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. Unlike what modern melodramas might presume, it was rarely used to weed out those who "went to the wrong school", just those who pretended they went to the right school but didn't. And of course, until the Victorian era most aristocrats didn't go to school anyway.
- The Sovereign: currently a Queen Regnant, Elizabeth II of The House of Windsor. She is addressed as "Your Majesty" on first approach, "Ma'am"note subsequently, and referred to as "Her Majesty". A male sovereign would be a King and be referred to as His Majesty (and Sir), of course.
- It's often said that a King should be addressed as "Sire". This was once the case but the modern (since 1820) trend is to use "Sir".
- The sovereign is not permitted to abdicate unilaterally. See Resignations Not Accepted for details.
- The Consort: A male sovereign's wife is by law a Queen Consort. A female sovereign's husband does not share in his wife's rank, but instead is usually given whatever style the sovereign (or, more accurately, the government of the day) thinks appropriate:
- Prince Philip was given a royal dukedom, as was Queen Anne's husband Prince George of Denmark.
- Meanwhile, Victoria's husband Albert was never made a peer.note He was not even given the style "Prince Consort" until he had been royal consort for seventeen years — and even that title was basically a Backhanded Compliment in the sense of "ok, you're a prince who happens to be married to the Queen, so we'll call you that".
- Peculiarly, both Mary I of England and Mary II of England and Scotland ruled jointly with their husbands, with Parliament making the consorts kings in their own right. In each case, the relevant husband was a foreign monarch (more or less):
- Mary I of England — that is, Bloody Mary — was married to King Philip II of Spain. During her reign, all official documents refer to Philip as the King of England and he was generally treated as the proper king while his wife was alive. However, he is usually left off the official list because he never had any children with Mary and because he tried to invade England in 1588, 30 years after Mary died.
- Mary II was married to William of Orange, who had a weird position in the Dutch political system of the day — officially, the Netherlands was a federation of seven republics, but unofficially each republic elected the Prince of Orange their Stadtholder (principal magistrate/military commander-in-chief) (usually anyway).note This meant William knew what it meant to be a constitutional head of state, which is exactly what Parliament wanted after the Glorious Revolution. Plus he was Protestant! As a result, Parliament not only made him king, they let him stay king after Mary died (something denied to Philip) and would have let his heirs by any second wife inherit if he remarried (he never did, though, so the throne went to Mary's sister Anne).
- Mary, Queen of Scots had three husbands, but each of them died or were deposed before their exact titles could be settled; at least one (Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, James VI and I's father) was declared king consort, but it's not clear how widely this was accepted.
- And finally, Elizabeth I avoided this whole mess through the expedient of never marrying.
- The Offspring: The children of a sovereign or heir apparent and the children of the sons of a sovereign or heir apparent automatically receive the style of "Royal Highness".note Some male members of the Royal Family also hold noble titles, as mentioned below. Other family members (say, a female heir's husband) may be permitted the style by royal warrant.
- A note on "prince" and "princess": Any person styled HRH from birth is also a prince or princess from birth. The wife of a prince is not technically a princess, but instead "shares" in his title (ie. Princess Michael of Kent; see below). The title "prince" or "princess" may also be granted by the Sovereign, theoretically to anyone, but in practice only to certain people with direct ties to the Royal Family. This was the case with Prince William's children, who are not the children or grandchildren of the monarch (they're the Queen's great-grandchildren); before Prince George was born, it was decided that William's children would be granted the right to be princes and princesses as they would — as children of the eldest son of the eldest son — be in the direct line of succession.
- There is also a special title of "Princess Royal"; this title is peculiar, as it is (1) only granted to the eldest daughter of a sovereignnote (2) can only be held by one person at a time (so even though HM The Queen was the eldest daughter of a sovereign, she never the received the title because she took the throne while her aunt Mary, Princess Royal, eldest daughter of George V, was still living), and (3) is completely discretionary (the current Princess Royal, Anne, became eligible to receive the title when the aforementioned Mary, Princess Royal, died in 1965, but did not actually get it until her mother deemed it proper—in 1987).
- The definition of what is considered the appropriate usage of the "Royal Highness" title was tweaked somewhat in early 2020 when Prince Harry and his wife Meghan decided to permanently move away from Britain to Canada, to split time between there and Los Angeles, California. Their original intent was to continue serving as what has been termed 'working royals' in an area where they would not be constantly hounded by the British press note . To make what has been a very drawn-out and involved story short, they had wanted to have it both ways, being able to use their royal status and celebrity to support their own private charities and causes while at the time same avoiding much of the responsibility that other royal family members, even those much further away from the main line of succession, are saddled with. After a long round of bridge burning, bridge building, and negotiation, the Queen allowed their move to live their own lives and pursue their own interests, but removed the couple's HRH titles and forbade them from using the terms 'royal', 'prince', 'princess', or any other title of royalty in affiliation with any of their projects. Harry would henceforth be simply titled as Harry, Duke of Sussex, and the term 'Royal Highness' would be only given to those members of the royal family who are minors and those in their majority who are, for lack of a better term, are authorised to represent the sovereign (in speeches, public appearances, endorsements, etc.).
- The Spouses: Wives of male Royal Highnesses use a female version of their husband's style for the duration of the marriage (and afterwards, if widowed). The wife of HRH the Earl of Wessex is HRH the Countess of Wessex, while the wife of Prince Michael of Kent is referred to as Princess Michael of Kent. Her actual first name is Marie-Christine.
- This was stretched almost to breaking-point after Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles. Even though she was widely referred to as "Princess Diana", she was in fact HRH the Princess of Wales. After their divorce, she was allowed to style herself as Diana, Princess of Wales. Camilla Parker-Bowles wisely opted not to style herself as "Princess of Wales" when she married Charles, opting to use one of his lesser titles and style herself as the Duchess of Cornwall (or the Duchess of Rothesay when she's in Scotland).
- A notable exception to this rule was Princess Marina, the Queen's aunt. As the wife of the Duke of Kent, she was HRH the Duchess of Kent but after he died, she chose to style herself as "Princess Marina". She could do this because she was an actual princess in her own right — she was a member of the Greek royal family (as well as being the Queen's aunt by marriage, she was also Prince Philip's cousin).
- Husbands of female Royal Highnesses simply keep their own names. Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi did not get any new titles when he married Princess Beatrice in 2020. In the past, men marrying princesses have been given titles — Anthony Armstrong-Jones was made the Earl of Snowden when he married Princess Margaret — but since Mark Phillips declined the offer of a peerage when he married Princess Anne, this has fallen into abeyance.
- Others: The widow of a King is a Queen Dowager; however, if she's the mother of the current sovereign she might choose to be called Queen Mother instead (as Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon did, partly to avoid confusion with her daughter who has the same name as her; going back a generation, Queen Mary simply continued to be known as "Queen Mary" after her husband, George V, died). There's no precedent as to how to address the widower of a queen; the only male consort to have survived his wifenote was the afore-mentioned Philip of Spain; although the English called him many fine things (especially after that incident in the Channel in 1588), none of them were related to his marriage. While Mary had had him declared King, few took this particularly seriously, and absolutely nobody did after Mary's death and Elizabeth's accession. In any case, he had his own title.
- A common mistake by writers is to use titles such as "Your Royal Majesty" or "Your Highness" in modern works. The first has never existednote and is mainly popular with American historical novelists; the second was once used in the Royal Family,note but is now only held by the Aga Khan, leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims.
- It's worth noting that before Henry VIII, kings were usually addressed as "Your Grace"note or even "my liege". Some earlier monarchs tried out the "Majesty" title on a limited basis, but Henry was the first to insist on it.
- Duke (Duchess): The highest title of the lot. The word comes from the Latin dux (from ducere, meaning "to lead"), a title in the late Roman Empirenote for the chief of the military in a province. Address as "Your Grace" when you are talking to him, unless he is a "royal duke" like Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. A royal duke is a duke who is also styled Royal Highness, i.e. a duke who is also a prince. The overwhelming majority of Dukes (23 of 29) are non-royal.
- Royal dukedoms become non-royal after the second generation; the definition of a Prince (or Princess) of the royal family is anyone whose parent or paternal grandparent is or was Sovereign or heir apparent to the the throne (or, again, someone specifically given the title "Prince" by the monarch).
- 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". By coincidence (or something), the heirs to the dukedoms of Gloucester and Kent will be the first holders of ex-royal dukedoms since the Wars of the Roses; ever since Edward of York, 4th Duke of York took the throne as Edward IV, royal dukedoms always ended because the first or sometimes the second holder always either died with no legitimate male issue (a lot of them had mountains of illegitimate children and quite a few had only daughters) or inherited the throne themselves. Prince Albert, Duke of York, managed to do both when he became King (as George VI) and left the throne to his daughter (the present Queen) because he had no sons.
