Courtesy Titles

A peer's wife and children are granted the use of certain titles, depending upon the rank of the peer.  Here is an extremely oversimplified chart, so please read the explanations which follow carefully.

Peerage Type Wife Eldest Son* Younger Son Daughter
Duke Duchess Marquess Lord <Firstname>  <Surname> Lady <Firstname>  <Surname>
Marquess Lady <Husband'sTitle> Earl Lord <Firstname>  <Surname> Lady <Firstname>  <Surname>
Earl Lady <Husband'sTitle> Viscount The Honourable <Firstname> <Surname> Lady <Firstname>  <Surname>
Viscount Lady <Husband'sTitle> The Honourable <Firstname> <Surname> The Honourable <Firstname> <Surname> The Honourable <Firstname> <Surname>
Baron Lady <Husband'sTitle> The Honourable <Firstname> <Surname> The Honourable <Firstname> <Surname> The Honourable <Firstname> <Surname>

* Eldest sons (heirs) of earls, marquesses, and dukes are allowed to adopt their father's next-highest title as a courtesy, which they use in every way as if it were a "real" peerage.(47)

So, for example, the Duke of Avon's heir is known as the Marquess of Vidal, which is the duke's highest subordinate title. His subordinate titles are distributed by courtesy only to his direct heirs, that is, his eldest son, and his eldest son's eldest son, etc. The Duke of Devonshire's eldest son bears by courtesy the title the Marquess of Hartington, and Lord Hartington's eldest son (b. 1969) is the Earl of Burlington.(48) If Lord Hartington were to predecease his father, then Lord Burlington would become the Marquess of Hartington, and his son, if he were to have one, would be born as Earl of Burlington.

* It was a 17th century custom to throw in a number of new lesser titles to "fill in" when creating a new higher title, so the older a dukedom or an earldom, the more likely the second title is to be a much lower one, skipping steps, if you will: the eldest sons of the Dukes of Norfolk, Grafton, St. Albans, Richmond, Buccleuch, Newcastle, and Northumberland are earls, the Dukes of Dorset's and Manchester's are viscounts, and the Duke of Somerset's only a Lord.(49)  But since Dorset's and Machester's eldest sons are viscounts, their eldest sons cannot take a barony as a courtesy title.  If there is no courtesy title available, the eldest son of a duke, marquess, or earl takes the family name as a courtesy title.(49a)  

Several marquesses have the same title as marquess and earl, e.g., the Marquess and Earl of Hertford and the Marquess and Earl of Salisbury.  In these cases, the heir skips the matching peerage, and takes the next highest title as a courtesy title, to distinguish him from his father.  The heir of the Marquess and Earl of Salisbury is thus Viscount Cranbourne, and the heir of the Marquess and Earl of Hertford is thus Earl of Yarmouth (whose father happens to have two earldoms at his disposal).  

The Duke of Wellington similarly holds two marquessates:  that of Wellington and that of Douro, so his heir takes the courtesy title Marquess Douro to distinguish him from his father.  [During the 1st Duke's lifetime, all of his lesser titles were also either Wellington or Douro, and the family name, Wellesley, was used as a title by his brother, the 1st Marquess Wellesley, so I'm not sure what courtesy title would have been given to the eldest son of the eldest son of the 1st Duke of Wellington.   Fortunately, the issue never came up;  and eventually the Dukes of Wellington also inherited the lesser titles of the 1st Marquess Wellesley (whose title became extinct upon his death), which include the Earl of Mornington and Viscount Wellesley, so there are currently three titles available to the direct heirs of the Duke of Wellington.]

It is important to note, however, that an heir of a peer who is not a direct descendant of that peer (i.e., his eldest son or his eldest son's eldest son) does not take any secondary title as a courtesy title.   He remains known by whatever title (if any) he derived from his own father until he accedes to the peerage.  This is a common mistake in historical romances.

