British Titles of Nobility

An Introduction and Primer to the Peerage


News:  October 2006:  I have not updated this website since 1998.  Unfortunately I have not the time nor energy to make changes or additions.  I am forced to let it stand as-is.  Pretend it's a book (you know, those static things made of paper that contain errors).  However, I am adding a FAQ, right here for simplicity's sake:

1.  Prince Philip's style exists because. . . .
Yes, thank you, truly I know more than I ever wanted to know about Prince Philip and his titles and styles since birth.  I receive email on this subject frequently.  Very frequently.  But I'm not able to update the site;  see above.  I really do appreciate the email I've received on the subject though because 90% of them cited a reliable source, and so I learned something!

2.  "The" is a contraction of "The Most Noble," etc. and should never be used except for peers.
My research indicates that (like most rules about titles usage) this is a rule that evolved over time and was codified in the 20th century.  I quoted Black's Forms from 1932 verbatim on this site.  I didn't make it up.  Since then I have acquired earlier sources, including one from 1834 and another from 1818, that show usage of "The" contrary to the above-stated rule.  This site is aimed primarily at 18th and early 19th century usage.  It does not purport to be the definitive source for current usage.

3.  Can you explain to me [something explained in excrutiating detail on my site]?
Well, I've already expended a great deal of time and energy explaining it once, in excrutiating detail, and published completely freely for your benefit.  Please do me the courtesy of reading the site before sending me questions.  I know it's wordy.  (Do you think my explanation via email will be less wordy?)  It is, however, organized logically and it is comprehensive.  Your question is probably answered there.  If you have read what I've written on the site, and it doesn't make sense to you, or there's a nuance you'd like to discuss or some further esoteric research you're pursuing, by all means do write.  I do enjoy exchanging email with people interested in the subject!

4.  But I'm an author, and I have a deadline, and I need a quick answer!
Sorry, I'm not able to meet your deadlines.  This site is a resource.  Use it for research as you would any other published resource.  Perhaps the most entertaining email exchange I've ever had regarding this site was with a writer (working on an article with a deadline) whose initial request implied that he had reviewed the site and wanted to consult me about further details.  I said I'd be delighted to help, and he responded with a list of questions that read almost like a table of contents for the site.  When I patiently suggested that, since I had taken the time and trouble to answer his questions already on the site, he might take the time and trouble to read them instead of expecting me to re-write them instantly for his benefit, he wrote back and called me a crazy woman.  I don't deny that I'm a crazy woman, but at least I know my own limits, and remain singularly unimpressed with ad homina arguments.

5.  But I'm an author, and I have a good question.  Do you hate authors?
On the contrary, I love authors.  I also love pedants and nit-pickers.  (Just don't expect me to update the site!)  Please do write if you have a question that's not covered on the site or that you don't understand from the explanation on the site.  Or if you want to discuss something else altogether!

6.  I wrote to you three years ago and never got a response.
I apologize.  I have received over 2000 emails about this website over the years and I always have the best intentions of replying to every single one immediately.  Unfortunately, I am not able to respond to every question.  Many of them fall into the categories described above, but don't assume that because I didn't write back, I deemed your questions unworthy.  I have received many, many interesting questions that I've never had time to respond to.  And if it makes you feel any better, please know that I still have them ALL;  I do not throw them away, whether answered or not, and I always intend to go back someday and answer all 2000 of them. 

7.  Okay, I've read your site, and I am working on plotting a novel and I want the hero to inherit a peerage through his mother/despite his illegitimacy/even though he has an older brother/from his maternal uncle/through his wife.  How can I make that happen?
Sorry, you can't.  There are a few unusual and minor exceptions about female inheritance discussed on the site.

8.  Do you read manuscripts?
I will consider reading manuscripts, but only if they have been copy-edited.  I'm very sorry, I've tried reading unedited manuscripts before and it's just too distracting.  However, if you are reasonably certain that your manuscript is relatively free of grammatical and stylistic mayhem, I am willing to read manuscripts not only for titles usage but also for anachronisms, plausibility, plot problems, pacing, voice, etc.  Of course, I don't do this for free. 

9.  Why are you so grumpy?
I'm not really grumpy;  I'm tired.  Don't take it personally.  Check out my home page for more info.

10.  Can you tell me where I can buy a noble title?
Sorry, you can't.  It is always fraud, period. 

The following remains unchanged since 1998:

You are visitor # since 1st December 2000,
when the counter was reset.
This website not updated since 1998.
I am still trying to find the time!