- Because nothing concerning titles can be simple, this has to be qualified. Two royal dukedoms — Cumberland & Teviotdale (a double Dukedom) and Albany — were affected by the Titles Deprivation Act of 1917 because the holders of these titles were German subjects — Germany being at war with Britain at the time. The holders were deprived of their titles, but the titles weren't themselves made extinct; should a successor wish to do so, he could petition the Privy Council to have them restored as an ex-royal dukedom. Because this remains a theoretical possibility, it is highly unlikely that any future royals will be created Duke of Cumberland or Duke of Albany in the future. Essentially, this could only happen if the families in question die out completely.
- Royal dukedoms should be distinguished from dukedoms created for illegitimate sons of monarchs (like the Dukedom of Grafton, created for one of Charles II's bastards) or husbands of royal daughters (like the Dukedom of Fife, created for the Scottish nobleman who married Edward VII's eldest daughter, Princess Louise). Even though they are associated with the royal family, these titles are not royal dukedoms because their holders were not necessarily royals.
- Complicating matters, the second holder of the Dukedom of Fife actually was royal, being the grandchild of Edward VII; making things even more complicated, she actually held the title as a duchess, as the circumstances under which that particular title was created allowed for daughters to succeed their father to the title should their parents have no sons, which they didn't. It gets even more complicated when you consider that this second duchess — Princess Alexandra — married Prince Arthur of Connaught, her first cousin once removed, who was also descended from Queen Victoria.
- The high status of dukes and the distinction between royal and non-royal dukedoms was 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".
- Royal dukedoms become non-royal after the second generation; the definition of a Prince (or Princess) of the royal family is anyone whose parent or paternal grandparent is or was Sovereign or heir apparent to the the throne (or, again, someone specifically given the title "Prince" by the monarch).
- Marquess (Marchioness): Started out as a title given to lords who were granted lands on the borders with Wales and Scotland and so were considered more important because they were guarding the realm from dangerous foreigners; from "march", an obsolete word for "borderland". The connection with borderlands was eventually lost; probably the most notable marquessate is that of Salisbury (held by the Cecil family), but Salisbury is nowhere near any border. Anne Boleyn was ennobled as Lady Marquess of Pembroke before she married Henry VIII. Pronounced either "mark-us" or "mar-kwiss" depending on the time period, but never "mar-kee" (which is the version used on the Continent, spelled "marquis", feminine form "marquise"note ).
- Earl (Countess): The title either comes from or is derived from the Old English equivalent of the Norse "jarl", meaning "chieftain" or "ruler in stead of the King", and was the equivalent of a duke until the Conquest of 1066. Note the Anglo-Saxon spelling is Eorl. The Normans made it the equivalent of the Continental count,note and probably chose the native Teutonic word over their own Romance one because of the aural similarity of "count" to a certain word for an undignified part of the body in the tongue of their new subjects,note whence "countess" (which you have to admit is better than "earless") for the wife of an earl. There is one "royal earl", the Queen's third and youngest son Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. (He's expected to be created Duke of Edinburgh after his mother dies.note )
- Viscount (Viscountess): The title means "vice-count"; was originally a secondary title given to earls for the use of their sons. The most famous viscounts are probably two 19th-century Prime Ministers, William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne and Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston. While commonly held as a subsidiary title of an earldom, viscountcies are fairly rarley held as a peer's most senior title; Queen Victoria noticed this while reviewing the guest list before her coronation and recorded this response from the aforementioned Lord Melbourne (from her diaries):
I spoke to Ld M. about the numbers of Peers present at the Coronation, & he said it was quite unprecedented. I observed that there were very few Viscounts, to which he replied "There are very few Viscounts," that they were an old sort of title & not really English; that they came from Vice-Comites; that Dukes & Barons were the only real English titles; that Marquises were likewise not English, & that people were mere made Marquises, when it was not wished that they should be made Dukes.
- Baron (Baroness): The title comes from a Germanic word meaning "warrior". A female baron is a baroness, but not The Baroness. Usually. Thankfully.
- Lord of Parliament (the equivalent of Baron in the Peerage of Scotland; "Baron" traditionally meant something else in Scotland and to some degree still does, but it's insanely complicated so just keep reading)
Peers are referred to and usually addressed as "Lord [title]" unless they're dukes, in which case (as mentioned) they're addressed as "Your Grace" and referred to as "The Duke of [title]". Women who are peers in their own right get "Lady" and "Duchess" instead of "Lord" and "Duke". Wives of male peers share their husbands' social rank and use the female version of their husband's title - but husbands of female peers (and wives of female peers and husbands of male peers, now that those are a thing) do not. This unfair-seeming custom arose primarily to save men's feelings; a man who took his wife's title might (shock! horror!) be mistaken for her subordinate instead of her lord and master, clearly something no red-blooded man would tolerate. This wasn't always the case; before the Tudor era, the husband of a peeress in her own right usually exercised her authority and thus assumed her title (known as holding a title jure uxoris, "by wife's right"). The most famous example of this is Richard Neville, a.k.a. "Warwick the Kingmaker", who inherited the earldom of Salisbury from his mother but was (and still is) usually known by his wife's earldom of Warwick.
A peer's eldest son uses his father's second title (if any) "by courtesy" during the father's lifetime. Thus, Prince Edward is the Earl of Wessex and his son James gets to be called Viscount Severn as that is his father's second title. All dukes, marquesses and earls have at least one second title. Sometimes, the most senior second title is not used when it refers to the place mentioned in the senior title, in order to avoid confusion. For example, although the Duke of Westminster's second title is Marquess of Westminster, the duke's eldest son uses the title Earl Grosvenor — or he would if he existed; the current duke, who inherited the title in 2016, is unmarried.
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 was most commonly done in the 17th-19th centuries, when the Lords were still firmly part of the political process, and the acceleration was used so that an heir apparent with a promising political career could pursue it without having to worry about getting elected every so often. 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, when the heir of a hereditary peerage merits elevation to the House of Lords, new non-hereditary baronies will be created as needed.
Younger sons/daughters of dukes and marquesses and daughters of earls, and eldest sons of earls who do not possess a subsidiary title to lend them,note use "Lord/Lady [firstname] [lastname]". This distinction is important (and fiction writers get it wrong all the time): "Lord John Smith" and "Lord Smith" are NOT interchangeable and NOT the same person. Lord John is not a peer, but merely a son of the current (or late) Lord Smith (or, perhaps, of William Smith, Duke of Puddleby), using the style "Lord" by courtesy only. Example Any other children of peers are addressed in writing as "The Honourable [first name] [last name]"; when speaking to or of them, however, you'd just use "Mr.", "Miss", etc.
Informally, all peers except dukes can be referred to as "Lord Title-name", as mentioned above. Formally, however, dukes, marquesses, almost all earls, and some Scottish viscounts 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 English viscounts have no of because their styles usually derive from surnames, as do those of a few earls (e.g. Earl Russell). Writers should keep in mind that a title normally rendered as (for example) "the Earl of Matlock" cannot also be rendered as "Earl Matlock"; you have to pick one or the other and stick to it, keeping in mind that either can also be rendered as "Lord Matlock".
Succession rules for titles are set by the letters patent that create them. In most cases, the rule is that a title can only be inherited by a legitimate blood male relative from the male line of the latest title holder's family. Those born out of wedlock or adopted are usually excluded from lines of succession. If a title holder dies without any direct descendants, family trees are scoured until a suitable heir is found somewhere in the world. This is how the Dukedom of Atholl (and the hereditary chieftainship of Clan Murray) ended up being held by Bruce Murray, a South African businessman who's mostly bemused by the strange twist his life has taken note .
A few titles can pass to a male heir through the female line (ie. to a daughter's son or sororal nephew). In Scotland, many peerages are linked to clan chieftainships which can and do pass to a female if there are no suitable males. "Modern" hereditary titles that can pass through the female line or to an heiress are usually so because of the situation of the original grantee; ie. a man with only daughters who was elevated to the peerage would ask that his title be inheritable by or through a daughter. A good example is the dukedom of Marlborough which was created for John Churchill by Queen Anne in 1702. As Churchill had no sons, his eldest daughter Henrietta inherited the title, becoming the second Duchess of Marlborough. When she died, the title passed to her nephew (the son of her sister, who had predeceased her) who became the third Duke.
Should no suitable heir for a title can be found, then the line is considered to be ended even if the family continues to live and thrive. Dead titles go back into the grab bag and might get dusted off after a few generations to be handed out to new recipients as entirely new creations rather than as continuations of the original lines. The earldom of Warwick, for example, is currently in its fourth creation.
Life Peerages:These have existed since the passing of the Life Peerages Act of 1958. A life peer is an appointed member of the peerage whose title cannot be inherited, in contrast to hereditary peers. Since 1958, the vast majority of new peerages that have been created have been these.
