Peerage Titles and Address

copyright 1997 by Historical Novelists Center


Less and less does the old aristocratic structure of Europe exist, and to Americans it is especially foreign. This page will give titles according to rank, with forms of address.

If you want to handle these smoothly, read some works in courtly settings from back when these were everyday. Shakespeare is excellent, and the society novels of the 19th century will do nicely.

PLEASE BE CAREFUL OF ONE THING: while the charts may say "Excellency" after baron, your characters never, ever say, "Excellency, will you come this way?" They say, "YOUR Excellency, will you come this way?" This didn't used to have to be pointed out, but we are seeing novels published which make the writer, but even more so the editors, look dreadfully ignorant. Many etiquette books have left off the necessary pronoun in order to save constantly repeating that the title should be used with "Your" when addressing the bearer, and preceded by "His" or "Her" when a third-person reference, as in "Her Grace asked that we attend." or "We are waiting for His Majesty."

Also, do remember that the modern peerage is the outcome of evolution. In the Carlovingian age, there were knights, the king (later the emperor), some hereditary princes (lesser monarchs) and besides that nonhereditary counts. The duke developed as a war leader, dux bellorum. Marquis or marquess is from the Germanic markgraf, whose ward was a march or mark. Viscounts and baronets, as their diminuating titles suggest, came rather late, and probably should be avoided in the Middle Ages without further research.

Late Medieval Precedence

John Russell was born by 1360, and as an old man wrote a poetical essay on noble service which included all the degrees the usher or marshal had to know. What he describes can probably be considered representative of England at least from 1300 to 1500. As usual, England is a weird place compared to the rest of Europe, where we doubt the commoner mayor of any town would get seated amidst the nobility.

"An usher or marshal, without fail, must know all the estates of the Church, and the excellent estate of a king with his honourable blood. This is a notable nurture, cunning, curious and commendable.

"The estate of the Pope has no peer, an emperor is next him everywhere and a King is correspondent, a high cardinal next in dignity, then a King's son (ye call him prince), an archbishop his equal; a duke of the blood royal; a bishop, marquis and earl coequal; a viscount, legate, baron, suffragan and mitred abbot; a baron of the exchequer, the three chief justices and the Mayor of London; a cathedral prior, unmitred, and knight bachelor; a prior, dean, archdeacon, knight and body esquire; the Master of the Rolls (as I reckon aright), and puisne judge; clerk of the crown and the exchequer, and you may pleasantly prefer the Mayor of Calais.

"A provincial [the head of a monastic order for a province], doctor of divinity and prothonotary [ecclesiastical chief clerk] may dine together; and you may place the pope's legate or collector with a doctor of both laws. An ex-mayor of London ranks with a serjeant-at-law, next a Mastery of Chancery, and then a worshipful preacher of pardons, masters of arts, and religious orders, parsons and vicars, and parish priest with a cure, the bailiffs of a city, a yeoman of the crown, and serjeant-of-arms with his mace, with him a herald, the King's herald in the first place, worshipful merchants and rich artificers, gentlemen well-nurtured and of good manners, together with gentlewomen and lords' foster-mothers -- all these may eat with squires.

"Lo, son, I have now told you, after my simple wit, the rank of every estate according to his degree, and now I will show you how they should be grouped at table in respect of their dignity, and how they should be served.

"The pope, an emperor, king, cardinal, prince . . . archbishop in his pall -- all these for their dignity ought not to dine in the hall.

"A bishop, viscount, marquis, goodly earl may sit at two messes if they be agreeable thereunto.

"The Mayor of London, a baron, a mitred abbot, the three chief justices, the Speaker of Parliament -- all these estates are great and honourable, and they may sit together in chamber or hall, two or three at a mess, if it so please them; but in your office you must try to please every man.

"The other estates, three or four to a mess, equal to a knight's, are: unmitred abbot or prior, dean, archeacon, Master of the rolls, all the under judges and barons of the king's exchequer, a provincial, a doctor of divinity or of both laws, a prothonotary, or the pope's collector, if he be there, and the Mayor of the Staple.

"Other ranks you may set four to a mess, of persons equal to a squire in dignity, serjeants-at-law and ex-mayors of London, the masters of Chancery, all preachers, residencers, and parsons, apprentices of the law, merchants and franklins -- these may sit properly at a squire's table.

