Thursday, February 26, 2009

Question from Sylvia - More info on Titles

Hi, I was wondering if I could get more information about the various titles held by nobility. What were the various titles held by dukes, earls, ect. What were their wives called, how were titles inherited/given. What responsibility went with each title, and what is te difference between the Duke of X and the Duke of Y.

Any info appreciated!


Anonymous said...

A rather complicated question that has no simple answer, and certainly no short answer.

The non-royal titles of nobility, from highest to lowest, are Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, and Baron. Barons may be either hereditary or limited to the title-bearer's own lifetime (Life Peer); all the others are inheritable. Baronet is an aristocratic but non-noble title.

The wife of each is a Duchess, Marchioness, Countess, Viscountess, or Baroness. There are also women who hold titles themselves ("in their own right"), such as Hazel Czernin, 10th Baroness Howard de Walden. Her husband is styled “The Honorable,” but he is not a lord or a noble.

The "giving" of titles, properly called "creation" of titles, is solely the prerogative of the monarch, though in the modern era it is done only after consultation with the government and Prime Minister. Since the 1980s, only life peers have been created outside the royal family and only two hereditary peerages within the royal family (Duke of York and Earl of Wessex). It is unlikely that any further inheritable titles will be created outside the royal family in the future.

Titles are created in two ways: by "letters patent" (an ancient form of written document issued by the monarch), and by "writ of summons" calling a person to sit in Parliament. Writs of summons apply primarily to what are called spiritual peers and law lords ... Bishops of the Church of England and certain judges who were allowed to sit in the House of Lords as part of the duties of their office. Letters Patent of creation are usually large sheets of parchment handwritten by a member of the College of Arms and hand signed by the monarch.

Your question seems to ask what different dukes there are, what various earls, etc. The list is much too long to try to list them all. The last time I checked, there were almost 1000 inheritable titles of nobility in the UK, 27 of which are dukedoms. About 34 more are marquessates, about 194 are earldoms, plus about 117 viscountcies, and several hundred baronies.

And within each category, there is an “order of precedence,” with some titles being more prestigious and higher ranking than others. Sometimes the rank is determined by how old the title itself is (older titles have a higher order of precedence), and at other times it is determined by what other offices and honors go with the title. For example, the Duke of Norfolk is one of the highest ranking dukes because the title is very old and because the dukedom also carries with it the hereditary office of Earl Marshall of England (not actually an earldom, but rather an honorary ceremonial function).

Persons can and usually do hold more than one title at a time. Staying with the example of the Duke of Norfolk, he has multiple other titles, called “subsidiary” or “secondary” titles. In his case, they include three Earldoms and six baronies. The Duke of Bedford has the subsidiary title of Marquess of Tavistock; the Duke of Devonshire has the subsidiary title of earl of Burlington. The eldest son of a peer (noble) usually takes his father’s subsidiary title as a “courtesy title,” so that the 4-year-old son of the Duke of Bedford is known as the Marquess of Tavistock. Holders of courtesy titles do not have the automatic right to sit in the House of Lords, though some have been granted the “accelerated right” during the primary titleholder’s lifetime.

How titles are inherited is governed by the terms set forth in the original letters patent of creation. Some titles are “entailed,” meaning they have specific restrictions on how they can be passed on to heirs. Most titles of nobility are presently limited to male heirs (sons, brothers, nephews, etc). A handful are limited to direct heirs and descendants (sons, grandsons, brothers, but not nephews or cousins). Very rarely, a title is freely inheritable by both male and female heirs, though males are always first. The current monarch can intervene at any time to alter the way in which a title is inherited, however. In the example of the Baroness Howard de Walden mentioned above, Queen Elizabeth II issued a Royal Warrant in 2004 that allowed Hazel Czernin to inherit the title from her father, John Scott-Ellis, who had died four years earlier without having had any sons (but the subsidiary title of Baron Seaford passed to Hazel’s cousin, Colin Ellis). During the period when no one actually held the title, it was “in abeyance.”

Some noble titles are not inheritable even though they are also not life peerages. For example, the title The Duke of Cornwall is attached to the title The Prince of Wales, and neither are inherited. Both are instead bestowed afresh by a monarch on her/his son (never daughter). Queen Elizabeth II’s son Prince Charles was simply “The Prince Charles” until he was created Prince of Wales in 1958 at age 6. If Charles dies before his mother, Charles’s son William will not inherit the title Prince or Wales not the title Duke of Cornwall, but will instead remain simply Prince William until Elizabeth grants him a title.

What responsibilities go with each title? Titles of nobility do not usually carry any specific responsibilities, as such, other than those associated with maintaining the property that goes along with the title. Nobles used to sit in the House of Lords and carry out political duties, but only a small fraction ever did so prior to the changes in how Lords was structured. Certainly there is social pressure to do certain things, such as serve on committees for charitable organizations, etc, but that is not a requirement of holding a title. Some titled nobles have been known to go on permanent vacations and to do absolutely nothing!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sylvia

You could do no better than track down

'Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom'
14 volumes published between 1910-59, revised by Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden.

An invaluable and much respected resource with exhaustive footnotes and further references; family members are dealt with in chronological order, making it a good starting point for beginners.

Also has very detailed appendices dealing with issues such as dormancy, abeyance, precedence and so forth.

If you are in the UK you will find it in any public library of reasonable size, but it is such a well-known resource I am sure you would be able to access it in USA university libraries.

An interesting sideline to your question is that when Henry VIII made Anne Boleyn Marquess of Pembroke people knew he he meant business. Anne is often referred to as the Marchioness of Pembroke, which is incorrect; a marchioness is the wife of a marquess, whereas Anne was created Marquess of Pembroke in her own right, which was unusual.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I found this so gratifying, my curiosity concerning the Tudors in the 1500s was certainly quenched'