- All modern life peerages are baronies. Life peers are known as "Lord/Lady Title-Name". Usually, the title name derives from their surname rather than a place, although the full title includes both. This is useful because you can have more than one lord with the same title name — for example, there are currently several life peers with the surname Smith who are all "Lord Smith" or "Lady Smith", with the place name being added (Lord Smith of Finsbury, etc) if one needs to specify which one they are referring to. As they get to choose their title name when they are ennobled, some choose not to use their surname. Sometimes a particular surname may not be appropriate — when a politician called Michael Lord was given a life peerage in 2011, he was told that he could not be "Lord Lord" so opted to be Lord Framlingham (after a town in the constituency he had formerly represented as an MP).
- A few holders of life peerages prefer to use "Baron" or "Baroness" as opposed to "Lord" or "Lady". Margaret Thatcher, for instance, preferred "Baroness Thatcher" — starting what seems to be a developing trend for life peeresses to use "Baroness" in order to stress that they hold a title in their own right and are not simply the wives of peers or knights.
- Several hereditary peers are also life peers, having been granted the latter honour after the House of Lords Act of 1999 which limited the number of hereditary peers who can sit in the House of Lords.
- A title specifically created just to look posh; the king used to sell them to get extra cash. None have been created since 1964 (except for Denis Thatcher, who got one for being Margaret Thatcher's husband), 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.
- 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.
- Baronetships are almost always transmitted only to direct male heirs; if a baronet has no sons, the title extinguishes at his death. There are a very few that can pass to a male heir in the female line, and one that can pass to a female; these were crafted thus because of the unique situations of the original grantees.
A quick note on the terms "The Peerage", "The Peerage of England", "The Peerage of Scotland", "The Peerage of Ireland", "The Peerage of Great Britain", and "The Peerage of the United Kingdom'':Because Britain is not simply one country but a "country of countries" with a rather complicated history of mergers, demergers, and reorganisations, the hereditary aristocracy of the kingdom is as well. It would, therefore, be a good idea to clarify the differences between a certain set of terms so we're clear on them as we go forward:
- A peerage is a single noble title of baronial rank or above (see above for more details).
- The Peerage is a catch-all term referring to all persons who hold peerages (hereditary or life).
- The Peerage of [Insert Country Here], on the other hand, refers to a legal classification of the various titles that Peers hold based on which Sovereign created their titles and when. To wit:
- The Peerage of England and the Peerage of Scotland refer, respectively, to the peers whose titles were created by the English and Scottish monarchs (again respectively) prior to the 1707 Act of Union.
- The Peerage of Ireland refers to the class of Peers whose titles were created by the Irish sovereign (who was always the King of England or later, King of Great Britain) prior to the 1801 Acts of Union.
- The Peerage of Great Britain refers to the class of Peers whose titles were created by the British sovereign between 1707 and 1800.
- The Peerage of the United Kingdom refers to the class of Peers whose titles were created by the British sovereign since 1801. Naturally, all life peers are in this Peerage.
HistoryThese different Peerages historically (i.e. before the House of Lords Act 1999 revoked the inherent right of Peers to sit in the House) had different rights. Under the terms of the 1707 Act of Union, peers in the Peerage of Scotland did not have an automatic right to sit in the House of Lords of the new Kingdom of Great Britain — the English thought that the kingdom had too many peers already without adding all of the Scottish lords (there was frequent talk of doing something to trim the size of the English Lords, but nobody could be bothered to go beyond that and actually make a plan), and on top of that Scotland had a lot of peers relative to its size. So the Peerage of Scotland elected sixteen of their number — termed "Representative Peers" — each Parliamentary term to sit in the Lords to represent their interests. As a side-effect, the remaining Scottish Peers who were not so chosen could (and did) seek election to the House of Commons.
The Peerage of Ireland has an even funnier history. Because the English sovereign had claimed the title "King of Ireland" since the Tudor era, many English people received Irish titles; some of these actually lived in Ireland (being the Anglo-Irish), but many did not. After the Union of the Crowns, many Scots also received Irish peerages. As the Kingdom of Ireland was legally separate until 1800, Irish Peers did not sit in the English, Scottish, or British House of Lords until then, but rather the separate Irish House of Lords (which had an alarmingly high absentee rate thanks to all the lords who actually lived in England), and were therefore entitled to seek election to the House of Commons in Britain. Irish titles were therefore often offered when someone who was already a member of the Commons and wished to remain one or wanted to seek a seat in the Commons later was eligible for a peerage. When Ireland joined the Union pursuant to the 1801 Act of Union, this arrangement ended; for reasons similar to those that applied with the Union with Scotland in 1707, members of the Peerage of Ireland were to elect Representative Peers, but unlike their Scottish brethren, Irish lords got 28 seats and Irish Representative Peers held their seats for life. The remaining Irish lords continued to be allowed to seek seats in the Commons; Victorian PM The Viscount Palmerston is the most prominent example.
This did not, however, mean that there were only ever 16 Scottish and 28 Irish peers in the Lords. Peers in the new Peerages of Great Britain and (subsequently) the United Kingdom were entitled to sit in the House of Lords as well, and many holders of Scottish and Irish titles were given additional titles in the Peerages of Great Britain and (subsequently) the United Kingdom to allow them to sit at Westminster (and for various other reasons; the monarchs of The House of Hanover, in particular, loved creating new titles at the drop of a hat). It gets more complex after that, though, but we must note this: titles in the Peerages other than the Peerage of the United Kingdom are all over 200 years old, with the English and Scottish titles all being over 300 years old. Even a lowly baron in the Peerage of England or Lord of Parliament in the Peerage of Scotland is ridiculously aristocratic.
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. Top level of honour for England and Wales. 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 Limited in number to 24 (other than ex officio members and "supernumeraries", generally members of the Royal Family and occasionally foreign monarchs). The Queen is an ex officio member (as is her consort) and the motto appears on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom as used outside Scotland.
- Order of the Thistle (KT or LT). A Scottish one; it's the top honour for Scotland, at the same level as the Order of the Garter. Limited in number to sixteen (plus a few "extra" knights, generally members of the Royal Family and occasionally foreign monarchs). 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), and appears on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom as used inside Scotland.
- Order of the Bath (GCB for Grand Cross members; KCB/DCB for Knight/Dame Commanders; CB for Companions, who are not knights). This is divided into two divisions, one for civil servants and the other 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 KCBs 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 and the occasional comedian who have rendered overseas service to the Kingdom. ("CMG" is for "Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George", which is not a knighthood.)
- Thanks to Yes, Minister, the amusing alternative explanations are fairly well known: CMG means "Call Me God", KCMG means "Kindly Call Me God", and GCMG means "God calls me god.". More seriously, it's a cynical but not necessarily inaccurate interpretation to say that a CMG has a pretty good idea where an embarrassing body is buried, a KCMG knows exactly where it is, and a GCMG still has the shovel used to inter it.
- Royal Victorian Order (GCVO, Knight Grand Cross; KCVO/DCVO, Knight/Dame Commander; see below for other levels). For personal services to the Royal Family.
- Order of the British Empire. The "catch-all" order, more or less. 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 and Sir Terry Pratchett OBE. If you don't have any such letters, you can follow your name with "Kt". This is the oldest kind of knighthood in Britain; if you're thinking of the classic knight of The High Middle Ages with the armour and sword and horse and lance "running around and killing things," his title was, essentially, Knight Bachelor.note
- High Court Judges were historically made Knights Bachelor but are now always made a KBE; since there is no such thing as a "Dame Bachelor" (Dame Spinster?), women appointed to the High Court Bench were always made DBEs, and now that so many women are being appointed to the Bench, it didn't seem fair to put the male judges on a lower footing.
- Knighthoods are for life. That said, it is possible (albeit rare) for someone to be stripped of a knighthood; this has happened to Anthony Blunt, Fred Goodwin and Robert Mugabe, among others. What's not quite so well known is that upon death, knighthoods automatically cease to apply in all cases, regardless of the individual's behaviour in life, because knighthoods are created in living orders, of which the individual ceases to be a member when they die. For example, the revelation that the late Sir Jimmy Savile was a serial paedophile and rapist fuelled calls for his knighthood to be stripped posthumously - but the question arose, given that the knighthood had expired with him, as to whether this is legally possible. So far, the question remains unanswered — the government let the furore blow over without seriously attempting it. This was probably a wise move, as historians or political activists might have seen this case as a precedent to have other historic individuals removed from the ranks due to Values Dissonance.
