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Friday, 3 August 2018

A Regency History guide to dukes, marquesses and other titles

Peers (from left to right): duke, marquess, earl, viscount, baron  from A book explaining the ranks and   dignitaries of British Society (1809)
Peers (from left to right): duke, marquess, earl, viscount, baron
from A book explaining the ranks and 
dignitaries of British Society (1809)
The trouble with titles

Although Jane Austen rarely wrote about the aristocracy, many of today's Georgian and Regency romances typically include a fair smattering of peers. In the same way, most Georgian biographies are about peers or their families or those who have at least some interaction with them. The trouble is, I have come to realise that titles are like apostrophes – a lot of people use them wrongly. Some people care as little about getting titles right as they do about apostrophes. I am not one of those people. (And I do care about apostrophes being used correctly too.) 

I picked up most of the basic rules for using peers’ titles whilst researching for blog posts and books but having come across some titles recently that I thought were used wrongly, I decided to revisit the subject. This blog is the result of my research. I have limited the scope of this blog to how you would refer to a peer and the members of his family in narrative.

I have written a separate post about titles for married daughters of peers which you can read here.

There are five different ranks in the British peerage: dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts and barons. Baronets are hereditary titles but are not members of the peerage. 

Courtesy titles of eldest sons

Typically, a duke has various other titles besides his dukedom. His eldest son takes the rank of a marquess – the next grade down of the peerage – but his courtesy title will depend on the other titles that his father has at his disposal. He takes the highest of these as his courtesy title eg the heir to the Duke of Devonshire takes the title of the Marquess of Hartington whereas the heir to the Duke of Norfolk takes the title of the Earl of Surrey.

This designation does not make him a peer (so he cannot sit in the House of Lords) but in every other respect this title is treated in the same way as if he were a member of the peerage.

These rules also apply to the eldest sons of marquesses and earls but not to those of viscounts even if they have a barony as well. If a duke, marquess or earl does not have a subsidiary title, his eldest son uses the family name as his courtesy title.

Note that it is only direct heirs that are entitled to use a subsidiary title, so if the duke’s heir is, for example, a cousin, rather than a son or grandson, he will not have a courtesy title.

Dukes

A duke from A book explaining the ranks and dignitaries of British Society (1809)
A duke from A book explaining
the ranks and dignitaries of British Society
(1809)
A duke’s title always relates to a place and not his family name eg The Duke of Richmond rather than the Duke of Lennox.

Let us use the fictitious example of George Hampton, Duke of Wessex, to illustrate. The duke would be formally referred to as His Grace, the Most Noble Duke of Wessex.1


When a duke’s daughter marries, her title will depend on the status of her husband. I am writing a separate blog post on titles of married daughters of peers.

Marquesses

A marquess from A book explaining the ranks and dignitaries of British Society (1809)
A marquess from A book explaining
the ranks and dignitaries of British Society
(1809)
Either marquess or marquis can be used for this title. I am choosing to stick to the older, British designation of marquess.

These titles are usually taken from the name of a place and in most cases the preposition ‘of’ is used eg The Marquess of Lansdowne. There are a few exceptions eg The Marquess Conyngham (from a family name and without the ‘of’); The Marquess Douro (from a place name but still without the ‘of’).

Let us use the fictitious example of George Hampton, Marquess of Denmead, to illustrate. The marquess would be formally designated The Most Honourable The Marquess of Denmead but would normally be referred to as Lord Denmead.


Earls

An earl from A book explaining the ranks and dignitaries of British Society (1809)
An earl from A book explaining
the ranks and dignitaries of British Society
(1809)
The title of earl may be taken from a place name or a family name. If a place name is used, the preposition ‘of’ is usually used; if a family name, ‘of’ is not usually used.

Let us use the fictitious example of Robert Hampton, Earl Hampton, to illustrate. The earl would be formally designated The Right Honourable The Earl Hampton but would normally be referred to as Lord Hampton.


Viscounts

A viscount from A book explaining the ranks and dignitaries of British Society (1809)
A viscount from A book explaining
the ranks and dignitaries of British Society
(1809)
The title of viscount may be taken from a place name or a family name. The preposition ‘of’ is only used between the style and the title in the names of some Scottish peers.

Let us use the fictitious example of Francis Hampton, Viscount Hampton, to illustrate. The viscount would be formally designated The Right Honourable The Viscount Hampton but would normally be referred to as Lord Hampton.


Barons

A baron from A book explaining the ranks and dignitaries of British Society (1809)
A baron from A book explaining
the ranks and dignitaries of British Society
(1809)
The title of baron or baroness may be taken from a place name, a family name or something else.

Let us use the fictitious example of James Hampton, Baron Hampton, to illustrate. The baron would be formally designated The Right Honourable Lord Hampton but would normally be referred to as Lord Hampton.2


Baronesses and other peeresses in their own right

There are some peerages which descend in the female line. These are mostly baronies. The husband of a peeress in her own right takes no title from his wife but the children are treated in the same way as if their father possessed the title.

I have interpreted the rules to the best of my ability but please send me a message if you think I have got something wrong in case I have made a mistake. 

