Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Difference Between His Grace and M’lord - The Peerage

Almost every historical romance set in England features at least one member of nobility. This is someone who has a title in front of their name and usually a mansion in Yorkshire (or some other shire) and, of course, several dozen servants. These titled nobility are every London debutantes ideal for a prospective marriage partner.

But what exactly are dukes, earls, marquesses, viscounts, barons, and baronets? And if your heroine is planning a dinner party, who sits next to whom?

To find out let’s don our Regency gowns and bonnets and step into a London ballroom. See the candelabras and hear the orchestra playing a lively reel? Allow me, the Duchess of Stratfordshire (a girl can dream, can’t she?) to introduce you to several of our distinguished guests.
First on the list, my husband, the Duke of Stratfordshire, the highest ranking gentleman in the room. I did quite well for myself didn’t I, seeing as there are only twenty seven dukes in existence at any given time? As you’ve probably guessed, the duke’s wife is called a duchess. Both are formally referred to as “Your Grace.” Our eldest son uses one of His Grace’s subsidiary titles, in this instance, the Viscount of Manchestershire and if he were to have an eldest son, he would be given a different subsidiary title. Alas, our other children only have “Lord” or “Lady” in front of their names, such as Lady Adriana.

Shall we move on? There are still introductions to be made. Say ‘how do you do’ to the Marquess of Flintshire. Unfortunately, he is a great leap down the peerage from the duke, but still quite eligible and worth a sizable fortune. He is formally addressed as Lord Flintshire and when he weds, his wife will become a marchioness, known as Lady Flintshire. Their children’s titles will be the same as a duke’s children.

Ah, there is the Earl of Cummings. Earls are the bread and butter of the peerage, numbering in the hundreds. The earl’s wife is called a countess and addressed as Lady Cummings. Their elder son uses a subsidiary title and their younger sons are addressed as merely “Honorable” Their daughters are addressed as “Lady” before their given names, for example the charming Lady Annabelle who just waved to me from across the room.
Let’s continue on and meet the Viscount of Summershire. A relatively new title, sometimes awarded for success in politics. The viscount’s wife is a viscountess and addressed as “Lady Summershire.” Their eldest son uses a subsidiary title and the rest of their children are merely “Honorables.”

Last, but not least, is the Baron of Huntington. Although he is the lowest ranking peer, he is still quite charming I can assure you. He’s always referred to and addressed as “Lord” and his wife is a baroness. All children are simply “Honorables.” There are no subsidiary titles, since no lower rank exists.
You really want to meet a mere “sir”? Very well, here is Sir Anthony Lansdowne. He is only a baronet, a hereditary title. He is addressed as Sir Anthony, never Sir Lansdowne. His wife is Lady Lansdowne and their children have no titles. See young Mr. Lansdowne partnering Lady Annabelle. They make a charming couple, do they not?

There you have it. That’s the aristocracy for you. Dukes, earls, marquesses, viscounts, barons, and baronets. I hope you’ve enjoyed our ball.

And now, I fear I must away. I have to make sure our butler has everything under control for the dinner later this evening. Au revoir!

-Amanda (aka Duchess of Stratfordshire, or you can call me "Your Grace")
Here I am with Lady Annabelle, who although terrible shy, agreed to pose for this photo. Isn't my gown lovely?


Laura Elizabeth said...

Your Grace, what a charming way of introducing and explaining the different ranks of nobility. Thank you :D

Amanda said...

Thank you very much, milady. Glad you found it helpful! :)