The Grammar of Heraldry/Chapter 14

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The Grammar of Heraldry
by John Edwin Cussans
The Degrees of the Nobility and Gentry
1205067The Grammar of Heraldry — The Degrees of the Nobility and GentryJohn Edwin Cussans


The highest rank in the British Peerage, immediately following Princes and Princesses of the Royal Blood, is that of the Archbishops of Canterbury, York, Armagh, and Dublin.[1]

The next in order are Dukes. The eldest son of a duke assumes the second title of his father, which is usually that of Marquess. Thus the eldest son of the Duke of Buckingham is the Marquess of Chandos. I have already stated that the unmarried daughters of a peer have the same rank which their eldest brother ordinarily enjoys during the lifetime of his father. All the sons of a duke are addressed as ‘Lord,’ and his daughters as ‘Lady.’

The rank of Marquess follows next. His sons are ‘Lords,’ and his daughters ‘Ladies;’ his eldest son bears his second title, which is Earl, or Lord of a place: the Marquess of Winchester’s eldest son, for example, is styled Earl of Wiltshire. Daughters and younger sons are addressed by their christian names, as Lady Mary, Lord Frederick.

The next degree and title in the order of rank in the peerage is Earl. His eldest son is generally by courtesy styled a Viscount, and all his daughters are ‘Ladies;’ but his younger sons have no title beyond that of ‘Honourable.’

Viscounts rank fourth in the peerage. The sons and daughters of a viscount and baron are styled ‘Honourable.’

Bishops succeed viscounts. The Bishop of London takes precedence of his brethren, being provincial dean of Canterbury; the Bishop of Durham, as formerly holding the rank of Count-Palatine, and Earl of Sedberg; and the Bishop of Winchester, as prelate of the Order of the Garter, follow next; then the remaining bishops, according to the priority of their consecration. The last-made bishop has no seat in the House of Peers.

Barons constitute the lowest order of British peers, and are addressed as ‘My Lord.’

All these titles of nobility (with the exception of archbishops and bishops) are hereditary. In case of a peer leaving no issue, the title (if by patent) necessarily becomes extinct, as in the case of the late Viscount Palmerston: but, in the case of a dignity being by writ, such title is descendible to the heirs general; and, in case of such heirs general being two or more females, the title falls into abeyance.

The title of ‘Lord,’ although it cannot be said to constitute a degree of nobility by itself, has yet a wider application than any other, for it is commonly employed in addressing peers of every rank, from a marquis to a baron. The Judges, when on the bench, are ex officio Lords; and so are the Mayors of London, Dublin, and York, during their terms of office. The title of ‘Lady’ is used still more indiscriminately; for not only is it commonly applied to the wives of the foregoing ‘Lords,’ but also to those of Baronets and Knights. These last, although permitted by courtesy to bear the title of Lady, are not allowed to prefix their christian to their family name; this is the peculiar privilege, and mark of distinction of the daughters of peers.

The various Coronets of the nobility are described at page 56.

Amongst the Gentry, Baronets take the first place. This is a hereditary title of honour instituted by King James I. The degree confers no title but ‘Esquire’ on the sons of a baronet; but gives the title title of ‘Dame’ or ‘Lady’ to his wife.

The eldest son of a peer, who is also a baronet of Scotland, is styled ‘Honourable Master’ of his family barony; as, ‘The Honourable the Master of Forbes.’ In the case of a baron, being likewise a Scotch baronet, the 'Honourable' is omitted; as, 'The Master of Lochman.'

A Knight differs from a baronet in his degree being not hereditary.

The title of Esquire is, strictly speaking, confined to the eldest sons of knights, and their eldest sons; the eldest sons of the youngest sons of nobles; kings-at-arms and heralds who are esquires by creation; esquires of the Bath, on an installation; and to sheriffs of counties, justices of the peace, and mayors of towns, whilst in office. There are many other degrees which give the title of Esquire by courtesy, as, counsellors at law; bachelors of divinity, law, and physic; secretaries of legation, consuls, &c.

Gentlemen are all those who, lawfully entitled to bear arms, are not included in any of the before-mentioned degrees.

  1. The wife of an Archbishop or Bishop derives no title from her husband’s rank, and, unless she be a peeress in her own right, is simply addressed as Mrs.