Notes
1. Dukes are entitled to the prefix: The Most Noble; Marquesses are entitled to the prefix: The Most Honourable; all other peers are entitled to the prefix: The Right Honourable. However, in all but the most formal situations, this is usually shortened to a simple ‘The’. I have used the shortened form in all my tables.
2. The heirs of Scottish barons where the peerage dates to before the Union of 1707 are called The Master of [Place name] and their wives are called The Honourable Mrs [Surname] of [Place name].

Sources used include:
Black, Adam and Charles, Titles and forms of address - a guide to their correct use (9th edition)(1955)
Debrett, John, The Peerage of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1820)

Laura Wallace’s excellent website which you can find here.




20 comments:

  1. I do like the illustrations. Did you know that there were different robs for parliament and for coronations? I have a Whitaker Peerage of 1913 that describes the coronation robes and the coronets. The one point often missed by authors is that no one who knows ever calls a baron a baron. One never says Baron Byron when speaking to or about Lord Byron. Sort of like the title of hon. which isn't used except on envelopes or formal lists. Just as a duke is never Lord anything or a Duchess lady something, a baron is not called a baron. Good researching. Thanks.

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    1. I believe both a Duke and his Duchess are called your Grace or if both are together, they're referred to as your Graces.

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  2. I shared a link to this in a Facebook group today and it inspired a LOT of discussion. https://www.facebook.com/groups/934474906612465/permalink/1910891598970786/?comment_id=1911248332268446&reply_comment_id=1911314035595209&notif_id=1533539033203122&notif_t=group_comment&ref=notif

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  3. Wow, Rachel, thanks for this wonderful information. I apprecaite all the time and effort you have put into this entire website.
    Best wishes,
    Janet x

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  4. My name is Heath Wade Hampton and if any of these fictional noble families feel particularly the absence of a distant cousin, say they feel it as deeply as the endowment of a county, this Hampton would be right happy to be right Honourable.

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  5. Can a marquess become a duke? If the duke dies, and the marquess is his heir, can the marquess become the duke?

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    Replies
    1. Yes where he is in line for the title. So when a duke dies, his son, typically known by the courtesy title of the Marquess of Somewhere, would become the new duke. If there is no direct heir of the this duke, the title of duke would go to the next highest male descendant of the previous duke, which could be a brother or an uncle or cousin. Any of these could have titles in their own right. The title of duke would become extinct if there were no male descendants of the first duke left alive.

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    2. The wife of a duke would still bare her husband titles after his death, if we're no male descendants? And in the case they had a daughter, could the son-in-law be considered in line of succession?

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    3. A Duke's widow would still be known as a Duchess and this would be without the tag of Dowager if she had no sons or the new Duke was unmarried. No. The son-in-law of a Duke would not be in the line of succession - it would go to the next male descendant of a Duke eg if the 3rd Duke had no sons, the title would go to the Duke's next oldest brother (a son of the 2nd Duke) or his eldest surviving son. Occasionally if there was no male descendant to take the title, a special provision could be made by Act of Parliament for it to go to someone else eg a son-in-law, but this was not the normal route of succession.

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  6. I am with you on improperly used titles (and apostrophes). I gave up on in the prologue because a Marquess was being called "Your Grace" I wish all regency writers would at least even visit a wiki page about titles. It's not that difficult. But then I found a published ebook where "of" was misspelled "pf" and no one even seemed to care to check that, so of course it's hard to expect them to address peers correctly as well.

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  7. I really enjoyed digging into the the British Regency period due to my recent watch - Bridgerton. I am curious on how they get their honorific title based on place. Are the places assigned due to inheritance or it is acquired?

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    1. Where the title is based on a place, it is usually somewhere they own or live in or are connected to, but not always. Sometimes the most obvious place is already in use for someone else's title. Once given, that title is passed on from generation to generation, even if the connection to that place has ceased.

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  8. Is there possible that a Duke has only granddaughter as his next heiress. His only son and his son's wife were dead from an accident, only her granddaughter would be the next heiress, can the Duke proclaim her as the Duchess in her own right?

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    1. No. Only a male descendant could inherit the title. Sometimes those without heirs applied to the king to have the title given to eg a daughter's husband, but this was effectively a re-creation of the title. A few women did hold titles in their own right, but this was by royal decree and not something the Duke could decide for himself.

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  9. Thank you for such thorough research! I do have a question. If a daughter was in reduced circumstances and became a governess, would she retain her title? Or would she become ‘Miss’ instead of ‘Lady’?

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    1. Her circumstances would not change her title though she might not choose to use it in such a situation.

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  10. Would the wife of an earl still be called countess (as opposed to being referred to as the dowager countess) after his death if they had no sons (or children)? And if so, under what circumstances would she become "the dowager countess"?

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    1. My understanding is that if the man who inherits the title was unmarried, then the widow of the previous earl would still be called the Countess of Wherever. She would become the Dowager Countess on the new Earl's marriage when there would be a new Countess. If a previous Earl's widow was still alive, then the more recent widow would be referred to as Christian name, the Countess of Wherever to distinguish her from previous widow and the current holder of the title. I think she could assume the title Dowager immediately if she chose to. I hope that helps.

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