Other Honour Titles:
- CB — Companion of the Order of the Bath
- OM — Order of Merit (Can. Fr. Ordre du Mérite): For outstanding lifetime achievement. Only 24 are allowed in at any time. Florence Nightingale was made a member at the age of 87. All citizens of Commonwealth Realms are eligible. Despite not having a knightly title, membership in the Order of Merit is considered to be an extremely, ridiculously high honour on account of the fact that there can only be 24 members and that to even be considered you basically have to be the best in your field not only in the Commonwealth but the world. Practically everyone in the Order is either someone you've probably heard of at least once in your life (e.g. Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Sir David Attenborough, Sir Tom Stoppard, Norman Foster, Lord Foster of Thames Banknote Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Jean Chrétien, John Howard) or someone who did really amazing things in an obscure but important or interesting field (e.g. two recently deceased members, Sir Michael Atiyah, a Fields Medal-winning mathematician, and Sir Aaron Klug, a Nobel-winning biophysicist).
- CMG — Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George
- CVO, LVO, MVO — Commander/Lieutenant/Member of the Royal Victorian Order
- DSO — Distinguished Service Order. For exceptionally good military personnel. Previously an officers-only bravery award — second only to the Victoria Cross — but since military honours were revised in 1993 it has become an award for awarded specifically for highly successful leadership during active operations, with all ranks being eligible.
- CBE, OBE, MBE — Commander/Officer/Member of the Order of the British Empire. These are the most commonly-granted honours, and there's a lot of confusion about the meanings of the abbreviations for the Order of the British Empire. Even major media outlets and commentators who should know better sometimes mistakenly assume that OBE simply means "Order of the British Empire". Not to mention the people who expand MBE to "Member of the British Empire". Countries in The Commonwealth have their own versions, but their Commander is renamed as "Companion".
- CH — Companion of Honour (Can. Fr. Compagnon d'honneur): For outstanding achievements in certain things; this ranges from politics and industry to the sciences to literature and the arts, with most being either artistic types or retired politicians. Seen as being a bit like the junior grade of the Order of Merit. Maximum membership of the Order of the Companions of Honour is 65 at any one time, including the monarch. Open to all citizens of the Commonwealth Realms, subject to certain limits: no more than 47 for the UK, 7 for Australia, 4 for New Zealand, and 9 for all other Commonwealth Realms.note , Additional "honourary" members may be added for non-Commonwealth Realm citizens; these are fairly rare.note Again, on account of the small membership and selection criteria, considered to be an extremely high honour despite the lack of a knighthood. Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Dame Judi Dench (M in seven James Bond films, plus a cameo in an eighth) are members.
- The Order of St. John — formally, The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. A royally-chartered charitable order claiming descent from The Knights Hospitallers (by a convoluted route, the original Knights having been abolished in England with the Reformation), 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).
- 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.
- 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 division 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.
JudgesJudges 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 (although many of these also get additional knighthoods), 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 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, usually called the Law Lords—were by definition Peers, and indeed it was because of the Law Lords that the modern system of life peerages was established in the first place.note 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. It is reasonably likely that Supreme Court Justices without peerages will be given life peerages upon retirement and expected to provide advice to the Lords and to the Government on judicial matters.
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. Additionally, any judge presiding in a trial at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales—better known as the Old Bailey—is called "My Lord"/"My Lady"/"Your Lordship" for the duration of the trial even if he/she is a Circuit Judge or even a Recorder (i.e. not even a full-time judge) usually only entitled to the style "Your Honour".
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
The Privy CouncilThe Privy Council of the United Kingdom is a formal body of advisers to the sovereign. It formally advises the sovereign on the exercise of the royal prerogative, and as a body corporate (Queen-in-Council) it issues executive instruments known as Orders in Council, which among other powers enact Acts of Parliament. It also advises the sovereign on the issuing of Royal Charters, which are used to grant special status to incorporated bodies, and city or borough status to local authorities. Otherwise, the Privy Council's powers have now been largely replaced by the Cabinet, which — in strictly legal terms — is actually the Privy Council's executive committee. This is why most Privy Councillors tend to be politicians.
After taking the oath, an individual Privy Councillor is referred to as "The Right Honourable" ("Rt. Hon." for short). In the House of Commons, they are referred to as "Right Honourable Members" rather than "Honourable Members" (the latter being the usual way of addressing MPs during debates in the Commons). Since nothing is simple, there are some lords have higher styles; non-royal dukes are automatically styled "The Most Noble" and marquesses are "The Most Honourable" regardless of Privy Council membership, and if they are members they can keep those titles rather than 'downgrading' to "The Right Honourable". To avoid confusion, peers who are Privy Councillors have the letters "PC" after their names. For commoners, "The Right Honourable" is sufficient identification of their status as a Privy Counsellor, meaning they have no need to have the letters "PC" after their names.
Each Privy Counsellor has the right of personal access to the sovereign. In practice, personal access may only be used to tender advice on public affairs.
Membership is conferred for life. Formerly, the death of a monarch brought an immediate dissolution of the Council, as all Crown appointments automatically lapsed — meaning that one of the first tasks of any new monarch was to reappoint all Privy Councillors. In 1901, the law was changed to ensure that the Privy Council (and other Crown appointments) are wholly unaffected by any change of monarch.
It is possible for Privy Councillors to be removed; this happened in 2011 when Elliott Morley (a former MP) was expelled from the Privy Council after being convicted of false accounting (before him, the last person to be thrown out had been a baronet who had colluded with the Germans during World War I). Usually, individuals faced with the prospect of expulsion choose to resign in order to avoid the humiliation of being forcibly removed; examples include the disgraced MPs John Profumo (of "Profumo Scandal" fame note ), Jonathan Aitken (convicted perjurer) and Chris Huhne (convicted perverter of the course of justice).
Canada has had its own Privy Council - the Queen's Privy Council for Canada - since 1867. The equivalent organs of state in other Commonwealth realms, such as Australia and New Zealand, are called Executive Councils.
What about people outside of Britain and the Commonwealth Realms?Foreigners can get these titles also, but, cruelly, they generally can't call themselves "Sir" or "Dame". Bono of U2 is an example, as is Kevin Spacey note , while some countries specifically prohibit their citizens from accepting foreign titles of nobility.
- Regardless, there appears to be an exception for some, depending on their ancestry of their parents or their citizenship. For example, British-American Elizabeth Taylor managed to be called Dame because she held both British and American citizenship due to her being born in London to American parents, and Terry Wogan (although Irish) could be called Sir because he had British citizenship along with his Irish one. Sidney Poitier is both an American and Bahamian citizen note , so he can style himself as Sir Sydney, but he only does so for his charitable and ambassadorial work.
- 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 1) you're not a public employee or official at the time of the award (if you are, Congress has to consent) and 2) the title does not come with land, money, or power.
- Among the Commonwealth Realms, Canada occupies a unique position inasmuch as it has long eschewed even knightly titles — with some complications. 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 (with the exception of the Order of Merit), no Canadian citizen has ever been prevented from inheriting a Commonwealth peerage granted to an ancestor. This is why publisher Conrad Black had to renounce his Canadian citizenship before being granted a life peerage, but Winnipeg Jets owner David Thomsonnote is still a Canadian citizen — he inherited his title (he's the third Baron Thomson of Fleet).
- Speaking of Canada, the only old Quebec (as in, French colonial) title still in existence is the Barony of Longueuil, which (curiously enough) is currently held by a Scotsman who is a second cousin once removed of the Queen (on her mother's side).
- While no Commonwealth Realm has peerages, realms other than Canada have historically been variable in their acceptance of knightly titles (both British and their own). Australia and New Zealand, for example, have gone back and forth on granting knighthoods through their honours systems.
- The Order of Australia has a knightly grade. This was removed in 1986 at the recommendation of then-PM Bob Hawke (a republican), reinstated in 2014 at the recommendation of then-PM Tony Abbott (a monarchist), only to be removed again in 2015 at the recommendation of then-PM Malcolm Turnbull (a republican). Those who were made knights and dames while the grade was extant kept their titles.
- New Zealanders who receive a KBE/DBE can use "Sir/Dame." The New Zealand royal honours system also includes knightly grades. These stopped being handed out in 2000 and were restored in 2009. When knighthoods were brought back, Principal Companions and Distinguished Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit were given the option of converting their titles to knighthoods. Most chose to become knights and dames while a small number (including Sam Neill) opted to remain Distinguished Companions.
- A few other Commonwealth Realms also grant knighthoods. Antigua and Barbuda, for example, has the Order of the National Hero which has Knight and Dame divisions (respectively, KNH and DNH). This is how legendary cricketer Viv Richards (who is Antiguan) got to be a knight - he's Sir Viv Richards KHN, and his wife Miriam can style herself as Lady Richards if she so wishes.
- Commonwealth republics generally don't have knighthoods, and the non-Commonwealth Realm Commonwealth monarchies (Brunei, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Malaysia) don't use knighthoods either.