"Each estate shall sit at meat by itself, not seeing the others, at meal-time or in the field or in the town; and each must sit alone in the chamber or in the pavilion.

"The Bishop of Canterbury shall be served apart from the Archbishop of York, and the metropolitan shall be served alone. The bishop of York must not be served in the presence of the Primate of England.

"Now, son, from divers causes, as equally from ignorance, a marshal is often puzzled how to rank lords of royal blood who are poor, and others not of royal blood who are rich, also ladies of royal blood wedded to knights, and poor ladies marrying those of royal blood. The lady of royal blood shall keep her rank, the lady of low blood and degree shall take her husband's rank. Wealth is not so worthy of reverence as royal blood, wherefore this prevails in chamber and hall, for some day blood royal might attain to the kingship.

"If the parents of a pope or cardinal be still alive, they must in no wise presume to be equal to their son, either sitting or standing. The estate of their son will not allow them either to sit or stand by him -- nor should they desire it; wherefore they should have a separate chamber assigned to them.

"A marshal must look to the birth of each estate, and arrange officers such a chancellor, steward, chamberlain, treasurer, according to their degree.

"He must honour foreign visitors, and strangers to this land, even when they are resident here. A well-trained marshal should think beforehand how to place strangers at the table, for if they show gentle cheer and good manners, he thereby doth honour his lord and bring praise to himself.

"If the king send any messenger to your lord, if he be a knight, squire, yeoman of the crown, groom, page or child, receive him honourably as a baron, knight, squire, yeoman or groom,and so forth, from the highest degree to the lowest, for a king's groom may dine with a knight or a marshal. [In short, coming as a messenger from the king adds a step of rank to someone's treatment.]

"A commendable marshal must also understand the rank of all the worshipful officers of the commonalty of this land, of shires, cities and boroughs -- such must be placed in due order, according to their rank.

"The estate of a knight of [good] blood and wealth is not the same as that of a simple and poor knight. Also, the Mayor of Queenborough is not of like dignity with the Mayor of London -- nothing like of degree; and they must on no account sit at the same table.

"The Abbot of Westminster is the highest in the land, and the Abbot of Tintern the poorest; both are abbots, yet Tintern shall neither sit nor stand with Westminster. Also, the Prior of Dudley may in no wise sit with the Prior of Canterbury. And remember, as a general rule, that a prior who is a prelate of a cathedral church, shall sit above any abbot or prior of his own diocese, in church, chapel, chamber or hall.

"Reverend doctors of twelve years' standing shall sit above those of nine years', although the latter may spend more largely of fine red gold. Likewise, the younger aldermen shall sit or stand below their elders, and so in every craft, the master first, and then the ex-warden.

"All these points, with many more, belong to the duty of a marshal; and so before every feast think what estates shall sit in the hall, and reason with yourself before your lord shall call upon you. If you are in any doubt, go either to your lord or to the chief officer, and then shall you do no wrong or prejudice to any state; but set all according to their birth, riches or dignity."

The Ascent of Dukes

Dukes and counts were invented by Constantine I. In separating civil and military command of the provincial government, he created the comes (later, count) as the civil ruler, superior to the military commander called the dux.

The northern barbarians like Goths and Franks, when they got around to organizing kingdoms, adopted the Roman terms. However, among them warriors ruled, so dukes outranked counts, and so it has been since, even after counts became feudal and therefore warrior lords. Charlemagne did his best to let dukes die out, retaining only counts as his administrative officers. His puny successors not only created dukes, but the dukes became independent rulers. This never happened in Britain.

In the Frankish kingdoms, people called comes in Latin were Grafs, and ruled districts called Grafen. On the marches, as borderlands were called, the marcher lords, marchiones in what would become France and Markgrafs in Germany, had a much rougher job than interior Grafs so they were accorded higher status. These marquesses were still lesser than the dukes, giving dukes more ranks to lord it over.

The Depression of Barons

Originally, a baron meant what we would now call a vassal, any vassal. You were the baron of your liege if you held land feudally. In Europe were greater barons, who were barons directly of the king, and lesser barons who held their land from the greater barons.

