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British System Part II

His Grace, Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond. 

Today I want to cover the the Nobility under the British system. This is also a complex system I could First of all Britain still functions under the class system although some movements away from that have happened, namely through the reform of the House of Lords. Being a peer just isn’t what it used to be. The nobility is made up of two entities, the peerage and the landed gentry. The peerage is a legal system of hereditary titles and honors with the holder of the title having the right to sit and vote in The House of Lords. However, no hereditary peerage titles are being created except for members of the royal family and only life peers are being created. The Sovereign is considered the fount of honour from which the peerage titles flow, therefore the sovereign is not a peer. Under the British system there are three legal positions: The Sovereign, Peers and all the rest are commoners. In reality until Her Majesty created Prince William a Peer he was technically a commoner as the title of British Prince or Princess has no legal barring. Also, ironically, when the Queen, as Princess Elizabeth, married her husband, who had just been created a Peer of the Realm, she was technically a commoner and her was not! For centuries members of the British Royal Family, generally male members, have been ennobled. 

Here is the list of titles in accordance with rank.

Duke: It derrives from the Latin dux meaning leader. It was first created in England in 1337 when King Edward I made his son, Edward the Black Prince, Duke of Cornwall. The feminine form of Duke is Duchess.

Marquess: Derives from the French word ‘Marquis” and used to mean those that ruled the Marches or the border counties of a England, Scotland and Wales. The last Marquess was created in 1936 and since hereditary peers are no longer being created and not even members of the royal family hold this as a primary or secondary title, this title has seem to fallen into disuse. The feminine form is Marchioness.

Earl: Prior to the development of Duke and Marquess, the title of Earl was the highest ranking noble in the Kingdom after the king. It’s title has two sources. One the Anglo-Saxon term, Eorl, for a military leader, and also the Norse term, Jarl, from the Danelaw period of English history. Since there is no feminine form of Earl, the wife of an Earl is called a Countess.

Viscount: It simple means vice-count.

Baron: From the Latin Baro, meaning servant or soldier. This was created in 1066 and was instituted by William I. It is the lowest rank of peerage and with the introduction of non-hereditary life peers, they also hold the rank/title of Baron although they are not technically part of the aristocracy even though they are called ‘Noble Lord.”

Over the years and with the changing titles of the State itself Peers are ennobled as part of one state within the kingdom. I ripped this off from Wikipedia to demonstrate how peers are divided.

The Peerage of England — all titles created by the Kings and Queens of England before the Act of Union in 1707.
The Peerage of Scotland — all titles created by the Kings and Queens of Scotland before 1707.
The Peerage of Ireland — titles created for the Kingdom of Ireland before the Act of Union of 1801, and some titles created later.
The Peerage of Great Britain — titles created for the Kingdom of Great Britain between 1707 and 1801.
The Peerage of the United Kingdom — most titles created since 1801.

Under the British System only the person holding the title is ennobled and not their entire family. Although in practice families that hold noble titles are greatly esteemed. This contrasts with the practices on the European Continent (Germany is a good example) where the entire family is ennobled and not just the holder of the title. More on that in the section on Germany.

The Landed Gentry:

This historical social class are those landowners who lived of their rental income. These are the ranks of the titles:

Baronet: Created in 1611 by King James I-VI of England and Scotland. It is a hereditary title and is the only hereditary title not considered a peerage title.

Knight: This was originally only given as an award for military service but has since been modified to include any person who has served the country.

Esquire: Was an individual that served a Knight and was aspiring to knighthood themselves.

Gentleman: Created in 1413 and denoted a man of high birth and social standing who did not have to work for a living.

The landed gentry is still considered an upper social class. 

There is all is in a simple nutshell. This has been just a glancing overview of the Noble system in Britain.