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Many stories and settings depict aristocracy and royal politics. If nothing else, focusing on the aristocracy is a good way of making the events of your plot feel important, since the fate of nations is in the balance. However, you sometimes find that authors throw about terms and concepts relating to the aristocracy without having done the research. The end result can be that you get barons who outrank dukes, counts who rule kingdoms, and sometimes even kings who rule republics.

You have to be careful, of course, before criticizing (if you criticize at all). Titles can shift greatly in meaning and usage across time and between countries, and so things which appear wrong might actually be okay. And for imaginary countries, of course, there's often a justification: "It just works differently here," is perfectly fine, especially if it's followed by "There are complicated historical reasons which are All There in the Manual." It's not as though the real world hasn't produced odd situations from time to time. Plus, of course, a large dose of "Who the hell actually cares?" should be kept handy. This shouldn't be a list of criticisms so much as a list of oddities: things which are interesting in that they diverge from the expected, but which are not necessarily wrong.

Compare with Artistic License – Politics. See Useful Notes: Knight Fever for a discussion of the British title system (the most commonly referenced in fiction), and examples of that system in fiction that did do the research. Princesses Rule is a subtrope that deals with the fact that an awful lot of female monarchs are ruling princesses. Contrast Just the First Citizen, where the Big Bad opts for a deliberately understated title. Not to be confused with Royally Screwed Up, which is when a royal bloodline tends to produce more than its share of crazy, evil, or incompetent rulers.


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  • Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman has Nicholas Fury refer to "Sir Reed" in an early issue, then eventually reveals that this universe's version of Fantastic Four is led by Sir Richard Reed, who would therefore be called "Sir Richard". 1602: Fantastick Four by Peter David confuses this further (possibly intentionally), by not only using "Sir Reed" but also "Master Richards"—but still giving his full name as "Richard Reed".

    Fan Works 
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: The Wolf is repeatedly addressed as "Ser" Wolf despite obviously not being from Westeros and having nothing but contempt for them, less out of genuine respect and more out of hope he won't kill the person speaking to him. He himself never uses titles for anyone (except for Brienne after she beats one of his men, and referring to Sansa as Lady Stark in one instance), preferring to use their last names if he's trying to get along with them, nicknames if he likes them (Dragonqueen and Shield-slayer for Daenerys and Tyrion), and just insults for everyone else. His men call him Jarl, but he never insists on the term to use (interstingly enough, "Jarl" became "Earl" after the Norman conquest of England).