William I brought the title to England, where previously there had been only the king, the earls (lords), and thanes (warriors of good blood). At that time, rankings became

That was the whole nobility. Earls had their rights often by being remnants of Saxon kingdoms, while the barons were the vassals of the king.

The first British duke was created in 1337, when Edward II made the Black Prince duke of Cornwall. That made the nobility

In 1385 Richard II created Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford, marquis of Dublin. The next marquis, created 1397, refused to use the title because he felt an innovation carried no weight. It went unused until Henry VI revived it in 1442, but it was rare until Edward VI created the marquisate of Winchester in 1551, the oldest surviving marquisate. So in the Renaissance, it had become

Viscounts entered the list in

In 1611, barons finally got somebody to walk in front of, when the honor of a baronetcy was invented. Titles have been stable since then, leaving Britain with

In Germany, the barons of the Frankish empire underwent a division. Part managed to earn titles like prince and count, while the others sank in dignity to the lowest rank of nobility.

Titles of the Last Couple of Centuries

Wives: Wives do not actually share their husband's official titles. For example, the wife of a Duke of Devonshire is by courtesy referred to as the Duchess of Devonshire, or Lady Devonshire, but she is not addressed as "Your Grace," only as "My lady," often abbreviated "M'lady" as madame becomes ma'm. She can be Lady Elizabeth only if she was so before marriage. Wives and widows have the same precedence as their husbands.

Children: The eldest son of a British peer will bear, only as a courtesy, the next highest title in the usual collection a family has. However, he, and all the other children, are commoners in their father's life, so much so that they can be MPs in the House of Commons. Unmarried women have the same rank as their eldest brother. Only the eldest son, or lacking any son, the eldest daughter, inherits all the titles. In France and Italy, the heir accedes to the highest title, with the rest being passed on in birth order precedence, if there is more than one. Often all children are accorded courtesy titles, as are their descendents, which is why some places in Europe are so thick with counts and marquises.

British order of precedence is, in modern times 1) the sovereign, 2) the heir presumptive, 3) younger sons of the sovereign, 4) grandsons of the sovereign, 4) brothers of the sovereign, 5) uncles of the sovereign, 6) nephews of the sovereign, 7) Archbishop of Canterbury, 8) Lord High Chancellor, 9) Archbishop of York, 10) Prime Minister, 11) Lord President of the Council, 12) Speaker of the House of Commons, 13) Lord Privy Seal, 14) high commissioners and ambassadors, 15) state officers, dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and so on. This will do nicely for the 1800s and 1900s, probably even the 1700s.

EMPEROR/EMPRESS; Your/His/Her Majesty; French, Imperator/Imperatrice; German, Kaiser/Kaiserin; Italian, Caesar.

KING/QUEEN, Your/His/Her Majesty; Sp., el rey/la reina; Fr., le roi/la reine; G., koenig/koenigin; It., il re/la regina. An entire book, *How the King Became His Majesty* has been published on the development of titles. Henry IV was called "His Grace." Edward IV became "His Most High and Mighty Prince." The first Tudor monarch, Henry VII, was the first to be called "His Highness," while Henry VIII was the first "His Majesty" as have been all sovereigns since. This can be further gussied up, as the King of Spain was "His Most Catholic Majesty" or James Stuart, "His Sacred Majesty of England."

SULTAN/SULTANA is an eastern title for a ruler like a king, and ranks with them.

SHOGUN, the Japanese military ruler up until 1866, was ranked as a king. Early explorers, impressed by the powers of the daimyo, often called them kings and the shogun an emperor, though later that term was reserved to the figurehead traditional ruler.

CROWN PRINCE/CROWN PRINCESS, Your/His/Her Royal Highness; Sp., as other prince; Fr., dauphin/dauphine (sometimes Anglicized as dauphinesse); G., kron prinze/kron prinzessin; It. none found. The eldest son of the British monarch has been known as the Prince of Wales, even without formal investiture, since 13__. The eldest daughter is the Princess Royal.

PRINCE/PRINCESS, Your/His/Her Royal Highness; Fr., prince/princesse, except the crown prince and his wife who are the dauphin and dauphine; G., prinze/prinzessin; It., principe/principessa. "Royal Highness" is used for any member of the royal family, even after they may have been created a royal duke; also the children of the sons of the sovereign. The Spanish called their own royal children infante/infanta, but a foreign or sovereign prince was principe, the feminine being princes (single S).

