troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Knight Fever
Hacker: What has Sir Arnold to fear, anyway? He's got all the honours he could want, surely.
Bernard: Well, naturally he has his 'G'.
Hacker: 'G'?
Bernard: Yes, you get your 'G' after your 'K'.
Hacker: You speak in riddles, Bernard.
Bernard: Well, take the Foreign Office. First, you get the CMG, then the KCMG, then the GCMG. The Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George, Knight Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George. Of course, in the service, CMG stands for "Call Me God." And KCMG for "Kindly Call Me God."
Hacker: What does GCMG stand for?
Bernard: "God Calls Me God."
Yes, Minister, Doing The Honours

Britain, being a monarchy, has a title system to go with it - a clunky, sometimes counterintuitive system, with seemingly endless contradictions and absurdities. Getting titles and styles correct can be difficult for someone not "to the manner born" - which is, of course, the point: for centuries, the complexities of the honour system have served as a shibboleth to weed out posers, fraudsters, and plain old liars.


Hereditary Peerages (all titles have female equivalents):
  • Duke (Duchess): The highest title of the lot. Address as "Your Grace" when you are talking to him. Prince Philip is the Duke of Edinburgh. Of course Prince Philip is a Royal Duke, which is to say a prince of the Royal family who holds a ducal title. There are non-Royal dukes also, who feature lower in the pecking order. The overwhelming majority of Dukes (23 of 29) are non-royal.
    • Royal dukedoms become non-royal after the second; the definition of a Prince (or Princess) of the royal family is anyone whose parent or paternal grandparent is or was Sovereign.
      • For example: among the queen's cousins are HRH Prince Richard, second duke of Gloucester, and HRH Prince Edward, second duke of Kent, grandsons of George V. Their children are "Lord/Lady N. Windsor" like those of other dukes, and the future third dukes will be "His Grace" rather than "His Royal Highness". (No active ex-royal dukedoms now exist; as it happens, no such dukedom has reached a third generation since the Wars of the Roses. A few will be coming up, once the current Dukes of Gloucester and Kent pass on.note )
    • Parodied by Mark Twain in the story of The Million Pound Banknote where the owner of the note becomes so famous that the Times reports his doings above those of "Any duke not royal".
  • Marquess (Marchioness)
  • Earl (Countess)
  • Viscount (Viscountess)
  • Baron. A female baron is a Baroness, but not The Baroness. Usually. Thankfully.
  • Lord of Parliament (the Scottish equivalent of Baron, which means something else in Scotland)

Peers are referred to and usually addressed as "Lord [title]" unless they're dukes, in which case they're addressed as "Your Grace" and referred to as "The Duke of [title]". Wives of male peers and women who are peers in their own right get "Lady" and "Duchess" instead of "Lord" and "Duke". Husbands of peeresses don't get anything, as the man was traditionally considered the head of the household and was expected to see such a possibility as disgusting and emasculating. note 

A peer's eldest son uses his father's second title (if any) "by courtesy" during the father's lifetime. (The Crown has occasionally used a writ of acceleration to transfer the subsidiary peerage to the heir apparent during the father's lifetime, in order to put him in the House of Lords. This device was last used in 1992 for Lord Cecil, known by courtesy as Viscount Cranborne, a distinguished Tory MP; it is now obsolete, as hereditary peerages no longer entitle their holders to seats in the Lords. Instead, new non-hereditary baronies will be created as needed.) Younger sons/daughters of dukes and marquesses and daughters of earls use "Lord/Lady [firstname] [lastname]". Any other children of peers can use "The Honourable [first name] [last name]."

Informally, all peers except dukes can be referred to as "Lord Title-name", as mentioned above. Formally, however, dukes, marquesses, and almost all earls are "the Title of Title-Name". Examples include the Duke of Wellington, the Marquess of Queensberry, and the Earl of Clarendon. It's done this way because the title-names in these cases aren't surnames: they're place names. Barons and viscounts have no of because their styles usually derive from surnames, as do those of a few earls (e.g. Earl Russell).

When a peerage style is a surname, it is likely to duplicate an existing one, in which case it is created with a distinguishing placename, e.g. Baron Black of Crossharbour; but he's usually called Lord Black unless the short form is ambiguous in context.

Life Peerages:
  • Baron (Baroness): All modern life peerages are baronies (though a few higher titles were created for life in the past). Barons are usually known as "Lord/Lady Title-Name" whether the title name derives from a surname (Lord Thomson) or otherwise (Lord Beaverbrook), but a few holders of baronies prefer "Baron" to "Lord" or "Lady". Margaret Thatcher, for instance, preferred to be called Baroness Thatcher, possibly to emphasize that she was using the title she was awarded on her own merits, rather than "Lady Thatcher", a title that she previously acquired when her husband became Sir Denis.

Baronets:
  • A title specifically created just to look posh; the king used to sell them to get extra cash. None created since 1964 (except for Denis Thatcher), but there are still some out there. Like a knight, a baronet starts his name with "Sir" but puts "Bart." at the end instead of the initials of his order and degree of knighthood (see below). Baronetcies are hereditary; one was inherited by a U.S. Air Force officer.
    • In Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, the main character, "The Bad Baronet of Ruddigore," is called a "Bad Bart" by himself and others quite often.
      • This is referenced in one episode in The Simpsons' fifth season: Bart tells the self-help guru that his name is "Ruddigore, sir!"
    • Uniquely, there is a Baronetage of Nova Scotia — that is to say, a fairly large number of baronet titles were created with the land associated with them being in Nova Scotia. Most of the holders are British and not Canadian, however; these baronetcies were created by the kings of Scotland in the 17th century as a means of raising funds to support the new colony, with many of the holders never even going there.