Making this more confusing is the fact that the wife of a baronet or male knight is addressed and referred to as "Lady [surname]" - the same form as the wife of a peer. For example, Harold Wilson was knighted in 1976, making him Sir Harold Wilson, and then made a lord — Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, or Lord Wilson for short — in 1983. His wife Mary was therefore Mrs Wilson until 1976, following which she was Lady Wilson — the title by which she continued to be known after her husband's ennoblement. This does not work the other way. Sticking with ex-Prime Ministers as examples, when John Major's wife Norma was made a DBE in 1999, she became Dame Norma Major but her husband remained plain John Major — until he was knighted in 2005, following which he became Sir John Major, while Norma could now style herself as Lady Major.
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 only be correct if she were a peer of the realm, or the wife of a lord or knight note . 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 Jeffery Deaver short story, knightly titles are so badly mangled that suspension of disbelief goes flying out yon diamond-panèd 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". (So the Countess of Grantham is "Lady Grantham", but not "Lady Cora" or "Lady Cora Crawley" as she is the wife of an earl, not the daughter of an earl, marquess, or duke.
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 (the daughter of an earl) and the fictional Lord Peter Wimsey (the son of a duke). Put simply, a person can be styled as "Lord/Lady Firstname" if he is the younger son of a duke or marquis note or if she is the daughter of a duke, marquis or earl. Sons of earls, viscounts and barons style themselves "The Honourable" ("The Hon." for short), as do daughters of viscounts and barons. Sons and daughters of life peers are also entitled to style themselves as "The Honourable" (although quite a few of them seem to choose not to) but obviously they can't inherit the peerage. Until 2004, children who had been adopted by peers had no right to any courtesy title. Since then, these children are now automatically entitled to the same styles and courtesy titles as their siblings — although unlike biological children, they cannot inherit peerages.
The daughter of a duke, marquis or earl who marries an untitled man keeps the "Lady Firstname" style. For example, Lady Dorothy Cavendish was a duke's daughter who married Harold Macmillan, following which she was Lady Dorothy Macmillan (although her husband was elevated to the peerage in later life, she died before this happened). Similarly, the daughter of a viscount or baron who marries a commoner keeps "The Honourable"
A woman who marries a man who uses the "Lord Firstname" style is entitled to be styled "Lady" but this must be followed by her husband's first name as she is not entitled to use the style on her own right (unless, of course, she happens to be the daughter of a duke, marquis or earl). For example, Lord Randolph Churchill (Winston's dad) was the son of a duke, hence the title. He married Jennie Jerome, who was subsequently known as Lady Randolph Churchill (the same principle by which Prince Michael of Kent's wife is known as Princess Michael of Kent).
If a son of a senior peer gets made a lord in his own right, the "Lord Firstname" bit gets dropped. For example, Lord Louis Mountbatten (Prince Philip's uncle) was called that because he was the younger son of the Marquis of Milford Haven, but when he was made a lord in 1946 he became Lord Mountbatten.
Naturally, the media gets this wrong constantly, calling the wife of a knight "Lady Sonia" or, even more strangely, the infant 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 posher than she really is. The most notorious example of this comes from The '30s, 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 come across as 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 historically gave the holder a voice in the government, and today still does, albeit a much weaker one than before. Before 1999, all peers sat in the House of Lords. Today, while all life peers continue to sit in the Lords, only 92 hereditary peers sit under their hereditary titles;note however, as all hereditary peers have a right to vote in the elections for these 92, a modern hereditary peer does get an extra vote in the composition of Parliament (however attenuated). Either way, peers 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.note Baronetcies are generally equally simple — they're nearlynote 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. Lord Mountbatten's peerage is a good example; as he had no sons, it was stipulated when he was made a lord that his title could pass through the female line, which happened after he was murdered in 1979 (his eldest daughter subsequently became the Countess Mountbatten).
Many old English earldoms and baronies were historically subject to a rule whereby daughters inherited partial claims on a title if they had no brothers, meaning that a title could fall into "abeyance" (i.e. nobody gets it) because no daughter had a full claim to the title, and it would only be "resolved" (i.e. somebody gets it again) if only one of the daughters survived or if the daughters' descendants' titles were reunited (e.g.: earl dies, leaving two daughters; one daughter has only one child, a son, and the other has one child, a daughter; son and daughter get married and have a son; son has thus reunited the claim and will get the title).
And if that isn't bizarre enough for you, some peerages are even stranger. The Earldom of Selkirk, originally created for a younger son of a chief of the powerful Scottish Clan Hamilton (whose chieftain is always the Duke of Hamilton) and explicitly intended to ensure that a junior member of the House of Hamilton always has a title if there is such a junior member available, has, to that end, succession rules so confusing that the courts have been forced to interpret them—repeatedly. One of the more complicated Scottish folk dances has even been named "Hamilton House" after it.
Suffice to say that any writer who intends to tackle the succession of an 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 (as his left-wing political orientation would have made it embarrassing to be a peer, and as he was fairly high-ranking in the Labour Party and considered a potential future senior Cabinet minister, which by that point was an option closed to peers). Almost immediately afterwards, Alec Douglas-Home disclaimed his title of Earl of Home a few days after he was appointed Prime Minister note , as it was generally considered by that point that peers could not be PM. 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. The most famous disclaimed title, the aforementioned Stansgate Viscountcy, was accepted by Benn's (much less radical) son Stephen upon Benn's death in 2014.
Unlike in some countries, UK/Commonwealth coats of arms are not familial but individual (if inheritable), and are issued by the College of Arms (in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) or the Lord Lyon King of Arms (in Scotland); they are an early form of intellectual property, being a design which is the personal property of one person. There is no such thing as a "family coat of arms": Each coat of arms is held by one person. It's also important to note that the protection extends to the design, as formally described in terms of blazons (the official technical language used to describe arms), and any particular artist's rendering of the arms is as valid as any other and must be authorised by the individual armiger if intended for official use.note The design can be passed on, but only to the senior heir (i.e. heir by primogeniture). Younger sons of armigers (armiger=person who owns arms) were expected to "difference" their arms—if, that is, they were entitled to arms—in some way, and even the eldest son was traditionally required to do so while his father lived.
That's right—"entitled to arms". Not every Blue Blood in Britain actually has a legal right to use a coat of arms. In Scotland, only the heir to a title is entitled to inherit his/her ancestor's arms, and although in England the rules are different, generally allowing all sons of an armiger to inherit the right to own arms, this changed from time to time and in general people entitled to register arms under English law will not do so unless they hold a title or are in the seniormost line (i.e., essentially the Scottish rules).
Whether in Scotland or out, the way people who really wanted the prerequisites to get arms would go about this changed over time: the Middle Ages, this was usually done by doing the whole knight thing (riding horses and killing people); in the Early Modern period this was done by taking up a career in politics, the military, the Bar/the judiciary, sometimes the sciences, or just schmoozing the King; and today, you earn it in the ways you see on this page. In any case, if you, younger son of armiger, actually earned a title (even a knighthood), then you could have/would be fairly safe in getting your own arms. What's interesting about this is that no matter the source of your right to own arms (whether it be earning a title or for an English junior son just claiming it, social convention be damned), your arms would have to be unique: you cannot just use whatever arms your father used, because those are his personal property, and they will be passed on to your older brother when he dies. On the other hand, just choosing any random design you liked seemed disrespectful, and made genealogy (important in those days!) much harder.
To solve this problem, they came up with the idea that you would use the "differenced" arms of your father—that is, your father's arms plus an extra symbol or a minor change to make them legally "different" and therefore a unique design that a person could own in a meaningful way.note That said, these rules were flexible; generally speaking the arms of the seniormost line were often informally regarded as a symbol of the "dynasty" as a whole.
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 (another totally ridiculous thing in itself: the "crest" is the part of the coat of arms above the helm—i.e. the helmet or other hat that sits atop the shield—and being part of a coat of arms is no more a family symbol than any other part of the armsnote ) and hereditary coats of armsnote 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" (think "landlord") 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"—yes, like the MacDonalds of Glenbogle of Monarch of the Glen) 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, although not as hard. Also, most Scots holding the title of Baron are in fact Peers; the Peerage of Scotland closed 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; many of these Scots were made barons in those peerages, and so if you run across someone with the title of "baron" who is Scottish, he's probably an actual peer. (A byproduct of this is if you find someone whose highest title is "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.)
Crown Stewards and BailiffsIt 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 his or her 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 full of outlaws. 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). This 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 (and small paycheque) anyway.
So how do you get one of these juicy little titles? Here are 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 (or woman) 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 or her advice). Knighthoods are a different matter; the PM 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,note you should be fine. If someone nominates you for something first, that is! Deeds that will get you nominates for honours include:
- 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. Doing this will definitely get you a title, although the man who did this accepted a knighthood (KG) but turned down the offer of a peerage (Duke of London, no less) because it would ruin his son's political career. By the modern unwritten rules, you can't be Prime Minister if you are a peer, and when Churchill was offered this title the law allowing lords to disclaim their titles — the Peerage Act of 1963 — had not been passed. Why nobody offered it to him after 1963 (Churchill was alive at the time and sitting as a backbencher, and by that point, it was fairly clear that his son was a political dud) is unclear.