For example, the 6th Duke of Devonshire never married.  Since he also had no brothers, his heir was a cousin.  The cousin was a great-grandson of the 4th Duke; before the 6th Duke died, he was plain Mr. William Cavendish.  Even though the line of succession was clear, Mr. William Cavendish was never given the courtesy title Marquess of Hartington.  Similarly, after Mr. William Cavendish succeeded and became the 7th Duke, he was in turn succeeded by his eldest son, who became the 8th Duke.  But the 8th Duke had no son, and he was succeeded by his nephew, a son of his younger brother, Lord Edward.  Before he acceded, the 8th Duke was plain Mr. Victor Cavendish.(49b)  

Children of barons and viscounts and younger sons of earls are known by their First and family Surname (not their father's title), prefixed by "The Honourable," for example, The Honourable Eugenia Wraxton.(46)  

Sons of dukes and marquesses prefix "Lord" to their First and family Surname (not their father's title), for example, Lord Lionel Ware.(51)

Sons of earls, however, only get to be called "The Honourable," not "Lord," for example, Col. The Hon. Charles Audley (who, like Lord Lionel, derives his title not from his brother, but from his late father).(52)

Daughters of earls, marquesses, and dukes similarly are known as "Lady <Firstname> <Surname>," for example, Lady Serena Carlow.(50)   Daughters take the precedence, if not the actual title, of their eldest brother.(55) (See the explanation of parcener.)

Duchesses(45)  are referred to as "The Duchess" or "Her Grace" and addressed as "Duchess" or "Your Grace."(45a)  

All other wives of peers are  "Lady <Husband'sTitle>," for example, Lady Spenborough. 

Wives of commoners who bear courtesy titles also take their ranks and titles (with a few careful exceptions outlined below) from their husbands, so they are also "Lady <Husband'sTitle>."  If she is the wife of the younger son of a duke or marquess, this means that she will be addressed, for example, as Lady Lionel Ware. Or, if her husband's courtesy title is her father-in-law's next-highest title, she will be addressed as if her husband actually enjoyed that peerage, for example, Lady Castlereagh.

The daughters of the 11th Duke of Marlborough are known as Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill and Lady Alexandra Spencer-Churchill, and his younger son is known as Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill.(53) When Lord Edward marries, his wife will take his title, but since it is merely a prefix to his name, she will be known as Lady Edward Spencer-Churchill. However, it does not work the other way; when Lady Henrietta married, her husband could not then become known as Lord Henrietta Spencer-Churchill. He is still plain Mr. Nathan Gelber; she is known as Lady Henrietta Gelber, and her son, David, is plain Mr. David Gelber.(54)

Similarly, Mr. Beaumaris, whose mother was the daughter of a duke, is a plain Mr., like his father.


The rule is (as above): younger sons of dukes and marquesses are styled "Lord <Firstname> <Surname>." But I have quoted this question in its entirety because it demonstrates a very common misunderstanding of titles which I see all the time in Regency romances.  Among other things, it shows the confusion between the surname and the title (see Territorial Titles).

Gilly's titles are: "the Most Noble Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware, Duke of Sale and Marquis of Ormesby; Earl of Sale; Baron Ware of Thame; Baron Ware of Stoven; and Baron Ware of Rufford..." So Ware is the surname, and Sale is the highest title. Notice that he is introduced with his (full) name first, followed by a comma, followed by his string of titles, greatest to least (see John Hopfner's explanation of Gilly's titles). Even if he were merely Baron Ware, he would never be introduced as "Lord Adolphus Ware." He would be "Adolphus, Baron Ware." This is a very common error -- but you can't get from "Lord Lionel Ware" to "Lord Ware." Peerages don't use first names.  The very fact that the "Lord" comes before his first name tells you that it is a courtesy title, not a peerage.

It might help to remember the most famous example (to Americans, anyway): Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

This is also true for ladies.  A peeress is never "Lady Serena Rotherham";  she is simply "Lady Rotherham," because, again, if the "Lady" title precedes the first name, that tells you that the title is a courtesy title which derives from her father's rank, not her husband's (or her own, if she is a peeress in her own right).  So before she married, Lady Rotherham was Lady Serena Carlow.  (There is an exception to this rule concerning peers' daughters who are married to the heirs of peers who also bear courtesy titles;  see the discussion below.)

No, we cannot assume that. All we can assume is that her rank before she married was lower than the rank of the wife of a duke's younger son. She could be an earl's daughter, which would allow her the "Lady <Firstname>" style, but an earl's daughter is below the wife of a duke's younger son in the Table of Precedence, so she would take the style "Lady Lionel" from her husband.  If she were the daughter of a duke, she could maintain her courtesy title by birth ("Lady <Firstname>") even after marriage with the younger son of a duke. (A detailed explanation of this follows below.)