Knights for Life actually *are* for life in most cases. It is certainly possible to be stripped of a knighthood in life — Anthony Blunt and Robert Mugabe are two well-known examples — but it's very uncommon. The revelation that the late Sir Jimmy Savile was a serial rapist fueled calls for his knighthood to be stripped posthumously; whether this is legally possible (given that the knighthood is supposed to die with the holder) was unknown and the government let the furore blow over without seriously attempting it. The government possibly feared that historians or political activists might have seen the case as a precedent to have other historic individuals removed from the ranks due to Values Dissonance.

Most knighthoods are created in one of several knightly orders; you can tell the knights apart by the letters after their names (shown here in brackets). These are the best known:
  • Order of the Garter (KG or LG). Oldest of the batch, usually dated to 1348. Has the motto "Honi soit qui mal y pense" ("shame upon him who thinks evil of it" in Old French). Apparently came about after some woman's garter fell down at a party, and everybody thought it happened because Edward III had his hand up her skirt.note  The Queen is a member and the motto appears on the Royal Coat of Arms in England.
  • Order of the Thistle (KT or LT). A Scottish one. Motto: Nemo me impune lacessit, or "No one provokes me with impunity" in Latin (also the motto of the Black Watch, a famed Scottish regiment).
  • Order of the Bath (GCB for Grand Cross members; KCB or DCB for Knight Commanders; CB for Companions, who are not knights). This is for military types. The Order of the Bath is also sometimes awarded to the Sovereign's personal physician. James Reid, Queen Victoria's primary physician, campaigned for a KCB for years, seeing it as "above" the usual KCVO. (He was also raised to the baronetcy by Victoria.) Honorary KC Bs have been given to several American Presidents and Secretaries of Defense.
  • Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG for knights or dames Grand Cross; KCMG/DCMG for knights or dames commanders). This is for diplomats and civil servants in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. See the page quote. ("CMG" in the quote is for "Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George", which is not a knighthood.)
  • Royal Victorian Order (GCVO, Knight Grand Cross; KCVO/DCVO, Knight Commander; see below for other levels). For personal services to the Royal Family.
  • Order of the British Empire. Two knight ranks (Knight/Dame Grand Cross and Knight/Dame Commander, abbreviated as GBE and KBE/DBE). See below for the others.
  • Knight Bachelor is for people who deserve to be knighted, but don't fit in the categories of who belongs in the orders. You can get a lesser Order of the British Empire honour, but still not qualify for a KBE, in which case you keep the lesser honour as well as your knighthood, as in Sir Alex Ferguson CBE, or Sir Terry Pratchett OBE. If you don't have any such letters, you can follow your name with Kt. High Court Judges are always made a KBE; because there is no such thing as a "Dame Bachelor" (Dame Spinster?), women appointed to the High Court Bench are made Dames of the British Empire.
Other Titles:
  • CB — Companion of the Order of the Bath
  • CMG — Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George
  • CVO, LVO, MVO — Commander/Lieutenant/Member of the Royal Victorian Order
  • CBE, OBE, MBE — Commander/Officer/Member of the Order of the British Empirenote .
  • OM — Order of Merit: For outstanding lifetime achievement. Only 24 are allowed in at any time. Florence Nightingale was made a member at the age of 87.
  • CH — Companion of Honour. For outstanding achievements in certain things. Maximum membership of the Order of the Companions of Honour is 65 at any one time, including the monarch. Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) is one.
  • DSO — Distinguished Service Order. For exceptionally good commanders of the armed forces. Name a famous British general from WWII, and he was a member.
  • ADC — Aide-de-Camp, a personal helper to a senior military officer. Certain members of the Royal Family with military commissions, including the Prince of Wales, hold the title of Personal Aide-de-Camp to The Queen.
  • The Order of St. John — formally, The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. A royally-chartered charitable order best known for its ambulance service (the logo of which is currently on the TARDIS). Members are selected from the Commonwealth, the US, Hong Kong, and Ireland, by invitation only. Only Christians may become knights, but other religions can become honorary members. Its Grand Prior is HRH the Duke of Gloucester. Its knights are not allowed to use the titles "Sir" or "Dame", and the post-nominal letters are for internal use only; but its symbols may be used in a knight's coat of arms. The order has 6 grades: Bailiff/Dame Grand Cross (GStJ), Knight/Dame (KStJ/DStJ), Commander (CStJ), Officer (OStJ), Member (MStJ), and Esquire (EsqStJ).