- 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.
- Two gold medals will get you an OBE and three a CBE (ie. Bradley Wiggins after Beijing in 2008).
- The hallowed realm of four golds or more lands you a KBE (Sir Steve Redgrave note , Sir Matthew Pinsent after Athens '04, Sir Chris Hoy after Beijing '08, Sir Bradley Wiggins note and Sir Ben Ainslie after London 2012.
- It's not a hard and fast rule though — Laura Trott, the cyclist who got her fourth gold in Rio 2016 (the first British woman to get that number), is "only" CBE, as is her husband Jason Kenny who has six golds to his name. Then there's the case of gymnast Beth Tweddle, who "only" won a bronze medal but got an MBE anyway as this was the first ever Olympic medal in women's gymnastics for Britain. Meanwhile, Mo Farah got a CBE after winning "just" two golds in 2012, though it helped that his golds were in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres, a long-distance "double" that had never been accomplished by a British athlete. He remains at that level today even after repeating his double gold in the stated events in 2016. Quite what equivalent quantity of World Championship athletics gold is required to achieve these ranks remains, as yet, unclear.
- Zara Tindall (née Phillips) MBE, a world-class equestrian, had racked up 5 Championship medals (3 gold, 2 silver) and a British Sports Personality of the Year award when she was honoured in 2006. However, this may not be a fair precedent given that she's also the Queen's granddaughter (hilarity ensued at the 2012 Olympic Games when she was given her silver medal by her mother, Princess Anne).
- 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.
- This seems to have crystallised over the last few years into a fixed Sliding Scale of Gold Medal-Holding Ennoblement:
- Be a high-ranking judge.
- Win a Nobel Prize or equivalent.
- Prove something really difficult like Fermat's Last Theorem.
- Go into space. Helen Sharman was made an OBE in 1992 (the year after she became the first Briton in space), while Tim Peake was appointed a CMG in the Queen's 2016 Birthday Honours while he was at the International Space Station. Those two are the only astronauts who have worn the Union Jack on their space-suits; there have also been five British-born American citizens who've been in space, two of whom were made honorary OBEs.
- 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 football manager and win The World Cup. OK, that might be a hard one, but it worked for Sir Alf Ramsay. In a similar vein, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was knighted after achieving the unique "treble" of winning the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup in the same season.
- Do something spectacular on the cricket pitch. Winning The Ashes, for example — the England team who beat Australia in the 2005 series (England's first Ashes win in eighteen years) all got MBEs (except for the captain, Michael Vaughan, who got an OBE). Several English cricketers over the years have been knighted, with two — Colin Cowdrey and Ian Botham — going one step further and being elevated to the House of Lords. Several cricketers from Commonwealth countries have also been knighted, among them Don Bradman and Garry Sobers.
- Be a high-ranking member of the Civil Service. Hence Sir Humphrey Appleby.
- Naturally, Yes, Minister also satirised this; one episode where the Minister threatens not to approve his department's honours list unless they actually do something to deserve them sends shockwaves of horror throughout the entire Civil Service. It's pointed out that unlike the rest of the population, who actually have to do something of great significance or of great public benefit to earn an honour (and then usually only a minor one), civil servants seem to get showered with all sorts of high-level honours merely for existing, with the clear implication that they are manipulating the system for their own benefit.
- The counter-argument, which civil servants and their defenders can't trot out fast enough, is that the prospect of honours is a form of compensation for the substantial pay cut most civil servants take compared to their likely pay in the private sector; to what extent this holds water is up for debatenote . Naturally, Yes, Minister also satirises this by pointing out that while this may be the case in general terms, civil servants (or at least the high-ranking ones) aren't exactly being paid a pittance for their work either, and are clearly manipulating the system from both ends, ensuring that they both get showered with honours and get extremely well-paid for the privilege.
- Be a high-ranking military officer or just be very good at your job in the Armed Forces — this has been going on for centuries and is how Horatio Nelson and Arthur Wellesley (among others) ended up as peers of the realm. It continues to this day. For those who are lords or knights, the military rank goes first. Thus, when the World War II general Bernard Montgomery was promoted and knighted after the battle of El Alamein, he went from being Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery to General Sir Bernard Montgomery.
- 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...
- Kelly Holmes got an MBE for her military service before acquiring the Damehood for her athletics achievements.
- Be head of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) or the Security Service (MI5).
- Be in charge of a police service. Cressida Dick, the current Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (in other words, head of the Metropolitan Police) note , was made a DBE in 2019.
- Be a senior politician. Ex-Prime Ministers customarily get the Order of the Garter or, if they're Scottish, the Order of the Thistle note . This is a remnant of the practice whereby the ex-PM would get an earldom (before 1961) or a life peerage as well as a knighthood.
- In addition to being knighted, Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher were all made life peers after stepping down as MPs note ; Edward Heath, who stayed on as an MP for 27 years after losing the Premiership, declined a peerage.
- As of May 2021, none of the five living former Prime Ministers have been given a life peerage and just one has been knighted. It's unclear if the offer of a life peerage still stands, since no formal decision has been taken to stop offering peerages to retired ex-PMs. The last one to be offered one was John Major after he stepped down as an MP in 2001; he declined (and was made a KG four years later). Of the others, one (Theresa May) is still an MP. Tony Blair and David Cameron both stepped down as MPs upon leaving office, while Gordon Brown remained in the Commons as a backbencher before stepping down in 2015.
- 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 an 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, at least not anymore — although Judith Anderson was credited as "Dame Judith Anderson" in ''Star Trek III, in more recent years Ben Kingsley has been roundly mocked for being credited as "Sir Ben Kingsley"..
- John Mortimer, creator of the popular legal drama Rumpole of the Bailey, was awarded a CBE in the 1980s and a knighthood in the 1990s, in addition to the QC title he achieved through his real-life legal career in the 1960s. So his proper tile was Sir John Mortimer CBE QC.
- Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, got a life peerage, although in his case it helped that (1) he came from an old, eminently traceable background, (2) his work was was often centred around peers, and (3) he was a committed Tory and was in the spotlight at a time (2011) when a Tory government needed a few more life peers to provide support in the Lords.
- Be a hugely popular and very long-lasting pop music phenomenon: Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Paul McCartney, Dame Vera Lynn, Sir Elton John, Sir Mick Jagger, Dame Shirley Bassey, etc. 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".
- 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, armour, 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. 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 note . 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.
- 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 Commons. 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 or she 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 had 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, a prominent commercial barrister (and, perhaps more importantly, 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 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 administration of the courts note — was historically always held by a peer, as the Lord Chancellor was also the Speaker of the House of Lords; in the second half of the 20th century, it became common to confer a life peerage upon a high-powered barrister loyal to the government so that he could this 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 high-level government legal positions (Attorney-General or Solicitor-General) were to be held by peers, unlike (say) if the Chancellor of the Exchequer note or Foreign Secretary were drawn from the Lords, as these posts (1) are often overlooked and (2) occupy a strange position where the officeholder's political loyalties are important but not as much as his/her skill as a lawyer and reputation as an honest broker in the legal community.
- Or just be friends with the Prime Minister. It worked for Jeffrey Archer, who was made a lord by John Major in 1992! note
- Win an election for the sitting government, apparently. The 2015-2016 New Year's Honours List drew a lot of controversy for, among other examples of suspected cronyism, awarding a knighthood to political strategist Lynton Crosby, who had masterminded the Conservative victory in the 2015 elections. Labour were quick to pounce on this as a case of seemingly being awarded more for services to the Conservative Party than services to the country and bringing the whole system into disrepute. Of course, anyone who remembers the "Cash for Honours" scandal might be inclined to point out that the Labour Party doesn't exactly have a lot of moral high ground to protest the honours system being brought into disrepute.
- Do something to preserve and embody the nation's culture. This category is getting bigger, with some titles being awarded for people that can be best described as a foundation of British entertainment (like Ant and Dec, who are both OB Es) or charitableness (like Lenny Henry, who is a knight note and a CBE for his long-standing association with Comic Relief).
- These days, "be really nice and famous" seems to cut it, as evidenced by the national petition to give Ariana Grande an honorary damehood in 2017.
For a list of individuals who have been honoured, see British Honours.
