British Titles: A Brief and Incomplete Guide

By Linda McLaughlin

British titles by rank:

Duke is the highest level of the aristocracy, right under the royal dukes and the monarchy. His wife is known as duchess. Their children have the courtesy title of Lord or Lady before their first names, i.e. Lord John and Lady Anne, with the prefix “Right Honorable” added afterwards. Dukes are sometimes addressed as Your Grace or My Lord Duke, but never simply my Lord.

Marquess/Marquis comes next and is pronounced just as it looks, unlike the French Marquis, which is pronounced like a theatre marquee. His wife is a marchioness. Their children are also referred to as Lord or Lady followed by the first name. He is considered “Most Honorable”.

Things get a bit more complicated when we get to Earl. His wife is called a countess. His daughters are still given the courtesy title of lady, but his sons do not. They are commoners but with the word “honorable” listed first, as in the Honorable John Howard, abbreviated Hon.

Viscount is next, wife viscountess, children are honorable. The title was introduced in 1440 by Henry VI.

Baron is the lowest rank of the aristocracy and the oldest. His wife is a baroness, his children are honorable.

These four levels of the aristocracy are addressed as Lord or Lady Surname. A son or daughter of a peer is addressed as Lord or Lady FirstName Surname. Lord Peter Wimsey in the famous mystery series is a younger son, so should never be called Lord Wimsey. If he were a lord, he would be introduced as Peter, Lord Wimsey. The eldest son of a peer is often bears his father’s secondary title. For instance, an earl might also hold title to a viscountcy or barony, in which case his eldest son would be styled Lord followed by the name of that secondary title. Earls, viscounts and barons are referred to as “Right Honorable”.

Baronet is also hereditary, but is similar to a knighthood in that the baronet is called Sir followed by his first name. His wife is called Lady Surname. This title was created in 1612 by James I.

A knighthood is bestowed by the monarch and is a lifetime honor, but cannot be passed to heirs. The knight’s wife is styled Lady Surname. The knight is styled Sir, as in Sir Winston Churchill. (His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a younger son and thus unable to pass any honorifics to his son.)

You can find explanations of British titles and Order of Precedence online at:

http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/resources/titles-and-orders-of-precedence/

http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/honrific.html

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