website of the British Monarchy explains:

People often ask whether members of the Royal Family have a surname, and, if so, what it is.

Members of the Royal Family can be known both by the name of the Royal house, and by a surname, which are not always the same. And often they do not use a surname at all.

Before 1917, members of the British Royal Family had no surname, but only the name of the house or dynasty to which they belonged.

Kings and princes were historically known by the names of the countries over which they and their families ruled. Kings and queens therefore signed themselves by their first names only, a tradition in the United Kingdom which has continued to the present day…

For the most part, members of the Royal Family who are entitled to the style and dignity of HRH Prince or Princess do not need a surname, but if at any time any of them do need a surname (such as upon marriage), that surname is Mountbatten-Windsor.

The surname Mountbatten-Windsor first appeared on an official document on 14 November 1973, in the marriage register at Westminster Abbey for the marriage of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips….

Unless The Prince of Wales chooses to alter the present decisions when he becomes king, he will continue to be of the House of Windsor and his grandchildren will use the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.

From what we understand, Beatrice and Eugenie use the last name “York” when needed, and Princes William and Harry go by the last name “Wales” for their military careers. However, they don’t sign with their last names.

Let’s go back to Diana to discuss this some more. Before her wedding to Prince Charles, Lady Diana Spencer signed her name “Diana Spencer.” This letter dated May 20, 1980 (a little over two months before the wedding) is a great example, we’re just sorry we can’t make it  bigger:

For enquiring minds, the letter reads: “I would like very much to thank you for your extremely kind letter and for the lovely drawing you have coloured so beautifully. Your though was very much appreciated.”  It must have been from a young child who’d sent a congratulatory letter.

Interestingly, Diana also signed the marriage register ‘Diana Spencer’ during her and Charles’ wedding. That seems to have been the last time she signed that way. After that, she shortened her signature to her first name:

It became so recognizable, it was appropriated for the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund

And also for Tina Brown’s Book The Diana Chronicles:

Sarah, Duchess of York did the same thing:

Sophie, Countess of Wessex signs her name like this:

Same with Camilla:

And now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is following this tradition as well. Before the wedding, she signed her name Catherine Middleton.

This signature is from the guest book at lodge where William and Kate were staying when they got engaged. For more info on that click here.

Here’s another example. This comes from a book of condolensce that Kate and William signed for the New Zealand earthquake last February. Note that William just signs with his first name and since the wedding is still a couple of months away, Kate is still signing her full name:

There were lots of guests books to sign during William and Kate’s trip to Canada, at which point she would have just been signing “Catherine.”

This was in Ottawa on the first day:


And on Canada Day, also in Ottawa:

In Charlottetown:

In the Northwest Territories:

And this was in Calgary on the last day of the Canadian leg of the tour:

This signature comes from her Valentine’s Day visit to Liverpool last month. We’re definitely down to just Catherine now! Wonder how it came up in conversation that she should sign that way once she became HRH…or if she had already picked up on this particular tradition from William.

And, to end, The Queen, Prince Philip, and Kate also signed their names this way on a certificate which marked their Jubilee trip to Leicester:

They also signed the guestbook at the University that day:

So, any thoughts to this whole no last name thing? And does anyone know if the marriage register from William and Kate’s wedding was ever published? Until next time…


Categories: British Royal Family, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Diana, Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cambridge, Duchess of York, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge, The Countess of Wessex

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8 replies

  1. I love this! I wonder what a writing expert would say about interpreting these signatures and the personalities of these people. Love your fun posts! Thank you. Keep ’em coming.

    • I read somewhere that the tendency to have a large first letter (such as Diana’s later signature, Sarah, Sophie’s and camilla s) indicates a certain level of importance, awareness of that importance and confidence. It is quite noteable on all the aforementioned ladies signatures above that their first letter is much larger than the rest of their signature and that Diana’s signature in the early days her D was the same size as her other letters, but that later the size difference of the D compared to the “iana” became quite marked at the same time as her confidence and importance rose.

  2. I found this very interesting! I’ve always been fascinated by handwriting and signatures, including those of the royals. Diana had lovely, characteristic handwriting.

    As a calligrapher, I was asked to help create a book for Charles and Diana to sign when they visited British Columbia in 1986, and I was excited to be the one to prepare the page that they later signed. I have a copy of the page from when I finished it, but I always meant to go back and see the book on display, and get a photo of the page with their signatures below my writing!

  3. Interesting! Loved the analysis and all the photos.

  4. Where does the Mountbatten come from. I know where Windsor came from, had to get rid of those dastardly German names, but why Mountbatten?

  5. Because that is the surname that was used by Prince Phillip prior to his marriage to Elizabeth.

  6. Mountbatten is the Anglicised version of the family’s German name Battenberg (burg meaning mountain). The change came about during WWI at the request of King George V.


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