The rules were somewhat different in earlier eras, changing slowly over time (like virtually everything British). 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 developed slowly; the very first PM, Robert Walpole, was made Earl of Orford in exchange for his resignation; a few already-Peer PMs (and one, Henry Pelham, who died on office) later, William Pitt The Elder was made the Earl of Chatham upon "formally" becoming PM in 1766. A while later, Henry Addington was made Viscount Sidmouth upon leaving office. For the next half-century or so, virtually every PM who wasn't a peer became one, except those who died in office (Pitt the Younger, Spencer Perceval, George Canning, Lord Palmerston note ) and one who died while still in the Commons (Sir Robert Peel). Between 1861 (when Lord John Russell became 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, those who died before retiring from the Commons note , those who declined elevation (the aforementioned Winston Churchill) or those who were William Gladstone (because Queen Victoria personally loathed him) note . Long after he'd left office, Harold Macmillan was made the Earl of Stockton by Margaret Thatcher; 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; after monarchs stopped being seriously involved in policy, they started to create peerages at the behest of the Government, if the issue was important enough (again, the Liberals in the 19th and very beginning of the 20th centuries were the biggest users of this trick, since their policies were inevitably unpopular with the kinds of fusty old aristocrats who historically inhabited 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. As we mentioned earlier, 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 (that is, one who would make a good minister) would win a seat as a Representative Peer, but it felt unseemly to make an actual honest-to-God Peer stand 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, 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 titles out like candy. The Hanoverian Georges weren't much better, except that with George III they were more like tea-drinking buddies.
Examples in media
Ancient fictional titled people:
- Any number of the Knights of the Round Table.
- Sir Roger de Coverley, a character in The Spectator, named after a popular country dance
- Sir John Falstaff, who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare — he was based in part on an actual 15th-century knight, Sir John Fastolf, who was kicked out of the Order of the Garter for cowardice but later reinstated.
- Lady Catherine de Bourgh, aunt of Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.
- Sir Walter Scott created many peerages for his novels, including Viscount Beauchamp in Rob Roy, Lord Castle-Cuddy in The Bride of Lammermoor and Lord Etherington in St Ronan's Well.
- There are plenty of examples in Anthony Trollope's novels.
- Is He Popinjoy? revolves around the question of whether or not a small child is the legitimate son and heir of the Marquess of Brotherton the courtesy title of this particular marquessate being Lord Popinjoy.
- In the Palliser novels, the aristocratic heiress Lady Glencora M'Cluskie marries Plantagenet Palliser and so becomes Lady Glencora Palliser. He later becomes the Duke of Omnium after the death of his uncle (the Old Duke). Their children, Plantagenet, Gerald and Mary, subsequently become Lord Silverbridge (the courtesy title), Lord Gerald and Lady Mary.
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 in Patriot Games. Specifically, a Knight Commander (honorary) of the Victorian Order.
- Sir Harry Pearce from Spooks.
- Brigadier-General Sir Harry Flashman VC KCB KCIE. His wife Elspeth gets to call herself "The Honourable" because her father was a lord, although she doesn't like to be reminded of that fact that he only became one because he bribed Lord John Russell into giving him a peerage.
- Richard Hannay of The Thirty-Nine Steps is, to use his full title, Major-General Sir Richard Hannay KCB OBE DSO. His friend Sandy Arbuthnot is the 16th Baron Clanroyden.
- Horatio Hornblower becomes Sir Horatio Hornblower KB note at the end of Flying Colours. In Lord Hornblower, he is ennobled as Baron Hornblower of Smallbridge. His second wife, Lady Barbara Wellesley, is the (fictional) younger sister of The Duke of Wellington and is "Lady Barbara" on account of her being an earl's daughter.
- Sir Integral Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing
- Sir Humphrey Appleby
- Sir James Manson of The Dogs of War.
- The Brigadier from Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures was knighted over the course of the Big Finish audios. This was canonised in New 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, whose father had conspired with Prince Albert to fight the werewolf. Whether he had himself been knighted at some point or merely inherited a baronetcy is unclear..
- 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, or she may have thought of him as having the full name "Doctor of TARDIS" and was only adding the "Sir" to it. (The same would apply to Dame Rose, except that in 1879 the title "Dame" was only used by baronetesses; it was adopted for female knights when the DBE was introduced in 1917. It's entirely possible the Queen misunderstood the nature of Rose's "estate".)
- Ian Chesterton is knighted Sir Ian of Jaffa in The Crusade.
- 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, whose father had conspired with Prince Albert to fight the werewolf. Whether he had himself been knighted at some point or merely inherited a baronetcy is unclear..
- Sir Joseph Porter KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore.
- Carry On... Up the Khyber had Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond, KBE KCB OBE ACDC BBC ITV.
- Lara Croft, of Tomb Raider fame, is Lady Lara Croft — an hereditary title. There was a letters column discussion in Private Eye over whether she is the Countess of Abingdon.
- The Hon. Phryne Fisher is the daughter of either a baron or viscount who inherited after all the other heirs died during World War I.note
- James Bond is a CMG. He's offered a knighthood at the end of The Man with the Golden Gun (the novel, not the film) but declines.
- It is established in that same book that M is Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy KCMG. In Moonraker (again, the novel rather than the film) it is remarked that one of the Double-O Section's secretaries will probably end up getting an OBE in about twenty years time.
- In Skyfall, Judi Dench's M is told that if she retires quietly, she'll get a GCMG with full honours.
- In the original Casino Royale movie, David Niven plays an older, retired "Sir James Bond". Additionally, two 007 parodies — Austin Powers and Johnny English — get knighted (respectively, for capturing Dr Evil and for foiling Pascal Sauvage's attempt to seize the British crown).
- 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.
- Lord Snooty from The Beano.
- In Dad's Army, Sergeant Wilson becomes "The Honourable Arthur Wilson" following the death of an uncle who was a lord (presumably his father inherited the title). He quickly comes to dislike his new style due to the unwelcome attention it brings him and refuses to use it. This serves to infuriate an already-jealous Captain Mainwaring even more, as he believes that one should revel in noble titles rather than be ashamed of them.
- 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 the second son of the 15th Duke of Denver note . His brother is the 16th Duke of Denver, his brother's wife is the Duchess of Denver, their son is Viscount St George (a courtesy title), and his mother is the Dowager Duchess. Although he is addressed by his valet Bunter as "My Lord", Lord Peter is not a lord — he has the courtesy title "Lord" because he is a younger son of a duke. His wife Harriet is Lady Peter Wimsey — not "Lady Harriet" — and their son Bredon is simply Bredon Wimsey. Word of God and the 2010 sequel The Atterbury Emeralds state that Lord St George joins the RAF in World War II and is killed on active service, and Lord Peter becomes the 17th Duke in 1951 after his brother dies in the aftermath of a fire at Duke's Denver; Harriet becomes the Duchess of Denver and Bredon becomes Lord St George — and will, assuming he outlives his father, become the 18th Duke.
- 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).
- Peaky Blinders has Tommy Shelby, as one of two conditions for destroying some embarrassing royal correspondence, ask for - and get - an OBE. The other condition is that his family are released from prison.
- Aunt Dimity:
- 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.)
- In Village Tales, His Grace the Duke of Taunton KG GCB GCVO KBE MiD TD PC JP DL. Indeed, there are a fair number of titled characters in the series, from Cross And Poppy on, ranging from (most notably) the Duke of Taunton (and his rather vaguer, Nice-But-Dim cousin the Duke of Trowbridge) through Brigadier the Earl of Maynooth to Sir Bennett Salmon RA to a clutch of OBEs and CBEs (and the courtesy Lady Crispin Fitzjames-Holles-Clare-Malet, the Duke of Tauntons sister-in-law, married to His Grace's wastrel brother Lord Crispin, and Professor Millicent Lacy, who has a life peerage as The Baroness Lacy). Its fair to say, in fact, that every rank and grade of the hereditary peerage and their kin appears in the series, from dukes and marquesses to Scots Lords of Parliament (the Scots peerage's version of English barons) to Honourables (some rebellious), knights and dames, baronets, Scots feudal barons, and those appointed to lesser Orders. As well as, as noted, the life peerage.
- The Honourable Sir Schliemannian Chair Professor Doctor Doctor Jones, CBE, DCM, JP, FRS from Irregular Webcomic!
- Sir Miles Axelrod from Cars 2. Tow Mater also receives an honorary knighthood at the end, though the film made the mistake of calling him "Sir" (honorary knighthoods do not entitle you to pre-nominal styles).
- 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), 7th 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 Crawley. The first son, if he existed, would have the courtesy title Viscount Downton (Lord Downton). Several other titles also feature, at every level:
- Dukes/Duchesses: The highest-ranking nobles to appearnote are his Grace the Duke of Crowborough (who would never be referred to as 'Lord Crowborough') and her Grace the Dowager Duchess of Yeovil (whom the Dowager Countess has to tell Branson is called "Duchess" rather than Your Grace in a social setting like a dinner party)
- Marquess/Marchioness: Lord Grantham's cousin is The Most Honourable Hugh (MacClare), Marquess of Flintshire (Lord Flintshire) and his wife the Marchioness (Lady Flintshire, Lord Grantham's cousin). There are a number of others besides, of which the most significant is The Most Honourable Herbert "Bertie" (Pelham), 7th Marquess of Hexham (who turns Lady Edith Crawley into the Marchioness of Hexham, also called Lady Hexham).