Secondly, a person is never Lord/Lady X "in his/her own right" unless that person actually inherits the peerage. A person who is granted a courtesy title by birth -- even if that title is one of his father's lesser peerages -- does not "hold the title in his/her own right." The 1st Duke of Marlborough's eldest daughter, who did inherit the peerage (via Parliamentary and royal warrant), was Duchess of Marlborough in her own right. But before her father died, she was not Lady Henrietta "in her own right." She was Lady Henrietta by courtesy. When she married the Earl of Godolphin, she was the Countess of Godolphin by courtesy (even though she was called a "peeress" after her marriage).   And her husband, the earl, did not become Duke of Marlborough by courtesy; he remained a mere earl (much like the husband of a queen is not a king by courtesy).

When Fanny marries Hector, will she still retain the title of Lady Fanny even though Hector is just a Mr.?

Lady Spenborough was never "Lady Fanny," which is a courtesy title only bestowed upon the daughter of an earl, marquess, or duke.  Before she married Lord Spenborough, Fanny had been plain Miss Claypole, daughter of Sir William Claypole and Lady Claypole -- children of knights and baronets having no special form of address. 

As the wife of a peer, she is not known as "Lady Fanny Spenborough";   instead, she is "Lady Spenborough"-- and this would be true no matter what her parentage, because all wives of peers take their titles and ranks from their husbands.  Fanny is not even the Dowager Lady Spenborough since she is not the mother or stepmother of the new earl.(55a) So now there are two Lady Spenboroughs-- but one can assume that when one mentions "Lady Spenborough" that she is the wife of the present incumbent; if one meant Fanny, one would have to distinguish her as "Fanny, Lady Spenborough."

However, contrary to what I had written here before, Lady Spenborough would retain her title (but not her precedence) of Lady Spenborough if she marries a commoner or a lesser-ranking peer.  According to Black, "[i]f marrying into a lower rank of the peerage or with a commoner [a peeress] retains her title.  But this [is] by courtesy only, unless she is a peeress in her own right."(55b)  Thus Fanny and her husband would be introduced as Lady Spenborough and Mr. Kirkby.

Serena, on the other hand, is known as "Lady Serena Carlow" because her father was an earl. If she were to marry Hector, she would be a mere Mrs. Kirkby, but since her own title (Lady Serena) is higher that the title she would derive from her husband (Mrs.), she would get to keep her first courtesy title and thus would be known as "Lady Serena Kirkby."

But since Ivo is a peer, she will adopt the courtesy title she is allowed as his wife: Marchioness of Rotherham (her first name would not be used; see the rule above). She will be properly addressed as Lady Rotherham, and (I think) properly announced (at a party or visit) as The Marchioness of Rotheram.  But---

Unlike dukes and duchesses, lower ranks of the peerage are not spoken of as "The Marquess and Marchioness of Rotheram," but as "Lord and Lady Rotheram."  According to Black, "[t]here are a few formal occasions on which the full title would be used, but it would never occur in intimate speech.   This shibboleth is so often transgressed by novelists and others who love the peerage better than they know its ways that it may seem a little hard to believe how wrong it appears to be among the people who know."(55c)   (Of course, this raises as many questions as it answers to an ignorant American like me.)  


Married Daughters of Peers

This has been bothering me ever since it was posted (on the Heyer Mailing List) and I've been looking for a coherent answer. I agree with Rosalyn that many writers don't bother to look things up -- read one just recently where a duke was consistently referred to as "Lord X" -- but there are also many instances of wives being correctly referred to as "Lady <Firstname> <Husband'sTitle>."

The rule is that a woman who marries a peer takes her courtesy title from her husband.   Period.   However, if a peer's daughter marries anyone who is not a peer, including commoners, knights, baronets, or any sons of a peer (including his heir who bears a courtesy title), then she may, if she chooses, maintain her own rank as long as it outranks her husband's.  When her husband inherits a peerage, however, she must abandon her former title and precedence and she acquires her husband's.(77a)  

Part of the explanation for this exception can be found in the Order of Precedence, below. This contained, for me, some surprises.