Extinct Orders:
  • Royal Guelphic Order (GCH, KCH, KH) — Created by George IV when Hanover became a kingdom in 1815, the order had separate civil and military Divisions. It ceased being awarded in Britain on the death of William IV in 1837, when Queen Victoria`s uncle became King Ernest I of Hanover. It was the national order of merit in the Kingdom of Hanover until it was annexed by Prussia in 1866, and still exists today as an award for personal services to the Royal Family of Hanover. The Duke of Wellington was a recipient.
  • Order of St. Patrick (KP) — Was to Ireland what the KG is to England and the KT to Scotland. The monarch's jewelled badge and star of the order, which were known as the Crown Jewels of Ireland, were famously stolen in 1907 and never recovered. Stopped being awarded in 1919; the last living member, George VI's brother Henry duke of Gloucester, died in 1974.
  • Order of the Star of India (GCSI, KCSI, CSI) — Created in 1861 and awarded to important Indian princes, viceroys, and colonial officials. Went dormant in 1947. Last living member was an Indian prince who died in 2009.
  • Order of the Indian Empire (GCIE, KCIE, CIE) — a more inclusive order for lesser Indian nobles, accomplished soldiers and colonial administrators in the Indian Empire. Created in 1878, shortly after Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India. Went dormant in 1947; the last living member was a maharaja who died in 2010.
  • Order of the Crown of India (CI) — for wives of important Indian princes, viceroys, and colonial officials. Elizabeth II was made a CI in 1947, the year it went dormant; she is the last living member.
  • Indian Order of Merit (IOM) — a non-knighthood award to Indian soldiers for gallantry. Originally 3 classes, the 1st class was abolished in 1911 when Indian soldiers became eligible for the Victoria Cross. A civilian divison was created (two classes, reduced to one in 1939) but rarely awarded. Retired in 1947.
  • Order of British India (OBI) — For "long, faithful and honourable service", originally to the British East India Company, then to the Indian Army. Awarded in two classes; recipients of the first class were also given the honorific Sarhar Bahadur (Hindi for "heroic leader") while 2nd class were titled Bahadur ("hero"). Retired 1947.
  • Order of Burma (OB) — Instituted in 1940 for long or distinguished service or acts of heroism in the Burmese armed forces, a local equalivent to the IOM. Only awarded to 33 people before being discontinued in 1948.
  • Imperial Service Order (ISO) — a non-knighthood award for long service and good conduct in the civil service throughout the British Empire. It also had an accompanying Imperial Service Medal (ISM) for 25 years good service in non-management civil service, 16 years for jobs in unpleasant conditions. After WWII it was given mostly to British workers until honours reform in 1993 retired the awarding of the ISO, while keeping the ISM. Peculiarly, the government of the Australasian Commonwealth nation of Papua New Guinea continues to send ISO and ISM recommendations from its civil service to London to this day.

Royal Family Orders:
  • These are orders created by certain monarchs to reward female members of the Royal Family for personal service, mostly as a token of esteem. The orders (which are uniformly named "The Royal Family Order of (monarch name)") consist almost entirely of a medal; it carries no title, post-nominal letters, formal sash, star, collar or mantle, nor any public announcement of the appointment or place in the order of precedence. George IV created the first Royal Family Order, with later ones created by Victoria (as "The Royal Order of Victoria and Albert" and separated into four classes, the lower two reserved for female courtiers), Edward VII, George V, George VI, and Elizabeth II.
  • Similar to this is the Royal Victorian Chain, a token of the monarch's personal esteem first given in 1902 by Edward VII. Like a Royal Family Order, it consists entirely of a chain, but it is awarded to fewer people, mostly outside the Royal Family, and is given by multiple monarchs.

Judges:

Judges of superior courts in the UK sometimes get titles depending on the court. Members of the High Court of Justice in England, the Appeal Court of England and Wales and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom have such titles, as do Senators of the College of Justice in Scotland. Their titles are not actually peerages, and sitting as a judge does not entitle you to sit in the House of Lords. Some judges, however, can and do hold peerages, and previously the highest court of appeal in Britain was the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, whose members — the Law Lords — were by definition Peers. Since a European Court of Human Rights judgement, the right of Law Lords to sit as members of the legislature was abolished (separation of powers, and all that), and the separate Supreme Court of the United Kingdom established in 2009. Those judges who were appointed and who sat as Law Lords before that date retain their membership, if not their right of attendance, of the Lords. Those judges appointed after that date are given the courtesy title of Lord or Lady.

In the High Court of Justice, a High Court judge is referred to as My Lord or Your Lordship if male, or as My Lady or Your Ladyship if female. High Court judges use the title in office of Mr Justice for men or Mrs Justice for women, even if unmarried. The style of The Honourable (or The Hon) is also used during office. For example, Sir Joseph Bloggs would be referred to as The Hon Mr Justice Bloggs and Dame Jane Bloggs DBE as The Hon Mrs Justice Bloggs DBE, for as long as they continue to hold office.

Note that this was even more confusing before the Judicature Acts 1873 and 1875, as one of the three major types of court—the Court of Exchequer—styled its judges "barons" even though they weren't necessarily Peers. You can still find old Exchequer opinions in modern law books (in Britain, yes, but also in the Commonwealth and America), as quite a few major legal concepts were settled in the Exchequer Court (e.g. the rule in Hadley v Baxendale, which is still applied in contract law today), and headings like "Baron Alderson delivered the opinion of the court" can be sort of confusing.

In Scotland, Senators of the College of Justice, in addition to that already awesome title, are styled "The (Rt) Hon Lord/Lady X". They may choose whether "X" is a surname or a territorial name — for instance, Alastair P. Campbell Q.C, upon becoming a Senator, took the title "The Hon Lord Bracadale", as Bracadale is the name of the village of his birth. However, Ann Paton chose not to use a territorial name and is simply "The Rt Hon Lady Paton." Depending on whether they sit in a criminal or civil court then they also be either a Justiciar or a Lord of Session.

It is considered treason to murder a high-ranking judge.note 


Foreigners can get these titles also, but they generally can't call themselves "Sir" or "Dame". Bono of U2 is an example, as is Bob Geldof, while some countries specifically prohibit their citizens from accepting foreign titles of nobility.
  • However, Austin Powers does insist on calling Steven Spielberg "Sir Stevie".
  • For the rules for U.S. citizens see this. The basic rule is that you can accept any award or title from a foreign country as long as you're not a public employee or official at the time of the award; if you are, Congress has to consent. Also illegal if the title comes with land, money, or power.
  • The rules are less clear for Canadians. Although the Nickle Resolution of 1917 implies that Canadians are not allowed to accept a foreign honour that has not been approved by the Prime Minister, no Canadian citizen has ever been prevented from inheriting a Commonwealth peerage granted to an ancestor. This fact is why publisher Conrad Black had to renounce his Canadian citizenship before being granted a peerage, but Winnipeg Jets owner David Thomson is still a Canadian citizen — Lord Thomson inherited his. The only old Quebec title still extant is the Barony of Longueuil, which (curiously enough) is currently held by a Scotsman whose grandmother is a cousin of the Queen.