ARCHDUKE/ARCHDUCHESS, not a British title. Used in Austria instead of royal duke, and then passed down.

GRAND DUKE/GRAND DUCHESS, not a British title, used instead of royal duke in Russia.

DUKE/DUCHESS, Your/His/Her Grace; Sp., duque/duquesa; Fr., duc/duchesse; G., herzog/herzogin; It., duca/duchessa, Venetian, doge. Note that by the 20th century "Your Grace" was considered servile, and other guests at the party will simply call him "Duke" or her "Duchess," as in, "Can you identify this, Duke?" Austria and Russia had no dukedoms.

DAIMYO of Japan ranked as dukes.

COUNT-DUKE/COUNTESS-DUCHESS, an exclusively Italian rank, so better called conteduca/conteduchessa. They are rare.

MARQUESS/COUNTESS, Your/His/Her Lordship; Sp., marques/marquesa; Fr., marquis/marquise; G., markgraf/markgrafin (sometimes Anglicized as margrave); It., marchese/marchessa.

EARL/COUNT/COUNTESS, Your/His/Her Lordship/Ladyship; also Lord/Lady (fill in the demesne); Sp., conde/condesa; Fr., comte/comtesse; G., graf/grafin; It., conte/contessa. The British did not have counts, a Carlovingian term, but rather earls, from the same source as the Scandinavian jarl.

VISCOUNT/VISCOUNTESS, Your/His/Her Lordship/Ladyship; Sp., none found; Fr., vicomte/vicomtesse; G., none found; It. visconte/viscontessa.

BARON/BARONESS, Your/His/Her Lordship/Ladyship; Sp., baron/baronesa; Fr., baron/baronne; G., baron/baronin; It., barone/baronessa. Only in England since 1066. Referred to as "right honorable lord" when very formal, when his wife is "right honorable," as when the usher at the ball pounds his staff and announces, "the right honorable lord, Willifred Fitzwalter, Baron Heathmore." The wife is called "madame" or "your ladyship."

BARONET/LADY, Sir N, Lady N; Sp., baronet; Fr., baronnet; G., Freiherr; It., baronetto. Baronetcies are hereditary knighthoods, as it were. The holder will be Sir Geoffrey Dansliegh, but his wife will be Lady Dansliegh. Baronets were invented by James I of Great Britain in 1611, whose treasury charged each baronet somewhat over a thousand pounds for the privilege.

SIEUR, a French inheritable title for a seigneury; he would be called the sieur de (place name).

SIR/DAME, are non-hereditary titles of knighthood. Their spouses are ordinary Mr. and Mrs, their children Mr. and Miss. (or Ms.) The German is ritter, the Italian cavaliere, the Spanish cabellero. A banneret, or knight banneret, had the privilege of leading his troops to battle under a banner (rectangular flag) rather than a mere pennon (long triangular flag) like an ordinary knight. If they were created out of a ordinary knight on the battlefield, they ranked just below the Knights of the Garter, but if for other reasons they stood between ordinary knights and the baronets. The last banneret was created in 1642 at the Battle of Edgehill.

Domain Names

An Emperor or Empress rules an empire. By definition, an empire subsumes kingdoms and includes vassal kings.

A King or Queen rules a kingdom. Small-Q queens are only consorts.

A prince or princess rules a principality.

A duke or duchess rules a dukedom.

A marquess or marchioness rules a marquisate. Originally the marquisate was a march, whence the term "marcher lords," the ones holding the border areas called marches.

A count or countess rules a county. An earl rules an earldom.

A baron rules a barony.

A sieur rules a seigneury.

Knights, if landed, hold manors. A manor can almost be defined as a feudal holding that, at least at one time, was sufficient to suppot one knight and his family.

The others were not feudal lords. Their titles were honours, but not rulership.


Roman Catholic Titles of Rank

POPE, Your/His Holiness; It., Il Papa.

CARDINAL, Your/His Eminence

ARCHBISHOP, Your/His Grace

BISHOP, Bishop, Monsignor or Your Excellence; in England, My Lord

PRIEST, Father or Your Reverence

For the curious, this information is compiled from the Encyclopedia Americana and Emily Post.

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