Reading Georgian and Regency romances is a great deal of fun (especially those written by Georgette Heyer), but in these novels one encounters a complex set of social rules governing peerages (noble titles) in Great Britain -- usually unexplained. It can be a bit like reading a French or Latin phrase in a book which no one has bothered to translate for us plebians who don't speak the language! Although nearly everyone has heard the terms "baron" and "earl" and "duke," and has some vague notion that dukes are highly exalted and an earl sounds better than a baron, most people (outside Britain, anyway) know very little more on the subject. While one can read any of Georgette Heyer's Regencies without knowing much more, understanding the underlying framework can add greatly to one's enjoyment of not only Heyer's novels, but other English literature like Austen, the Brontës, Burney, Trollope, James, Doyle, Hardy, Thackeray, Eliot, Dickens, and of course, Sayers. This set of web pages attempts to explain the British peerage in coherent English for both the uninitiated and the Anglophile.

My purpose in creating these pages was to provide an authoritative reference work about the peerage on the Web (with an emphasis on Regency-era--and earlier--nobility). To that end I have included a bibliography and copious footnotes. One goal is to provide a citation for every fact asserted; otherwise, how would you know that what is presented here is correct? I have discovered, in the process of finding a source to back up every assertion, that my understanding (or perhaps just my memory) was sometimes wrong, and have amended the text accordingly. I welcome questions, suggestions, additions and especially corrections. If you dispute a fact from these pages, please contact me, and if you can, provide a contradicting source. These pages are a work in progress and I expect them to change in the future, although what I present today is as accurate as I can make it.

The origin of much of the text of these pages is the exchange of e-mail on the Georgette Heyer Mailing List, so some of the examples used are Heyer's characters. In many places I have borrowed and paraphrased extensively from sources, but in every case I have cited to the work in question, and used quotation marks where appropriate. The footnotes do not precisely follow an academic style appropriate to papers or books, but a modified one I think is more appropriate to web publishing: specifically, all footnote references are to book titles, with pages cited and a link to the book's entry in the bibliography, or, if the citation is to a website, a link to it.

Contributors to these pages include Arlene Sindelar, John Hopfner, and Leila Dooley, all of the Georgette Heyer Mailing List. Many thanks to them and to other members of the list whose questions started the snowball effect which resulted in these pages. Special thanks to Eileen Kendall for her patience both with me and with maintaining the list!

Laura A. Wallace
12 June 2004

Table of Contents

Links to other Sites


The British Monarchy: The Official Website. London: COI Publications, 1997.

Burke, Sir Bernard. A Genealogical History of the Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire. London: Harrison, 1883.

Camelot International Website: The Peerage. 1996.

Crystal, David, ed. Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia: The Online Edition at Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Cokayne, George E.  The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct, or Dormant.   London: St. Catherine Press, Ltd., 1910-59.

Cook, Chris and John Stevenson. British Historical Facts 1760-1830. London: MacMillan, 1980.

Debrett, John.  The Peerage of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland. 8th ed. London:  F. C. Rivington, et al., 1812.

The English Peerage, or, a View of the Ancient and Present State of the English Nobility. London:

House of Lords Web Pages. London: The Stationary Office, 1997.

Kroenenberger, Louis. Marlborough's Duchess: A Study in Worldliness. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958.

Leveson Gower, Sir George, and Iris Palmer, Eds.  Hary-O: The Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish 1796-1809.  London:  John Murray, 1940.

Mavor, Elizabeth. The Virgin Mistress: A Study in Survival. New York: Doubleday, 1964.

Mists of Antiquity Essays. Baronage Press.

Montague-Smith, Patrick. Debrett's Correct Form, rev. ed. London: Headline Book Publishing, 1992.

Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh. Blenheim Revisited: The Spencer-Churchills and their Palace. New York: Beaufort Books, 1985.

Murray, Venetia. Castle Howard: The Life and Times of a Stately Home. London: Viking, 1994.

Pearson, John. The Serpent and the Stag: The Saga of England's Powerful and Glamourous Cavendish Family from the Age of Henry the Eighth to the Present. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983.

Peerage Database. Originally compiled by John Bloore, 1995. Enlarged, enhanced, and corrected by Laura Wallace, 1995-98.

The Present Peerage of the United Kingdom for the Year 1818, with the Arms of the Peers. To which are Prefixed, the Established Order of Precedency, and an English Translation of the Mottoes. Printed for William Stockdale, No. 181 Piccadilly. Printed by J. Brettell, Rupert Street, Haymarket, London, 1818.

Tillyard, Stella. Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832. New York: Noonday Press, 1994.

Titles and Forms of Address:  A Guide to Their Correct Use. London:   A. & C. Black Ltd., Third Edition, 1932.

Valentine, Alan. The British Establishment 1760-1784: An Eighteenth-Century Biographical Dictionary. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

Winchester, Simon. Their Noble Lordships: Class and Power in Modern Britain. New York: Random House, 1982.