A very common error among non-British creators involves how people with any title entitling them to use "Sir" are addressed or referred to. You only ever say "Sir [firstname surname]", or "Sir [firstname]" if you want to take up less time/space, even if you wouldn't usually be on first name terms with them. "Sir [surname]" is always wrong. For a really glaring and consistent example of how not to do it, see the Dark Horse English translations of Hellsing, where Sir Integra is consistently called "Sir Hellsing" (you can handwave the gender issues).
  • Actress (Dame) Judi Dench has mentioned the confusion her title causes in the USA: she is known formally as "Dame Judi", but rather than being called "Dame Dench", which would simply be the wrong application of her actual title, she experiences a very specific form of mislabelling possibly due to her first name's similarity to a different title, which does roll off the tongue — she gets called "Lady Dench"... which would be correct if she were a peer of the realm, or the wife of a lord or knight. Presumably if she is ever actually elevated to the peerage then she'll get further misnamed "Lady Judi", and so on.
  • Brave Sir Surname runs rampant through historical fiction, and not just among self-published writers either: in one recent Jeffery Deaver short story, knightly titles are so badly mangled that suspension of disbelief goes flying out yon diamond-paned window long before the climax of the story.

A similar error happens with the "Lord" and "Lady" prefixes. Peers (other than dukes) are, as mentioned above, usually referred to as "Lord/Lady Title-name". The wives of male peers, knights, and baronets are always "Lady Title-name", not and never "Lady Firstname Title-Name". The construction "Lord/Lady Firstname" is considered a "style", not a "title", and is only given to the daughters and younger sons of senior peers — well-known examples include Lady Diana Spencer, daughter of an earl, and the fictional Lord Peter Wimsey, son of a duke. Naturally the media gets this wrong constantly, calling the wife of a knight "Lady Sonia" or, even more strangely, the young daughter of a duke "Lady Wellington". Even better is when a wife or ex-wife of one of these worthies deliberately makes the "mistake" in order to make herself seem more posh than she really is. The most notorious example of this comes from The Thirties, when the young, um, shall we say "glamour model" ex-wife of a doddering old knight advertised herself as "Lady Elizabeth" — which was even more scandalous at the time because people assumed she'd named herself after the six-year-old Princess Elizabeth (the current Queen).

There is one caveat to the above: if you're entitled to use more than one title or style, you normally use the highest ranked one. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, is addressed in Pride and Prejudice by her first name because she's the daughter of an earl, which outranks her status as the widow of a knight; had she been a commoner before her marriage, she would have been called Lady de Bourgh.

Some Britons (those of the smug, sneering, sarcastic, snide stereotype) seem to think that deliberately getting titles and styles wrong makes them cool and edgy, because it shows that they don't care about these things. In reality it just makes them look ignorant, and arrogantly ignorant at that. Factual inaccuracy generally isn't considered a sign of intellectual superiority.

Another mistake is to confuse the peerage and the knighthood. A noble title gives the holder a voice in the government. Before 1999, all peers sat in the House of Lords; nowadays, all life peers and some hereditary peers do so. Either way, they have a real (if somewhat weak) voice in how the country is governed. A knight, on the other hand, gets a nice medal and the right to be called "Sir" or "Dame". This is especially glaring in shows set in the Victorian Era; at that point in time you needed to have or marry Blue Blood in order to get into the House of Lords, but anyone — fishmonger, toilet manufacturer, tea baron — could be knighted. This is part of the reason that, in that era, wealthy knighted businessmen would seek out the daughters of nobles for marriage: they would then have the credentials necessary to be elevated to the Peerage. (Prominent fictional example: this is newspaper baron Sir Richard Carlisle's failed plan in Series 2 of Downton Abbey: by marrying Lady Mary — the daughter of an Earl — it would be much easier for him to enter the Lords under the next Conservative government;note  although marrying into a noble family wasn't strictly necessary by the 1910s, it would have helped.)

As for inheritance...oy. It's easy for life peerages and knighthoods: these are never inherited. Baronetcies are equally simple — they're always passed down to the senior male descendant of the senior male line; the oldest son, the oldest son's oldest son, and so on. Run out of direct male-line male descendants and the baronetage goes extinct.note  The real confusion is with hereditary peerages, since how they are handed down varies depending on the royal warrant made at the time of the creation of the peerage and even on the country they were created in (Scotland was once an independent country with its own peerage rules, and yes, there are peerages dating back that long). Most English and UK peerages work like baronetcies with only male-line male descendants being able to succeed, but Scots peerages and some English/UK peerages can be inherited by daughters if they have no brothers.note  Suffice to say that any writer who intends to tackle the succession of a hereditary peerage would be well-advised to get the advice of an actual expert instead of making things up as he goes along.

Another interesting wrinkle is that until the Peerage Act 1963 it was impossible for somebody hereditarily entitled to a peerage to turn it down (although for much of history it was probably hard to imagine why somebody would want to). The Act was passed specifically to help the Labour politician Tony Benn, who wanted to give up his hereditary peerage as Viscount Stansgate so that he could continue to sit in the House of Commons (and because his left-wing political orientation would have made it embarassing to be a peer). Almost immediately afterwards, the Conservative politician Alec Douglas-Home disclaimed his title of Earl of Home so that he could become the Tory leader and potential Prime Minister, as by that time peers were not allowed to be Prime Ministers. If a title is disclaimed, it doesn't cease to exist, but remains "dormant" until the death of the person who disclaimed it, at which point their heir can assume the title.