- Earl/Countess: Lord Grantham, of course.
- Viscount/Viscountess: A few, of whom Lady Mary's suitor Anthony "Tony" Foyle, Viscount Gillingham, gets the most screen time.
- Baron/Baroness: Two of significance, one an "old" baron (the Crawleys' neighbour Richard Grey, Baron Merton, who makes Isobel Lady Merton) and one a "new" one (Rose MacClare's father-in-law, Daniel Aldridge, Baron Sinderby, from a Jewish banking family).
- Baronets: A few, including Sir Anthony Strallan, Bt (his deceased wife was Lady Strallan). Charles Blake is in line to a particularly old and rich Irish baronetcy.
- Knights: A few. The one with the most screen time is Sir Richard Carlisle, a newspaperman. If Lady Mary had married him, she would have been 'Lady Mary Carlisle' rather than just 'Lady Carlisle' because her title as an earl's daughter would outrank 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.
- There is also one "Esquire" of significance, Matthew Crawley, Esquire; as heir-presumptive to the Earldom of Grantham, he holds no formal title, but as a male-line descendant of a peer (the 3rd Earl) he is entitled to "Esquire." (It has nothing to do with him being a lawyer, unlike in America.)
- There's plenty of this in the world of P.G. Wodehouse (or, as he became shortly before his death, Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse KBE).
- At Blandings Castle, Clarence Threepwood is the ninth Earl of Emsworth (Lord Emsworth for short).
- His brother is the Hon. Galahad Threepwood. His sister is Lady Constance Keeble, who is "Lady Constance" on account of being the daughter of the eighth Earl; her husband is plain Joseph Keeble.
- Lord Emsworth's eldest son George is Lord Bosham as this is the family's courtesy title; his wife Cecily is Lady Bosham. Emsworth's younger son is the Hon. Freddie Threepwood. Emsworth's daughter is Lady Mildred Mant; her husband is Colonel Mant because he's an army officer of that rank.
- Galahad's friend Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton is the fifth Earl of Ickenham (Lord Ickenham for short, although most readers know him as "Uncle Fred"). Emsworth's neighbour and rival Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe is a baronet who inherited the title from a cousin.
- The Empress of Blandings is the pig.
- While he's clearly an aristocrat, Bertie Wooster doesn't have a title.
- His terrifying Aunt Agatha is Mrs Gregson as a result of her first marriage but becomes Lady Worplesdon after her second marriage which is to the Earl of Worplesdon, who thus becomes Bertie's Uncle Percy. Uncle Percy's daughter by his first marriage is Lady Florence Craye, who gets to be "Lady Florence" because she's an earl's daughter (were she to marry "Stilton" Cheesewright, she would become Lady Florence Cheesewright). Florence's brother Edwin is presumably heir to the earldom of Worplesdon as he's referred to as Lord Weeting (which must be the courtesy title) in an early story.
- Bertie's Uncle George is Lord Yaxley; as Uncle George is a Wooster, the implication is that he, not Bertie's father, was the eldest son. When Uncle George marries an ex-barmaid, Maud Wilberforce, she becomes Lady Yaxley. It is unclear whether Bertie or whichever is the elder of his twin cousins Claude and Eustace is next in line to the title.
- Bertie's friend "Chuffy" in Thank You, Jeeves is Lord Chuffnell; should he marry Pauline Stoker (as seems likely at the end of the book), she would become Lady Chuffnell. Chuffy's Aunt Myrtle is the Dowager Lady Chuffnell (implying that Chuffy inherited the title from his uncle), although when she marries the "nerve specialist" Sir Roderick Glossop she becomes Lady Glossop (it's unclear whether Sir Roderick is a baronet or a knight, but in terms of how he and his wife are referred to there is no difference).
- Sir Watkin Bassett CBE has evidently been made a Knight Bachelor rather than having his CBE upgraded to a KBE; his (unmentioned) wife would be Lady Bassett while his daughter is simply Madeleine Bassett.
- Roderick Spode, the lingerie-designer and would-be dictator, becomes the seventh Earl of Sidcup (Lord Sidcup for short, although Bertie mistakenly addresses him as "Lord Spodecup") after the death of his uncle. In Much Obliged, Jeeves, he considers renouncing his title so he can run for Parliament — despite the Wodehouse novels' Genteel Interbellum Setting, that book was written after the Peerage Act of 1963 which made this possible — but decides not to do so. This is seemingly crucial with regards to whether or not he will get to marry Madeleine Bassett, who wants to be Lady Sidcup but has little desire to be Mrs Spode.
- At Blandings Castle, Clarence Threepwood is the ninth Earl of Emsworth (Lord Emsworth for short).
- The protagonist of three of Julian Rathbone's novels — Joseph, A Very English Agent and Birth of a Nation is Joseph Edward Bosham, alias Charlie Boylan, who occasionally styles himself as the third Viscount Bosham which (he claims) was a peerage created by Bonnie Prince Charlie for his grandfather, who had supported the Jacobite cause.
- 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 Potter is now Lord Potter.
- In Enola Holmes the is the Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether, who is called that way so much by the main character that one could think "Viscount" is his actual name
- Although one could explain the confusion as being due to Enola not being well versed in nobility titles due to her sheltered upbringing
- The movie also confuses his mother's title by refering to her as "Lady Tewkesbury", instead of "Lady Basilwether" seeing as she was married to the previous Marquess
- In Call the Midwife, Chummy's dad was knighted for services to the Crown, which is how she knows Princess Margaret well enough to ask for her to formally open the Poplar Community Centre. As Chummy was born in India and her father seems to have been a Colonial official, it's likely that her father was made a KCMG (it wouldn't have been a KCSI or KCIE unless he was knighted before 1948—making Princess Margaret's involvement somewhat unlikely, as she was only 18).
- Warhammer 40,000: 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).note
- Many in Blackadder's 700-year history:
- Prince Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh in The Black Adder, and Lord Edmund Blackadder in Blackadder II and Blackadder Back and Forth, and Captain Edmund Blackadder DSO in Goes Forth.
- Lord Percy Percy, heir to the Duchy of Northumberlandnote in The Black Adder and Blackadder II.
- Lord Melchett in II and General Sir Anthony Hogmanay Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth.
- Lord Flashheart in II and Goes Forth.
- Baldrick becomes Lord Baldrick at the end of the first episode of Blackadder the Third, (although this is never mentioned again).
- The Honourable George Colthurst St. Barleigh MC in Goes Forth and Viscount George Bufton-Tufton in Back and Forth.
- Lady Elizabeth in Back and Forth.
- Dame Edna Everage, who was given her damehood by the then Australian Prime Minister at the end of the second Barry McKenzie movie.
- The Ankh-Morpork honours system is based on the UK one, although complicated by the lack of a monarch. Most of the hereditary titles seem to date back to before the Civil War, but the Patricians have been quite prepared to grant life peerages. The most prominent noble title bestowed by the current Patrician is His Grace Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh, although Vimes himself - while absolutely hating all of them except Commander - has questioned whether the Duke isn't supposed to override the Sir. It's also revealed the Vimes family was nobility long ago up until Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes went and decapitated the last King. He also uses Blackboard Monitor (he wiped the chalkboard clean after class) when dealing with dwarf protocol, who take learning rather seriously.
- Nanny Ogg's Cookbook states that Lancre also has an honours system, but currently the highest honour is the Order of the Lancastrian Empire. Shawn Ogg was given an OLE for services to stopping the draughts in the castle. There used to be knights and dames, but a kingdom 40 miles wide tends not to have much of a landed gentry.
- On Legends of Tomorrow, Ray Palmer helps save Camelot from Time Traveling bad guys, for which Queen Guinevere knights him "Sir Raymond of the Palms".
- The West Wing gives us Lord John Marbury. Or John, Lord Marbury. Or Lord Croy. The first two are used to refer to him in the series, and denote different ranksnote ; the third would actually be the correct form of address if he is Earl Of Croy (as he says in the episode Dead Irish Writers). His various titles and forms of address are so hopelessly confused that you might as well call him Lord Fauntleroy, as Leo does.
- The Third Imperium in Traveller features noble titles based on the UK ones, albeit with an Emperor on top and no Kings or Queens (in the Imperial system, though individual planets are free to use their own titles - recognized as lesser than Imperial titles). It is possible for a Player Character to start as a Knight or Baron (possibly higher, with very good dice luck), though anyone below Duke is middle management at most. The justification for recreating nobility in the far future is to have people who are invested enough in the system that they will have learned how to manage Imperial interests, on the scene in case of emergency (while there is Faster Than Light travel, the Third Imperium can take over a year to cross, and messages travel at the speed of ship), so the primary way to gain a title is to do some noteworthy service to the Imperium.