Daughters of dukes outrank all ladies except duchesses, marchionesses, and royalty. Therefore, unless a duke's daughter marries an actual peer or a duke's eldest son, she would be able to maintain the courtesy title derived from her father, and be known as "Lady <Firstname> <Husband'sSurname>" or "Lady <Firstname><Husband'sTitle>" (if he is not an actual peer but has a courtesy title).

So, for example, the eldest daughter of the Duke of Devonshire in Regency times, Lady Georgiana Cavendish, married the Earl of Carlisle's eldest son, who was known by the courtesty title Viscount Morpeth.   She was known as Lady Georgiana Morpeth until her father-in-law died, at which time she became the Countess of Carlisle.(77b)   My understanding is that it would not have been improper, however, to address her as Lady Morpeth, or for her to be announced as the Viscountess Morpeth, but that she was allowed the alternative usage if she preferred it.  If her younger sister, Lady Harriet, had remained unmarried at the time Lady Georgiana's father-in-law died and she became the Countess of Carlisle, Lady Harriet would have taken precedence over her sister.  A lady loses her precedence and acquires her husband's if and when he succeeds to any peerage, but as long as her husband is not a peer, she retains her original rank.(77c) 

So if Lady Harriet were to marry a Mr. Leveson-Gower, she would precede her sister, Georgiana, Countess of Carlisle, into the dining room.  But if Lady Georgiana's husband had not yet acceded to his peerage, then she, being elder, would precede Lady Harriet.  This is a case where both sisters are married, but neither derive their rank from their husbands, instead still from their father.  (This is one of those little quirks of the peerage that gives nuts like me such a kick!)

Daughters of dukes and marquesses were allowed this "Lady <Firstname> <Husband'sTitle>" usage if they were married to the heir of an earl or lesser peerage.  Daughters of earls were allowed it if they were married to the heir of a viscount or baron.  Marriage with a peer replaces her rank with his.   Marriage with someone outside the peerage allows her to keep her own rank.(77d)

Another example is Lady Caroline Lamb, who was known that way because, as the daughter of an earl, her rank by birth was higher than the rank she acquired by marrying the eldest surviving son of a viscount (William had an elder brother who died six months before William married Caroline). She is even called "Lady Caroline Lamb" in Debrett's Peerage (she died before William inherited the viscountcy).

What is improper is the persistent references in today's novels to "Lady Sally Jersey."  I've seen it so often that it almost looks right!  Can anyone find a contemporary account referring to Lady Jersey as "Lady Sally Jersey"?  I can find no evidence of this sort of usage in contemporary accounts. Does anyone have any original sources to check, like diaries, letters, etc.?

As the daughter of an earl, Lady Sally moved up in the Table of Precedence when she married the eldest son of an earl in 1805, and she moved up again the next year when her husband inherited the earldom. For that year, she was known by the courtesy title Lady Villiers (her husband's courtesy title being Viscount Villiers).  Since she was the daughter of an earl and her husband was heir to an earl, she did not have the option of going by "Lady Sarah Villiers."  In any event, the option ends upon her husband's accession to his peerage.  She could not ever properly be known as "Lady Sally Jersey." 

A peer and his wife do use the title like a surname.  Lady Jersey would never be known as Sally Child-Villiers, but she would sign her name Sally Jersey, and her friends could refer to her in informal conversation as Sally Jersey.

However, there is one important caveat here.  Books that purport to demonstrate "correct forms of address" are aimed at a specific audience:  commoners, i.e., those of us who were not raised "in the system" and haven't married into it.  Until a peer's daughter joins the Heyer Mailing List and tells me what's what, I'm leaving this and all other questions open.

I have created some charts which may help explain this more clearly.  They are on my Correct Forms of Address page.

John Hopfner has kindly provided the following excellent explanation of titles, based upon the Duke of Ware's string of titles in The Foundling, and suggests how a family might acquire them over the years.


On to Rights and Privileges of Peers

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.

Laura A. Wallace
12 June 2004

Table of Contents

Peerage Basics
Hereditary Peerages, including Royal Titles
Life Peerages
Courtesy Titles
Rights and Privileges of Peers
A Peeress "in her own right"
Dowager Peeresses
Entails, Marriage Settlements, and Dower
Almack's (coming soon!)
Biographical Details of Real Regency People (coming soon!)

Correct Forms of Address
The 1st Duke of Marlborough
Links to other Sites