Coats of Arms

Unlike in some countries, UK/Commonwealth coats of arms are not hereditary but individual, and are issued by the College of Arms. An individual who inherits or is awarded any of the above honours may apply to the Garter King of Arms for a coat of arms. Traditionally these were a pictorial representation of the owner's ancestry, titles, and offices,note  but more recent arms tend to be more creative and, dare we say, progressive. As of 2014 a married recipient may choose to have his or her spouse's coat of arms added to his or her own (this is called "impalement"); this holds for both same-sex and opposite-sex married couples. The rules have changed frequently over the centuries; previously, a woman granted a coat of arms had to impale her arms with her husband's if he had one.

Needless to say, those websites that purport to list English family crests and hereditary coats of arms are mostly run by scammers.

A short note on "Lord of the Manor"

Back in Merrie England when knighthood was in flower, peers were primarily military commanders who were expected to raise armies to defend king and country when necessary. But armies (and especially knights) cost a lot of money to train and equip, so when the king ennobled one of his drinking buddies he made sure to provide the man with enough land to support such an army. The king did this by granting his noblemen large numbers of "manors" scattered throughout the countryside — plots of farmland that in theory would each produce enough in rent, fees, and agricultural products to support a knight. Whoever owned one of these plots of land could (if he didn't have another title) have been called the "lord of the manor", keeping in mind that the word "lord" at the time was more akin to "master" or "owner" than "titled nobleman" and the word "manor" meant "plot of farmland", not "Big Fancy House".

Unfortunately, scammers in the 20th century took advantage of the change in the meaning of the words "lord" and "manor" and sold many of these plots of land — often otherwise unmarketable due to soil problems or a crumbling manor house that would cost more to fix than it was worth — to snobs, often Americans, who wanted the right to call themselves a Lord of the Manor. Suffice to say that a faux title that boils down to "I own a farm!!!" isn't the same thing as holding an actual peerage, and definitely does not give you the right to call yourself Lord [XXXX] (people who know will laugh at you).

Similarly in Scotland, the title of "Baron" (along with the purely-Scottish title "Laird") actually refers to a position most equivalent to "lord of the manor" and is not a Peerage (the Peerage of Scotland had the title of Lord of Parliament instead). Purchasing a Scottish feudal barony does entitle you to call yourself "Baron So-and-so of Such-and-Such", but if you go around using it people will still laugh at you. Also, most Scots holding the title of Baron are in fact Peers; the Peerage of Scotland ended and the creation of Lords of Parliament ceased in 1707 with the Acts of Union and thus Scots ennobled afterward were created Peers of Great Britain or of the United Kingdom. (A byproduct of this is if you find someone with the title "Lord of Parliament", their blood is probably bluer than that of many of higher rank; their titles go back to at least the 17th century, and are usually junior lines of ancient and powerful Scottish houses.)

The Crown Stewards and Bailiffs

It is legally impossible to resign one's seat in the House of Commons. The only way one can lose it, in fact, is to be appointed to "an office of Profit under the Crown." Thus, an MP wishing to effect resignation will write to the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking to be appointed to such an office. There are two: Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead and Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham. Historically, the job of the Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds was to police the forested Chiltern Hills, which were lousy with outlaws. The Manor of Northstead has since been built over by Scarborough. These offices are only nominally paid (usually their holders are given a token amount of money, which can be between 1pnote  and £5note ), and are sometimes held only for a few minutes (such as when a large number of MPs resign on the same day). The legal fiction is so entrenched that when Sinn Féin MP Gerry Adams resigned his seat, but did not apply for an office under the British Crown (politically unacceptable for the Irish nationalists of SF), he was simply given the office anyway, with apologies.

So how do you get one of these juicy little titles? Here's some tips:

First of all, you need to decide whether you want a peerage or a knighthood so you know who you need to suck up to. If you want a life peerage your man is the Prime Minister, who has the actual final say on non-royal peerages. (In theory the PM merely "advises" the Queen, but she is expected to take his advice.) Knighthoods are a different matter; the Prime Minister gives her a list, but she is permitted to strike out any name she wishes — and add names, should she so desire. As long as you don't do something stupid like cancel Doctor Who, you should be fine.