  • In Star Wars:
    • The Emperor has a Royal Guard, not an Imperial Guard. It's worth noting "Imperial" in this case is a demonym for those belonging to Galactic Empire, rather than relating to the rank of their sovereign, so they're referred to as the Imperial Royal Guard.
    • The Trade Federation has a Viceroy — vice is Latin for "in place of a," and roi is French for "king" — but no roi to be vice of is ever mentioned.
    • The Queen of Naboo is democratically elected. (There have been elective monarchies in the real world, and still are today, but in all the real instances, the monarch is elected by fellow aristocrats rather than by the people—though sometimes the definition of "aristocrat" is so broad that this is a big chunk of the population, as in Poland-Lithuania.) This is said in Star Wars Legends to have been a gradual evolution from a more traditional monarchy. She also serves in office for a fixed time, as opposed to most monarchs who reign until death, deposition or abdication. For all intents and purposes, it's a republic that treats its presidents like monarchs.
    • There appears to be no universally agreed-upon style for the Emperor. He is addressed as "Your Majesty" in Revenge of the Sith and "Your Highness" in Return of the Jedi. In certain other EU sources, Palpatine keeps his old Republican style of "Excellency".
    • Invoked in-universe with Han Solo, who picks up a habit of addressing Leia with outrageous, nonexistent and/or just plain wrong styles.
  • The Princess Diaries: The succession to the monarchy seems to work in a very odd way in Genovia, with it apparently going first to the spouse of the previous monarch. Considering that the one known offspring of the most recent monarch was not of legal age to take the throne, it seems most likely that her grandmother was an acting monarch, as regent for the rightful heir until she reached majority.
  • Many a film set in Ancient Egypt has the monarch referred to as "Pharaoh." The mess in this case comes from individuals who ruled before Thutmose III or his twice-great-grandson Akhenaten, such as the film Land of the Pharaohs, nothing short of anachronistic, since those aforementioned monarchs were the first to be called that by their contemporaries.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Westeros has noticeably fewer noble titles than in real life; George R.R. Martin did this on purpose to simplify things. He has admitted that in retrospect he wishes he had added one or two more titles, mostly to differentiate the great Lords (sometimes distinguished as "high lords" or "Lords Paramount") and their bannermen. As it is, you have hierarchies such as Lord Locke being sworn to Lord Manderly, who is sworn to Lord Stark, who is sworn to the King.
    • The Westerosi hierarchy of feudal titles goes: King (styled "King [given name]" or "[Your] Grace"), High Lord (or Prince in Dorne), Lord Bannerman, and finally just a Lord (styled "Prince [given name]" or "Lord [given or surname]). There are also knights, who may be sworn to any of the above examples of nobility, or work as hedge knights; knights receive the styling "Ser [given name]".
    • Westeros, a continent, is commonly referred to as the Seven Kingdoms, but this is an anachronism; nowadays they aren't kingdoms and there aren't seven of them. Historically, the Seven Kingdoms were exactly as described, with an eighth territory, the Iron Islands, off to one side; but 300 Years Before The Story Started, a single man united (most of) them via war of conquest, the first to do so in recorded history. Now the realm is ruled by one King, who is superordinate to seven "high lords" (including that of the Iron Islands) and one Prince (a courtesy title to honor the fact that Dorne, said principality, resisted said war of conquest and later joined via dynastic marriage), as well as a capital district which swears fealty to him directly.
    • Another In-Universe example of the trope: the southron lords and knights who come with Stannis to the Wall insist on referring to the sister-in-law of a dead "King" of the wildlings as a "wildling princess" (and hope to use her as a political pawn), no matter how many times it's pointed out to them that the wildlings believe in Asskicking Leads to Leadership, not hereditary monarchy, and don't see her as having any innate authority over them.
    • In Meereen, a city-state in Essos, kings and queens are styled "[Your] Magnificence", and the Westerosi "Your Grace" is actively rejected, possibly because the city also features the Temple of the Graces, which houses priestesses, healers, and ritual prostitutes who are known as Graces.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Justified in the case of Barrayar's "counts". The title is actually an abbreviation for "accountant", and they used to be the Emperor's tax collectors. This explanation is considered Shrouded in Myth and possibly apocryphal within the setting but it makes for an amusing anecdote.
    • Count Aral Vorkosigan uses salic descent to defend himself against assertions that he arguably has a better claim to the throne than the current Emperor; given Barrayar's tortured political history (in which he played no small part) defending himself from assuming the throne is exactly the way he thinks of it.
  • Honor Harrington series:
    • Later in the series the titles get pretty messy including not only the British noble titles but several more, not to mention knighthoods...
    • It causes confusion in universe, as well, once they bring the Graysons into the mix. Grayson is split into Steadings, each Steading lead by a Steadholder, and the Steadholders all answering (more or less) to the Protector. That said, it is established in the later books that each Steadholder is considered equal in noble station to the Queen of Manticore, given the nature of Grayson government and politics.
  • In Tamora Pierce's earliest books, she uses both "earl" and "count" in a way that implies they're two different things. "Earl" is just the English name for what continental Europe calls a count (and an earl's wife is still called a countess).note 
  • The Maradonia Saga and Inheritance Cycle both have kings ruling empires.
  • In the Kingdom of Gwynedd the peerage comes in three flavors; Dukes, Earls and Barons. The title 'lord' or 'lady' is however generously applied to cadets and descendants of those three orders, apparently indefinitely. 'Lord' Rhys Thuryn for example is the son of a younger son and in our world would be untitled but in Gwynedd he is a lord and so are his sons and his daughters are ladies. The title of Prince or Princess seems similarly transmittable ad infinitem.
  • In their notes on The Mote in God's Eye, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle explain that the real titles of nobility used by the Empire of Man centuries in the future are things like "sector commander" or "commissar" but they're employing 19th-century British-style titles as a Translation Convention.
  • Played with in The Fifth Elephant, where a character tots up all the titles Vimes has been granted only to have Vimes point out that some of them ought to cancel out the others.
  • In 'And I Darken', Mehmed's mother Huma, upon his ascension to the throne, calls herself the 'valide Sultan', the mother of the sultan, which, in the 1450's, was a title that did not exist yet, since it was created several generations later and first used for the mother of Sulyeman the Magnifcent, Hafsa Sultan. Another point is when Halil Pasha is made vizier and his title is changed to Halil Vizier when it should have stayed Halil Pasha.
  • Black Fleet Crisis: The head of state in the Yevethan Duskhan League is the Viceroy, a title that denotes a person who rules territory subordinate to a monarch. However, there is no one higher, and the Viceroys are also basically absolute monarchs.
  • The Burning Kingdoms: General Vikram is regent in Ahiranya, a country that Parijatdvipan rules. However, the Parijati sovereign is Emperor Chandra, whom he answers to. A regent is the title of an official with temporary authority over the monarchy, but here he seems more like a viceroy, ruling on the monarch's behalf in a territory within his empire.
  • The Queen Of Ieflaria: The Ieflarian monarchs are called regents. A regent is someone appointed to act in the place of a monarch (e.g. after one dies until their heir comes of age). Here however they're clearly rulers in their own right, leaving this title unexplained.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Babylon 5, the Centauri Republic has both an Emperor and a Royal Navy. The Republic was modeled in part on The Roman Empire, which in its early phases insisted that it was still a republic despite the Emperor ruling all.
  • The West Wing has Lord John Marbury, who is Earl of Croy, Earl of Sherborne, Marquess of Needham and Dolby, Baronet of Brycey and therefore would correctly be referred to as Lord Needham (being the most senior title). Arguably he may have been a younger son when he started his diplomatic career and unexpectedly inherited but chooses to use to previous styling. Or the writers didn't look things up. As Lord John Marbury is a crazy person, it might simply him bucking tradition for a laugh's sake.
  • Downton Abbey really has Shown Their Work respecting the British aristocracy; it rather helps that series creator Julian Fellowes comes from the upper crust and is himself a Tory life peer. Notably, Sir Richard Carlisle's mangling of proper address when speaking to Lord Grantham's sister:
    Carlisle: Ah, Lady Painswick.
    Rosamund: [with a grandiosity befitting her mother] Lady Rosamund.
  • Merlin (2008) does get the "heir apparent" thing right, with Arthur being named as such on his birthday.
  • Magnificent Century: When Mahidevran first arrives in the Eirdne palace she is referred to as being the Haskei Sultan, or the favorite woman. Eventually Hurrem becomes the Haskei Sultan. However in real life, Hurrem was the first Haskei ever, because Sulyeman created the title for her to show her position above Ottoman princesses but below the Valide. When Mahidevran was his favored wife, the title did not exist.

