The motivation for my question comes from a highly controversial celebrity. In an interview with Piers Morgan, Jordan Peterson stated that Olivia Wilde had married 'a millionaire prince'. I do not intend for this question to become a forum for heaping either praise or scorn on any individual; at this point, I just want to clear up a question of historical fact. But Peterson's claim, that Tao Ruspoli is a prince, serves as a useful example of the more general question I am trying to ask.

Pre-unification Italy was a patchwork of states, many of which were quite liberal in doling out quite exalted-sounding noble titles. I do not want to get into that; that would be a PhD thesis, and not a History SE question. Likewise, in modern, republican Italy, while there does seem to be some kind of shadow of recognition for titles of nobility - in continental Europe, the laws regarding personal names are generally quite restrictive compared to the US or the UK - that recognition is infinitesimally thin. Therefore, I have chosen the laws and customs of the Kingdom of Italy as my yardstick for deciding who is and is not a prince.

There is something I should clear up right away. There were two classes of people in the Kingdom of Italy who were very clearly entitled to style themselves princes, namely:

  • Male-line descendants of the Kings of Italy; and,
  • People granted the title of Principe di X by a legitimate authority, and their heirs successively.

I will not be giving any upvotes solely for pointing out either of those groups. Instead I am concerned with another group: younger sons of titled noblemen, and their male-line descendants, i.e the group to which Tao Ruspoli belongs. Were there any circumstances in which members of that group could style themselves princes in the Kingdom of Italy without inviting either derision or legal action?

Most of northern Italy was part of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the latter there was indeed a custom of granting the style of prince (German: Prinz) to the younger sons of those holding the higher titles of nobility, such as duke and, confusingly for either an English- or an Italian-speaker, prince (German: Fürst). The most famous example of this is perhaps Prince Eugene of Savoy (German: Prinz Eugen von Savoyen, Italian: Principe Eugenio di Savoia). Granted, Prince Eugene did his best work for the Austrians, and he died almost 125 years before the Kingdom of Italy was founded; but he did consider himself at least a bit Italian - he tended to sign himself with the Italian form of his name, Eugenio - and of course it was under the House of Savoy that Italy was finally unified.

Another near-example would be Monaco. The principality is a mere 10 miles from the Italian border, and has absorbed a great deal of Italian language and culture over the centuries. There, the siblings and children of the sovereign prince are also styled as princes and princesses.

But can anyone point me to an actual example from the Kingdom of Italy?

  • 1
    Do you mean the Kingdom of Italy that only existed from 1861-1946? At the rump end of the Late Modern period, when the distinction between principalities, duchies, and kingdoms had really ceased to be politically relevant?
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 5, 2023 at 22:12
  • 2
    @T.E.D. The distinction between principalities and duchies on the one hand, which were almost always bestowed by sovereigns, and kingdoms, which were almost always held by sovereigns, remains important to this day.
    – Tom Hosker
    Oct 6, 2023 at 0:06
  • 1
    @T.E.D. There are at leat four other "Kingdom of Italy" entities, such as this one under the framework of the Holy Roman Empire
    – Spencer
    Oct 6, 2023 at 14:13
  • 1
    @Spencer - That is indeed a more reasonable (Middle Ages) exemplar. Still, we need to know which it is. Hence the question.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 6, 2023 at 14:15
  • @Spencer and T.E.D. Apologies to you both. I meant the Kingdom of Italy forged by Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel II. I had inexplicably forgotten about the other Kingdoms of Italy. I'll update the question.
    – Tom Hosker
    Oct 9, 2023 at 8:49

2 Answers 2


According to Wikipedia:

In 1708, Vittoria's grandson, Francesco Marescotti Ruspoli, head of the Ruspoli Regiment, fought to defend the Papal States. In 1709, he forced the Austrians to retreat, and Pope Clement XI named him the first Prince of Cerveteri. This title would then pass down to the first-born son of each generation. The papal title of Roman Prince was later conferred in 1721, and it is also held by the first-born son of each generation.


Francesco's full styling is:

10th Principe di Cerveteri,
10th Marchese di Riano,
15th Conte di Vignanello and
Prince of the Roman Papal State.

Going further back, to the issue of Alessandro Ruspoli, 2nd Prince of Cerveteri we see them all styled as "dei Principi Ruspoli", which Google translates as "of the Ruspoli Princes". This remains the case for the issue of Francesco Maria Ruspoli, 6th Prince of Cerveteri through the mid 19th century. It would seem that the distinction between the stylings "Prince [of wherever]" and "prince" in English roughly corresponds to the Italian distinction between stylings "Principe di [wherever]" and "dei Principi [family]".

It would seem that the claim to princehood of Tao, as a direct son of the previous Prince and step-brother of the current, is legitimate by any reasonable measure.

  • I think they are half-brothers (same father, different mothers) rather than step-brothers. "Tao dei Principi Ruspoli" looks more like a name rather than a title. (I also suspect his parents being unmarried may affect papal attitudes to inheriting titles and might have affected the King of Italy's attitudes if there were now such a king).
    – Henry
    Oct 8, 2023 at 13:11
  • @Henry Thank you for highlighting the fact that Tao was born out of wedlock; I had failed to notice that one. Do we know whether illegitimate children could/can inherit the Principality of Cerveteri?
    – Tom Hosker
    Oct 9, 2023 at 8:55
  • @PieterGeerkens This is from the Ordinamento dello Stato Nobiliare Italiano (1943): 'I figli naturali, ancorché riconosciuti, non succedono nei titoli e predicati nobiliari.' In English: 'Illegitimate children [e.g. Tao], even if recognised, do not succeed to noble titles and predicates.' Incorporate this into your answer, and I will accept it.
    – Tom Hosker
    Oct 9, 2023 at 9:33

The oldest male in a family of Roman Princes bears the title of Prince, the other males are styled "of the X Princes", so Francesco being the older is Prince Ruspoli, Tao being the younger is "of the Ruspoli Princes". According to papal laws, Roman Princes were nobler than all other kinds of princes. The Kings of Piedmont, later Kings of Italy, did not bestow the title of Prince (only the heir to the Piedmontese/Italian throne bore the title of Prince) but after the unification of Italy the new kingdom recognized all the titles of nobility of the formerly existent states (the Kings of Naples and Sicily could create Princes, too). Since the Vatican was never part of Italy, technically the title of Roman Princes was always a foreign title of nobility. Up to 1929 there were no diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Italy and, according to Wikipedia, titles of papal nobility were officially recognized by the kingdom of Italy only after 1929, when such relations were established. The Vatican still recognizes the validity of papal nobility titles and expects them to be equally recognized by other countries.

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    – Community Bot
    Oct 9, 2023 at 23:49
  • Gabriele d'Annunzio was created Prince of Montenevoso by Victor Emmanuel III in 1924.
    – Tom Hosker
    Oct 10, 2023 at 8:58

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