  • Save Western Civilization from falling into the abyss of a new dark age that would've been made even more sinister and protracted by the lights of perverted science. One recipient thus far, via this most notable of methods. And he turned down a peerage (it was proposed that the title Duke of London be created for him), because it would have wrecked his son's political career (by the modern unwritten rules, you can't be Prime Minister if you are a peernote ).
  • Win a couple of Olympic medals.
    • This seems to have crystallised over the last few years into a fixed Sliding Scale of Gold Medal-Holding Ennoblement: every member of a British Olympic squad who wins one gold can expect to receive an MBE – the lowest rank within the Order of the British Empire – in the next Honours List, while doubling up on those golds leads to an OBE, the next rank up. The rare achievement of accumulating three gold medals over an Olympic career will result in a CBE (e.g. Bradley Wiggins after Beijing '08), and the hallowed realm of four golds or more lands you a KBE (Sir Steve Redgravenote , Sir Matthew Pinsent in Athens '04, Sir Chris Hoy in '08, and after London 2012, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Sir Ben Ainslie), or presumably a damehood should any female athlete ever collect four Olympic titles to convert into a DBE. Quite what equivalent quantity of World Championship athletics gold is required to achieve these ranks remains, as yet, unclear.
    • The scale is not yet clear for Paralympic athletes — Dame Tanni-Grey Thompson and Dame Sarah Storey have both won eleven gold medals, but so did David Roberts who is still only a CBE.
  • Be a high-ranking judge.
  • Win a Nobel Prize or equivalent.
  • Prove something like Fermats Last Theorem.
  • Be Director-General of The BBC. The only exception so far has been Michael Grade, for reasons best speculated about elsewhere. (i.e. about five paragraphs up.)
  • Become England's soccer manager and win The World Cup. OK, that might be a hard one.
    • Likewise rugby: still a challenge, but one that's actually been achieved in this editor's lifetime.
      • Cricket too, although more for winning The Ashes rather than the World Cup. Several cricketers from Commonwealth nations have knighthoods as well.
    • If you only got a British team to the biggest number of titles imaginable (Alex Ferguson), you might get one as well.
      • There was an eensy bit more to it than that (i.e. The Treble).
  • Be a high-ranking member of the Civil Service. Hence Sir Humphrey Appleby.
  • Be a high-ranking military member or just very good at your job. The military rank goes first.
    • Kelly Holmes got an MBE for her military service before acquiring the Damehood for her athletics achievements.
      • Which explains the previously-baffling discrepancy between her 'only' winning two Olympic titles yet receiving a DBE, contrary to the established Scale of Gold Medal-Holding Ennoblement — she evidently only needed a pair to upgrade her MBE...
  • Be head of the Secret Intelligence Service or the Security Service.
  • Be in charge of a police service.
  • Be a senior politician (Privy Councillor status helps). Ex-Prime Ministers customarily get the Order of the Garter, or equivalent (e.g. a Scottish PM would get the Order of the Thistle). This is a remnant of the practice whereby the ex-PM would get an earldom (before 1961) or a life peerage as well as the knighthood.
    • The most recent two former Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have yet to receive theirs, as neither has fully retired; Blair is doing a bunch of international-diplomatic work and is occasionally tipped for the Presidency of The European Union, while Brown remains in the Commons as a backbencher. This also makes it unclear if the offer of a life peerage still stands, since no formal decision was taken to stop offering peerages to retired former PMs: indeed, John Major was offered a peerage after leaving Parliament in 2001, but decided he didn't want one.
  • Be a renowned highbrow actor, author, musician, filmmaker or TV production person (like Sir Derek Jacobi; or more obviously Sir Laurence Olivier, later Baron Olivier). If your work is merely popular, you'll have to settle for a OBE (like Russell T Davies). If you're an actor who gets a knighthood or above, you don't use your new title when you're being credited in movies.
  • Be a hugely popular and very long-lasting pop music phenomenon: Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Paul McCartney,note  Dame Vera Lynn, Sir Elton John, Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Tom Jones, Dame Shirley Bassey... You won't find any of them using their title on an album cover except the latter, who is apparently subject to Ben Kingsley Syndrome: she must at all times be referred to as "Dame Shirley" or more puzzlingly "The Dame" (which seems to be approximately a case of confusing a damehood with a peerage: a man calling himself "the Knight" would sound very weird, wouldn't it?) — most egregiously her website not only uses "DSB" as her initials now, but has listed The Dame appearing alongside "Elton John" shorn of his equivalent 'Sir'.
  • Sell a lot of computer programs, in the case of William S. Gates III, OBE, former CEO of Microsoft.
  • Give the government or governing party a lot of money. Baronetcies were originally always purchased. Even without direct payment, rich people were always more likely to receive any honour, partly because some honours required the holder to live in a certain way (knights, for instance, were originally military officers who had to afford a horse, armor, grooms, servants, etc.) and because poor people wouldn't be able to do any of the things that would bring them to the sovereign's attention. (To be fair, they wouldn't likely be interested in doing any of those things either, since the attitude of the poor of the time was that it was best to keep one's head down and not be noticed.) Officially the grant of titles or honours in exchange for donations to the government, political parties or individuals has been illegal since the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, which was introduced after a major scandal involving the near-open sale of titles by David Lloyd George's Liberal administration. However, there have been strong public and media suspicions about the number of party donors who have been granted honours by both Labour and Conservative governments in the last thirty years or so. Pissing away vast quantities of money, oddly enough, can work (Sir Fred Goodwin), but only temporarily.
  • Convince the government that you'd make a really, really good minister but nobody would ever vote for you. The rule is that a Cabinet minister must sit in Parliament but need not necessarily sit in the elected chamber. Nowadays it would be unthinkable for any of the really powerful ministries to be headed by a Lord, but it's still quite common for a successful businessman to be ennobled as a Life Peer so he can serve as Minister for Trade or some similar position.
    • Peter Mandelson did this after his return from the European Commission: having left his seat in Parliament to serve in Brussels, he took a life peerage rather than seek a seat in the Commons (there's hardly a constituency in Britain where he'd have an easy time, even if it were a Labour safe seat) to be appointed Minister for "Business, Innovation, and Skills," which was really little more than a way for him to cement control over Gordon Brown.
    • The same happened with Charles Falconer, Tony Blair's old flatmate, who had had some trouble finding a Labour committee that would nominate him to run. Blair made him Lord Falconer of Thoroton in 1997 so he could be appointed Solicitor-General. He eventually became Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
    • As an aside, the office of Lord Chancellor—in charge of the courts—was historically always held by a Peer, as the Lord Chancellor was also the Speaker of the House of Lords; in the back half of the 20th century, it became common to appoint a high-powered barrister loyal to the Government a Life Peer to hold the Chancellor's post. Now that the two hats have been separated, most Chancellors have been Commons members, but it wouldn't cause a huge outcry if this post or any of the other legal positions (Attorney-General or Solicitor-General) were to be held by peers, unlike (e.g.) if the Chancellor of the Exchequer or Foreign Secretary were drawn from the Lords.