  • Gene Chandler's 1962 classic Duke of Earl obviously makes no sense. The lyrics also state "we'll walk through my dukedom", but "dukedom" more commonly refers to the office of a duke; while it can also refer to the territory as well, the more common term for that is "duchy".

  • Bleak Expectations: An odd one. Right from the off, the narrator is addressed as Sir Phillip Bin, and properly addressed as "Sir Phillip" by characters in the framing device (or "Sir Phillip in-law" by his son in-law at one point), but his past self is not after he gets it in series 3.
  • Cabin Pressure at one point features a King of Liechtenstein, which is really a principality. Word of God, heading off the inevitable angry letters, pointed out that this was because a particular joke relies on the regal, senior expectations associated with a "king", whereas our expectations of a "prince" would not be so subverted by The Reveal that he's a small child.

    Video Games 
  • Pokémon X and Y has a mix of European and UK style ranks at the Battle Chateau. Of particular note is the fourth rank: for males it's 'marquis', but for females it's 'marchioness'. Marchioness is the English term for a lady of that rank, while marquis is the French term for a male of that rank. If they had stuck to one language it would have been 'marquis and marquise' or 'marquess and marchioness'.

  • In The Order of the Stick, Vaarsuvius addressed Roy as "Sir Greenhilt", which isn't how a real knighthood would work—but of course, judicious application of "this isn't the real world" a la Miko would take care of that. Of course, Roy isn't actually a knight of any kingdom either...

