I thought today that, for a change, I would do something useful. Indeed, I went so far as to decide that this blog must be both fun and accurate.
(I even tried to contract those two words into one for this purpose: Fun + accurate = fu…Yes, yes, stopping now.)
Because, you see, there is this small matter which apparently requires clarification. For those who find it tricky.
And it is, as the bold letters at the top of this bijou blogette would suggest, to do with the use of titles. Which as I say appear to cause untold confusion in some quarters.
So I thought I’d do my best to lay it out clearly. For my friends… (Yes, that’s right, I do have friends.) …Who occasionally write about Englishy things, but get tripped up by this.
So to begin: There are five ranks of nobility–Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, Baron–all of whom, prior to 1999, sat in the House of Lords. Below them come the ranks of Baronet and Knight.
(Not to worry. There’s no test at the end.)
At the top of the heap are Dukes and Duchesses.
A duke’s title is derived from a county or a geographical location. Also, dukes very often are of royal blood–legitimate or illegitimate doesn’t seem to matter much historically. Or, it might be a title given by the monarch to a great military leader, like Marlborough or Wellington.
(For those who write Regency novels, can I just say, the royal blood thing and/or the military hero bit means that there are and have always been very few Dukes about…so a lesser title may be more credible for your character.)
This duke then is referred to by his title, not his given name, not his surname.
So we have the Duke of Wellington, for example. His equals will call him Wellington. His wife will be called the Duchess of Wellington. They will be addressed by inferiors or people who don’t know them as Your Grace.
His name (given name + family surname) is Arthur Wellesley–but he is never known as Lord Arthur. Nor as Lord Arthur Wellesley, nor Lord Arthur Wellington. Never. Not any of those.
The eldest son and heir of a duke will often use one of his father’s lesser titles–this is known as a courtesy title. The other children of a duke will be known as Lord Peter Wellesley or Lady Mary Wellesley–i.e. Lord/Lady + given name + family surname (not the title). (Think of Dorothy L. Sayers’ character, Lord Peter Wimsey, son of the Duke of Denver, for example.) They are never known by just title + surname. It’s therefore wrong to address Lord Peter Wimsey as Lord Wimsey–though in conversation one would refer to him as Lord Peter.
Good so far?
Now, if and when said daughter marries, she will still have her title attached to her name, regardless of whether she marries a peer or not.
Thus, even if Lady Madeira Snotsworthy marries plain Mr. Smith, she will still be known as Lady Madeira Smith. And in speech, she will always be referred to (except by her bratty sisters and cousins) as Lady Madeira. That is to say it’s still always title + given name + (married) surname. What she won’t be is Lady Smith.
Everyone got that?
Now onto the titles of Marquis (or Marquess) and Marchioness and Earl and Countess.
Like a duke, the title of Marquis or Earl usually is associated with a place or a county, though in some cases, the surname will be the title.
He is referred to as the Marquis of Petersfield and his wife is the Marchioness of Petersfield. Or we have the Earl of Wallop or the Earl Wallop; his wife is the Countess of Wallop or the Countess Wallop. In address, both men would be called Lord + title. For example, Lord Wallop. And in the case of the Countess, unless she was born with a title of her own, she is called Lady Wallop.
The heir of a Marquis or Earl again uses a courtesy title. The other children of a Marquis also carry the Lord and Lady bit, just like the children of the Duke. And like them, carry their titles forward into marriage. The daughter of an Earl is Lady Joyful Handsome. His son is the Honourable Jolly Handsome until he reaches his majority, then he has that courtesy title.
Now we have Viscounts and Viscountesses. The Viscount Turniptoes will generally be referred to as Lord Turniptoes, and his wife the Viscountess Turniptoes as… yes, you’ve guessed it, Lady Turniptoes. Barons and Baronesses are always referred to as Lord or Lady X.
When it is necessary to give the given name of a peer, one does so before the title. Thus, Gerald, Duke of Denver; Horatio, Lord Nelson and never Lord Horatio Nelson.
Baronets and Knights are always referred to formally as Sir + given name + surname, and in speech or in writing as Sir + given name; never Sir + surname. Their wives are called Lady + surname. Thus, we have Sir David and Lady Hornswoggle. (She is never Lady Letme Hornswoggle, or Lady Letme, unless she is the daughter of a duke, marquis or earl and was born with that title.)
And these, ladies and gentlemen, mums and dads, are the basic rules of how it works. Simple, you see?
(A word about ‘of”. It’s always the Duke of X and the Marquis of Y. It’s sometimes the Earl of Z, sometimes just the Earl Z, but the two aren’t interchangeable . When the title was first conferred it will have been created as one or the other. Lower ranks of nobility aren’t entitled to ‘of’ – it’s the Viscount A and Baron B.)
And now for a little pop quiz to make sure you’ve got it all right.
What? Yes, I did say there wouldn’t be a test at the end.
So…When Lady Amelia Bucktooth marries Sir George Knockknees, she will be known as:
- (a) The mother of ugly children;
- (b) A poor honey with a harridan for a mother-in-law;
- (c) Lady Amelia Knockknees;
- (d) Lucky to find anyone who would have her.
When Miss Ermintrude Squynt marries Viscount Pigeonchest (known as Pooter to his friends), she will be known as:
- (a) Bad money after good;
- (b) Blind;
- (c) My unfortunate brother Algy;
- (d) Lady Pigeonchest or the Viscountess Pigeonchest;
- (e) Lady Ermintrude Pooter.
When the Earl of Peckham marries Miss Katharine Bosomworth, she will be known as:
- (a) A rolypoly pudding made properly with breadcrumbs;
- (b) No better than she should be;
- (c) Lady Peckham or the Countess of Peckham;
- (d) Not Lady Katharine Peckham. She does not carry a title in her own right.
When the scheming mama of Miss Fanny Whackham manages to marry her off to the elderly, goitrous Sir Slavering Droole, Bart., Fanny will be:
- (a) Relieved to get away from her scheming mama;
- (b) Faintly nauseated by her husband, but hopeful that he might peg out before long;
- (c) Lady Droole – which, let’s face it, has to be better than going through life with a silly name like Fanny Whackham;
- (d) Not Lady Fanny Droole. And not just because that would be…oh, don’t go there.
Sir Slavering Droole himself is, of course, known as:
- (a) Puffle to his chums at the Club (but only because they shared a tuck-box at Eton);
- (b) A slubberdegullion and a knave;
- (c) Sir Slavering to his wider acquaintance;
- (d) Not Sir Droole. Not under any circumstances.
When the Duke and Duchess of Shropwell (family surname, Egmont) have a daughter, she is called:
- (a) Lady Prudence Shropwell;
- (b) Lady Shropwell;
- (c) An odious screaming brat;
- (d) Lady Prudence Egmont. (And if you chose either a or b, I get all your cakey for the next six months. So ha ha.)
There now. See how simple and straightforward it is, once you get the knack of it? Excellent. (Oooh, and look at how much cakey I shall be having for the next six months…)