The rules before about 1837 were somewhat different. Plausible ways in which your historical character can get one of these:
  • By being a useful and prominent public servant, such as a member of the Cabinet, head of the military, or Prime Minister. Examples include William Cecil, advisor to Elizabeth I, who became Lord Burghley; John Churchill, advisor (and later general) under five of the Stuarts, who became the Duke of Marlborough; Edward Hyde, the guy who brought Charles II back to England, who became the Earl of Clarendon; and Arthur Wellesley, who conquered most of India, saved Europe from Napoleon, and became Duke of Wellington with a stack of other titles, both British and foreign.
    • It became something of a tradition by the mid-19th century to give retired Prime Ministers who were not already Peers earldoms once they retired from the House of Commons. The custom arguably began to form in the mid-18th century, when William Pitt the Elder was made The Earl Of Chatham upon becoming PM in 1766. A while later, Henry Addington was made Viscount Sidmouth upon leaving the premiership. For the next half-century or so, virtually every PM was a Peer, except two who died in office (Spencer Perceval and George Canning) and one who died while still in the Commons (Sir Robert Peel). Between 1861 (with the Earl Russell) and 1961 (by which point a peerage was more trouble than help), every former Prime Minister was given an earldom upon leaving the Commons except for those who were already peers,note  the ones who died before retiring from the Commons,note  declined elevation (the aforementioned Churchill) or were William Gladstone (because Queen Vicky personally loathed him). Also, Margaret Thatcher gave Harold Macmillan the Earldom of Stockton, since when he had taken office the custom was still in place; it has been speculated that she hoped to revive the precedent so that she would receive an earldom in due course.
    • And somewhat related to the above: by being a potentially useful public servant, in the sense that you will vote the right way when you do end up in the House of Lords. Several monarchs became notorious for creating a load of new peerages every time their policies were blocked in the Lords. The need for this was removed by the Parliament Act 1911note  although it did take George V threatening to do it one last time to get the act passed.
      • A variant of this occurred with some who held titles in the Peerage of Scotland and the Peerage of Ireland after the Acts of Union. Members of these peerages were not generally entitled to sit in the Lords at Westminster, and instead elected a small number (16 for Scotland, 28 for Ireland) of "Representative Peers". The Scottish ones had to be reelected at each dissolution of Parliament; the Irish ones did not. Since you never knew when or whether a promising young member of these Peerages would win a seat as a Representative Peer, but it felt unseemly to make an actual honest-to-God Peer run for the House of Commons, it was relatively common to give them an additional hereditary barony in the Peerage of Great Britain (1707-1801) or the United Kingdom (after 1801) which would entitle them to sit as Peers. The Earl of Rosebery—whose original title was in the Peerage of Scotland—was created Baron Rosebery in the Peerage of the United Kingdom for this purpose; he quickly became a junior minister.
  • By being a royal bastard (as opposed to a Royal Bastard), at least before about 1760. The present dukes of Richmond, Grafton, St Albans and Buccleuch owe their titles to descent from Charles II's bastards.
  • By sleeping with the sovereign, making the sovereign want to sleep with you, or letting the sovereign sleep with your spouse. The first worked for both George Villiers (under James I) and his distant relative Barbara Villiers Palmer (under Charles II); the second worked for Lord Robert Dudley, who became the Earl of Leicester under (or not under) Elizabeth I.
  • By being the King's drinking buddy. Charles II handed tiles out like candy. The Hanoverian Georges weren't much better, except that with George III they were more like tea-drinking buddies.

Ancient fictional titled people:

Modern fictional titled people:
  • Jack Ryan from the Tom Clancy books, for his saving the Prince of Wales from a kidnapping attempt by Irish terrorists. Specifically, a Knight Commander (honorary) of the Victorian Order.
  • Sir Harry Pearce from Spooks.
  • Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE.
  • Sir Integral Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing
  • Sir Humphrey Appleby
  • The Brigadier from Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures was knighted over the course of the Big Finish audios. This was canonised in Doctor Who's fourth TV series, so he became Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.
    • The Doctor and Rose get accoladed by Victoria as "Sir Doctor of TARDIS" and "Dame Rose of the Powell Estate" in "Tooth and Claw". Then they are 'invited' to leave the country. The late owner of Torchwood House in that episode was Sir Robert MacLeish, who was the son of a knight that conspired with Prince Albert to fight the werewolf.
      • Sir Robert was presumably a baronet if his father was also a "sir".
      • The style "Sir Doctor of TARDIS" is anomalous; a knighthood doesn't come with a change of name or a territorial title. A mediæval knight might be known as Sir Godfrey of Bouillon, but "of Bouillon" was his surname irrespective of his knighthood. Now, a knight who is also a Scottish laird (see above) might be Sir Fullname of Estate, so perhaps the queen meant to recognize the TARDIS as a qualifying estate.
    • Ian Chesterton is knighted Sir Ian of Jaffa in The Crusade.
  • Sir Joseph Porter KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore.
  • Lady Lara Croft, of the Tomb Raider games, a hereditary title. There was a letters column discussion in Private Eye over whether she is the Countess of Abingdon.
  • Commander James Bond CMG, RNVR.
  • Sherlock Holmes declined a knighthood after a Noodle Incident, mentioned in "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs".
    • In the BBC television adaption, Sherlock remarks that the government "threatened me with a knighthood. Again." after he solves a serial murder case.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "A Late Delivery from Avalon" gives us Sir G'Kar of a new Round Table, though the King Arthur who knighted him was not entirely kosher.
  • Wing Commander features Admiral Sir Geoffrey Tolwyn, though the specific details of his knighthood aren't given.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey is second son of the 15th Duke of Denver. His brother is the 16th Duke, his brother's wife is the Duchess of Denver, their son is the Viscount St George (a courtesy title), and his mother is the Dowager Duchess. Wimsey's "Lord" is properly a "style", not a title of any kind. (Word of God and the 2010 sequel The Atterbury Emeralds have it that Lord St.George joined the RAF in WWII and was killed, and Peter became the 17th Duke in 1951 after his brother died in the aftermath of a fire at Duke's Denver and Harriet became the Duchess of Denver; his son Bredon inherited the title Lord St.George at the same time and presumably is now the 18th Duke, although he'd be rather old.) Previous to becoming a duchess Harriet was Lady Peter Wimsey — not 'Lady Harriet' — and Bredon was plain old Mr. Wimsey.
  • Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, Lord Asherton (he's the eighth Earl of Asherton).
    • His wife Helen was Helen Lynley, Lady Asherton (and can also be referred to as the Countess of Asherton but not 'Lady Helen', as she is a commoner).
  • Anthony Evelyn Armstrong Seton, Viscount Hailesham is the real name of Derek Harris. Emma is upset to learn after a decade of marriage that she is Viscountess Hailesham. His father is the ninth Earl Elstyn, and his children Peter and Nell are Honorables.
  • His Grace Grayson Alexander the fourteenth Duke of Penford is the titular peer in Aunt Dimity and the Duke.
  • From Halo, there's Fleet Admiral Lord Terrence Hood. No specifics provided but we can assume he's following the family tradition. (If he's "Lord Terrence Hood" rather than "Lord Hood", then he's not the current Viscount Hood; evidently some ancestor was promoted to marquess or duke of somewhere, and perhaps Lord Terrence's brother has the courtesy title of Viscount.)
  • The Honourable Sir Schliemannian Chair Professor Doctor Doctor Jones, CBE, DCM, JP, FRS from Irregular Webcomic!
  • Sir Miles Axelrod and Sir Tow Mater from Cars 2.
  • Most Britannians in Code Geass.
    • Mostly because a substantial chunk of the Britannians in the series are Royalty. Otherwise, there's only the Knights Of The Round, who serve the Emperor as his greatest servants, Earl Lloyd Asplund, Earl Kanon Maldini, and Baroness Villetta Nu, presumably to cover up that the Empire's greatest enemy is one of the Emperor's own sons.
  • Downton Abbey is about Lord Grantham – formally The Right Honourable Robert (Crawley), Earl of Grantham – and his family. His wife Cora is the Countess of Grantham (Lady Grantham), his mother is the Dowager Countess (also known as Lady Grantham), and his daughters are Lady Mary, Lady Edith and Lady Sybil Crowley. The first son, if he existed, would have the courtesy title Viscount Downton (Lord Downton). Several other titles also feature. The highest-ranking nobleman to appear is his Grace the Duke of Crowborough (who would never be referred to as 'Lord Crowborough'), but there is also the Most Honourable Hugh, Marquess of Flintshire (Lord Flintshire) and his wife the Marchioness (Lady Flintshire, Lord Grantham's cousin). There are also two 'sirs': Sir Anthony Strallan (who may be a baronet; his deceased wife was Lady Strallan) and Sir Richard Carlisle (who is definitely not a baronet; and if Lady Mary married him, she would have been 'Lady Mary Carlisle' rather than just 'Lady Carlisle' because her title as an earl's daughter outranks her title as a knight's wife).
    • As noted above, Sir Richard probably intended to get a Peerage the next time the Tories took power, as marrying Lady Mary made him much more suitable for the grant of title.
  • Not really a "person", but, the Decepticon Cybertronian Soundwave was knighted for unspecified heroic deeds in Transformers: Shattered Glass.
    • And in Transformers: Generation 2: Redux, the Autobot Pyro was knighted for saving the Queen from a Deception attack. Bonus points for him actually being "born" in Great Britain, unlike Soundwave.
  • The Honor Harrington series has titles based on this system — a lot of them are given out, including to the title character and assorted secondary characters. Queen Elizabeth III rather likes creating peerages to reward people who have served her exceptionally well.
  • Sophie Devereaux from Leverage, a world-class grifter, had conned her way into a Duchess title in her past. "The King George Job" reveals a few details and involves using her old identity to con the royalty-obsessed Mark Of The Week by luring him with a Barony.
  • As of Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance], we get Keyblade Masters Xehanort, Mickey, Eraqus, Aqua and Riku. And also, at least in the Sleeping Worlds, there's Royal Musketeer Sora.
  • In Knowledge is Power Harry is now Lord Potter.
  • Warhammer 40K: The Dark Eldar of all people, such as Duke Traevelliath Sliscus, Lady Aurelia Malys and Baron Sathonyx. The Imperium, strangely enough, doesn't go much for titles, using "Lord" to indicate a King Mook (i.e. Lord General/Inquisitor/Commissar).

Knight ErrantSir Index of TropesThe Knights Hospitallers
The Irish QuestionUsefulNotes/BritainNational Health Service
KizzspriteAdministrivia/Useful Notes Pages in MainThe Knights Hospitallers
Kick the Son of a BitchJust for PunThe Knights Who Say Squee

alternative title(s): The British Title System
random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
86830
0