    Web Original 
  • In Pay Me, Bug!, the Free Trade Baronies — ruled by "Barons" — are actually independent states. According to the manual, they originally evolved from "corporate states", so their CEOs-turned-rulers probably just assigned themselves a title that sounded cool during the transition from corporation to government. Although, how they all wound up assigning themselves the same title isn't elaborated upon.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender,
    • The ruler of the Fire Nation is called the Fire Lord, while his children are referred to as "prince" and "princess", with an explicit mention of a "crown prince".
    • Interestingly, when Ozai creates the world-ruling rank of "Phoenix King" and turned the Fire Nation over to his daughter, she retains the title of "Fire Lord".
    • In The Legend of Korra, Zuko abdicated and his daughter is "Fire Lord", meaning it’s gender neutral. The Fire Lord's consort has no known title, but it seems only female consorts are referred to as Fire Lady. Her son Iroh is only referred with to his military title and not his royal one, making his status as the heir unclear. He’s probably the crown prince since he’s a few years older than Korra and his sister who got cut due to time restraints is implicitly the same age as her note  but it’s not for certain.
    • According to Nickelodeon official site, the ancient kings of Ba Sing Se unified the Earth Kingdom in a confederation, and by law the current king is known as Earth King and rule over the subordinate kings. By the time of the series, the Earth King is merely a figurehead, and at least some of the subordinate kings and rulers (like Bumi) have their power back. Bumi is the King of a heavily fortified independent city-state, while the Earth King himself is the head of the loosely united Earth Kingdom (appears to be a coalition of city-states with a common culture and heritage), with direct nominal control over Ba Sing Se and the region within the great walls.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Equestria is a kingdom ruled by two princesses. In it are the Kingdom of Canterlot and the Crystal Empire among others, the latter is ruled by a Princess and Prince instead of an Emperor and Empress, and it was previously ruled by a queen and taken over by a king. The only aversion is the ancient Kingdom of the Unicorns, which was ruled by a king.
    • It gets even more confusing in the tie-in book Journal of the Two Sisters, which states that Celestia and Luna were given the throne by the three pony tribes, of which only one of the tribes was a monarchy (the other two appear to be a stratocracy and some type of republic.), meaning the two highest princesses in the land didn't obtain their titles through royal succession. Plus, Princess Twilight Sparkle and Prince Shining Armor, who are siblings, were both formerly commoners. The former was appointed Princess by Princess Celestia and the latter gained his title by marrying Princess Cadance, implying that Shining Armor is technically just a Prince Consort (though in his case, it helps that he was the commander of Princess Celestia's Royal Guard.) Also, the current Princess of the Crystal Empire (who is the aforementioned Princess Cadance) is a princess in Canterlot's court, not the Empire's.
      • Considering that the Crystal Empire was once known as the Crystal Kingdom, the very strange political makeup of Equestria can be speculated to be because of 1000+ years of political drift. A common theory is that Equestria operates as a Federation, but the federal government operates as a monarchy instead of a republic. Canterlot's government also doubles as the federal government.
  • In the In-Universe movie "The Duchess Approves" from Gravity Falls, there is a Count Lionel at the British court. In England, the title of "Earl" replaces the continental rank of "Count". It's vaguely plausible he could be a foreign royal, but with an English name and accent, it's not likely.

    Real Life 
  • Fun fact: he wants you to call him "Sir Geoffrey Lord Archer", but unless he's been knighted he's Lord Archer or Jeffrey Lord Archer. "Sir" is reserved to those who have received a knighthood.
  • Native "princesses". You've probably encountered someone who refers to their ancestor as a "Cherokee princess". Such things didn't exist, but marrying a princess of any nationality was a mark of superiority, even if that princess came from people the government was trying to exterminate.
    • King James I of England took Pocahontas' 'royalty' so seriously he considered prosecuting John Rolfe for having the gall to marry a 'royal princess'.
  • Modern day Andorra is officially a principality, but despite the monarchical title of the country, it is run like a crowned republic in all but name. Furthermore, it doesn't even have its own head of state, as that function is uniquely shared by two "co-rulers of Andorra": The current Bishop of Urgell (in Spain) and the current French president. Before France became a republic, Andorra's worldly head of state was the current Count of Foix. (The co-ruler system began in the Middle Ages, when Roger-Bernard III, Count of Foix agreed to share ownership of Andorra with the office of the Bishop of Urgell.) So, Andorra is a principality, co-ruled by a count (now president) and a bishop and is otherwise relatively republican in nature. Even by the often wacky political traditions of the tinier European countries, it's hard to top Andorra as an example.
  • By tradition, members of the British royal family select their regnal name from among their first names; since Prince William is 'William Philip Arthur Louis', it's entirely possible that the UK will have a genuine King Arthur one day.
  • The Lord Norton of Louth regularly publishes blog posts about the strange ways in which correspondents mangle his name.
  • Bulgaria has Simeon II. While the monarchy was abolished by a (rigged) referendum in 1946, Simeon was an infant in exile and never formally renounced the title of Tzar. In 2001 he returned to the country and ruled as Prime Minister.