Members of the noble class belong to the peerage system, and they occupy the topmost strata of British society.
The noble class has existed for thousands of years and is steeped in British history; that is one of the reasons why the titles are revered. However, there are several ranks in the British system, and they are not all equal; some ranks are above others in the order of authority and influence.
Below, we review the different nobility ranks starting from the highest to the lowest.
List Of Noble Ranks Of The British Peerage
The highest rank in the peerage system is the Duke, and there are several Dukes scattered in the British Isles. The name is derived from the Latin word “Dux,” which means leader. This title is set aside for children of the Crown or other dukes. For instance, the female equivalent, Duchess, is bestowed on a woman born into a dukedom or married to a Duke. However, a man can’t become a Duke if he is married to a Duchess
The first Duke was created by King Edward III in 1337 when he bestowed the honor on his eldest son to make him the Duke of Cornwall. Of all the ranks in the Peerage system, there have been fewer dukes compared to other ranks. Since the 14th century, there have been less than 300 dukes, and they all had Lord or Lady attached to their children’s names. However, Dukes and Duchesses were formally addressed as “Your Grace.” In all, there are 7 royal dukedoms in the British Isles, namely Sussex, Kent, York, Cornwall, Rothesay, Cambridge, and Gloucester.
The next in line behind Dukes is a Marquess. A Marquess of Marquis is a name derived from the French word “Marquis,” which means to march. The word references the Marches or borders between Wales, Scotland, and England. A person holding this rank is addressed as “Most Honourable The Marquess of (name).” In other cases, they can be addressed as Lord or Lady, and so are their children.
The first Marquess was created in 1385, and there are a total of 34 Marquessates. Unlike other ranks, this one was a late introduction who were entrusted with the defense of a territory or fort against a potentially hostile enemy. Marquess was mistaken for Counts, but they are of a much higher rank. A lady can hold the rank if she is born into the family or married to one, but the first-ever female Marchioness in her own right was Anne Boleyn after her marriage to King Henry VIII. The Marchioness of Pembroke was created for her.
The next in line behind a Marquis is an Earl, a word coined from the old Anglo-Saxon word “Eorl,” which stands for a man of noble rank of a military leader. They are formally addressed as Lord, but there is no female equivalent for this title. Rather, their wives were called Countess while the first son used one of his father’s subsidiary titles. The other sons are addressed as Honourables, while their daughters are called Ladies.
Most governors in charge of taxation and all the shires and regions of the isle were all Earls and hugely influenced British society. However, the title was abolished after the Norman Conquest of 1066 by William The Conqueror. In their place, Counts were installed while the Earls lost their place as official taxmen. Due to their influence, ruling monarchs were considered threats, so they were given fewer responsibilities. This made them less powerful and wealthier than others.
A Viscount is the fourth rank in the Peerage behind ab Earl, and there are 111 Viscountcies in Britain; however, many are secondary titles. The word is derived from “Vicecomes,” which is a Latin word, while the wife of a Viscount is called a Viscountess. They are formally addressed as Lord and Lady, while their eldest son is addressed by any of his father’s secondary titles.
The first Viscount was recorded in the year 1440 when King Henry VI created the title of Viscount Beaumont. Historically the word means “root of the non-nobles,” and they are appointed Sheriffs. This title was initially not hereditary but was given by the ruling monarch, but over time they attained hereditary status like other titles.
Last in the line of authority is a Baron coined from an old German word “Baro,” which means Freeman. This rank is only found in Scotland, England, and Ireland and was created in 1066. Barons were historically feudal Lords, not peers, but in Scotland, they were only recognized by the Crown as nobles.
Unlike other ranks that enjoyed hereditary Peerage, barons had life peerage, so their titles could not be passed to their children. The wife of a Baron is a Baroness, and she, alongside her children, are formally addressed as Honourables while the Baron is addressed as a Lord.