header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); A Primer on Regency Peerage and Precedence - Kristen Koster
Nov 152011
 
A copy of Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage

I had trouble narrowing down today’s post. On one hand, Allison Lane covers everything related to the peerage so wonderfully and succinctly in her page COMMON REGENCY ERRORS, that trying to summarize it or embellish it seems a waste of effort. But if you’ve ever wondered who outranked whom in the Regency Peerage or just why some characters get to go in to dinner first or why someone has to wait until everyone else has gone in, keep reading. If you want to know more details, please, visit Ms Lane’s page, it truly is an amazing resource on its own. Laura A. Wallace also provides a good bit of information on the peerage on her British Titles of Nobility pages but are much easier to follow after reading through Ms Lane’s.

Peers

A peer of the realm is one who holds one (or more of five possible) title(s) of nobility and the estate(s) bestowed upon him or his direct ancestor by the monarch.

A copy of Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage

A veritable Who’s Who of Society.

Duke and Duchess

The title of Duke was given to the highest ranking peers below the Royal Family. Compared to the number of hot, eligible but fictional Dukes, the actual number of non-royal dukes in existence in 1818 was 25 and included English, Scottish and Irish titles. The number of hot and eligible ones was much lower. The title of Duke is a territorial title and the English title never includes the surname. Dukes and Duchesses are always referred to as “Your Grace” and never as as “Lord or Lady ____”.

Marquess/Marquis and Marchioness

The next highest rank is marquess (or to use the Scottish and French spelling, marquis) which is pronounced as “mar-kwess” in English. In 1818, there were 31 marquesses. The title of Marquess is typically territorial (all but 3) and all but 5 of the titles use the form “Marquess of ______”.

Earl and Countess

The title of Earl sits smack dab in the middle in both terms of power and had 212 titles in 1818. Likewise, Earldoms are typically territorial, but a few of the titles do not use the form “Earl of ____” and instead use “Earl _____” using the surname.

Viscount and Viscountess

In 1818, there were 69 viscounts. The title Viscount never uses the form “Viscount of _____” although a territorial addition is often made to the title. Viscount _____ of ______.

Baron and Baroness

Typically the largest number of titles, but in 1818, there were only 193 barons. The title of Baron never uses the form “Baron of _____” although often a territorial addition is made to the title. Baron _____ of ______.

Baronet and Dame

Baronets are not peers, but rather the highest rank of the gentry class. They do not sit in the House of Lords and if they commit a crime they are tried in the regular courts. Baronets are hereditary knights and are thus use “Sir” with their given names.

Knights and Dames

Also not peers, nor are they hereditary titles. Knights and Dames are recognized for outstanding achievement and does not affect one’s standing unless it is one of the ancient orders of knighthood listed in the precedence tables. A Dame’s title has no bearing on her husband’s standing either.

Precedence

Charles Lamb's Book on Precedence

A primer for young children to learn their place in society.

Precedence determines relative power. Every member of the ton knew exactly where he or she ranked in relation to every other member. Even within categories, precedence is determined by the date the related title was created. If two were created the same day, then the one the king signed first has precedence. If two people are related in the same way to the same title (younger sons, for example), then their own birthdates determined precedence. No two people could ever have the exact same precedence.

Precedence was of vital importance to every member of society and was something taught from birth. It was used in many ways – seating at formal dinners, processions at court, importance in Parliament, even the order in which people were allowed to enter Almack’s, etc. It indicated the degree of deference a person must show to those above them or expect from those below, including the depth of a bow or curtsy. Part of the reason behind this order of precedence is so everyone could see at a glance, where they stood in relation to everyone else in a room. In the tables below from Charles Lamb’s The Book of the Ranks and Dignities of British Society: Chiefly Intended for the Instruction of Young Persons, the ranks most often found in novels are in bold type.

Precendency of Men in England

King
Prince of Wales
King’s Younger Sons
King’s Brothers
King’s Uncles
King’s Grandsons
King’s Nephews
Vice Regent, when any such officer exists
Archbishop of Canterbury
Lord High Chancellor or Lord Keeper
Archbishop of York Lord High Treasurer
Lord President of Privy Council
Lord Privy Seal
Lord High Constable in Commission
Hereditary Earl Marshall
Lord High Admiral
Lord Steward of His Majesty’s Household
Dukes, according to patents of creation
Marquesses, according to their patents
Duke’s Eldest Sons
Earls, according to their patents
Marquesses’ Eldest Sons
Dukes’ Younger Sons
Viscounts, 
according to their patents
Earl’s Eldest Sons
Marquesses’ Younger Sons

Bishop of London
Bishop of Durham
Bishop of Winchester
Other Bishops, according to seniority of consecration
Barons, according to their patents of creation, but if any baron be Principal Secretary of State, he shall be placed above all barons unless they hold any of the great offices before mentioned
Speaker of the House of Commons
Viscounts’ Eldest Sons
Earls’ Younger Sons
Barons’ Eldest Sons

Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Garter
Privy Counselors
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench
Master of the Rolls
Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas
Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer
Judges, according to the degree of coif of the said courts, according to seniority
Bannerets, made under the king’s own royal standard, displayed in an army royal, in open war,by the king himself in person, for the term of their lives only and no longer
Viscounts’ Younger Sons
Barons’ Younger Sons
Baronets

Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Bath
Knights Bachelors
Baronets’ Eldest Sons
Knights’ of the Garter Eldest Sons
Knights’ of the Bath Eldest Sons
Knights Bachelors’ Eldest Sons
Doctors of Divinity, Laws, and Medicine, of the English Universities
Sergeant at Law
Baronets’ Younger Sons
Esquires of the King’s creation by the imposition of a collar of SS
Esquires attending Knights of the Bath
Esquires by office, as Justices of the Peace, etc.
Captains, and Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, etc.
Knights’ of the Garter Youngest Sons
Knights’ of the Bath Younger Sons
Knights Bachelors’ Younger Sons
Gentlemen entitled to bear arms
Gentlemen by office, function, or profession
Clergymen
Attorneys at Law, Etc.
Citizens
Burgesses, etc.

Precedency of Women in England

Queen
Princess of Wales
Princess Royal
Younger Daughters of the King
Duchess of York
Wives of the King’s Younger Sons
Wives of the King’s Brothers
Wives of the King’s Uncles
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Dukes of the Royal Blood
Daughters of Dukes of the Royal Blood
Wives of the King’s Brothers’ or Sister’s Sons
Duchesses
Marchionesses
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Dukes
Daughters of Dukes
Countesses
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Marquesses
Daughters of Marquesses
Wives of the Younger Sons of Dukes
Viscountesses
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Earls
Daughters of Earls
Wives of the Younger Sons of Marquesses
Baronesses
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Viscounts
Daughters of Viscounts
Wives of the Younger Sons of Earls
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Barons
Daughters of Barons
Wives of the Youngest Sons of Barons
Dames, Wives of Baronets

Wives of Knights of the Garter
Wives of Bannerets of each kind
Wives of Knights of the Bath
Wives of Knights Bachelors
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Baronets
Daughters of Baronets

Wives of the Eldest Sons of the Knights of the Garter
Daughters of Knights of the Garter
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Bannerets of each kind
Daughters of Bannerets of each kind
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Knights of the Bath
Daughters of Knights of the Bath
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Knights Bachelors
Wives of Sergeants at Law, and Doctors of Divinity, Law, and Medicine of the English Universities
Wives of the Younger Sons of Baronets
Daughters of Knights Bachelors
Wives of Esquires, attendant on Knights of the Bath
Wives of Esquires by office, as Justices of the Peace
Wives of Captains, Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, etc.
Wives of the Younger Sons of Knights of the Garter
Wives of the Younger Sons of Knights of the Bath
Wives of the Younger Sons of Knights Bachelors
Wives of Gentlemen, lawfully bearing Coat Armor
Daughters of Esquires, lawfully bearing Coat Armor, who are Gentlewomen by birth
Wives of Gentlemen by office, function, or profession, as Clergymen, Attorney’s at Law, etc.
Wives of Citizens
Wives of Burgesses, etc.


More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

  5 Responses to “A Primer on Regency Peerage and Precedence”

Comments (5)
  1. Wow, a lot of research goes into writing during the Regency. Did I say that right? Thanks for the post.

    • Yes, “The Regency” usually refers to Jan 1811 until George IV was crowned in 1820. “The Regency Period” extends a bit on either side and refers to similar clothing styles, architectural details, social customs, and political leanings that go from about the turn of the 19th century until Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1837.

      It can be a lot of research… yes, but I think any book that’s written outside of your own experiences and first hand knowledge would/should? be similar amounts of work. Fantasy and sci-fi writers certainly don’t have it any easier with the amount of world-building they have to do, just different! Perhaps even harder! I’ve been reading Regency-set historical romances for over 20 years now. A lot of the historical details have been absorbed through osmosis at this point. I wish I could say I had the great fortune to grow up in England, go to university in England, or heck, even just visit! But, not in this life, just my daydreams when I escape with a good book. I do research these posts, so I’m not just dumping out what I’ve read and may misremember by this point too!

      (oops. I should have looked to see if your comments were on the same post! — hope this still makes sense!)

      • The research must be so much fun. I, too, love researching for a novel. Although I don’t write historicals, I really enjoy reading them. They’re at the top of my list. It’s more than the romance for me, it’s the setting, the mannerisms of that period, places in society (that you did a great job of explaining), fashion, and even how marriages were arranged, etc. I think I enjoy historicals because it gives me a glimpse into another time and place far from the here and now.

  2. love this… was so happy to have some much needed clarity on who out ranks who, so thank you for that. I’m writing a Regency book and I have ran into naming issues. I wouldent want to use real people obviously but should the places also be made up… should I just have some made up place to fill in the blanks in my nobles names? Duke of_____… etc.? how in the world would I go about that?!

    • Hi, Eliza! Thanks for stopping by! Glad you found it useful too. =)

      I think most authors go with something that sounds good and serves their story. One thing I’ve done when looking for a title (and not just a ducal one!) is to look at a map of England and pick an interesting place name. Or go through British Surnames and pick something that sounds strong and “noble”. Other things you can try: Does your Duke need or already have an awesome nickname? Can the place he’s Duke of be shortened to that? Does it roll off the tongue and sound like a hero’s name by itself? Many peers were simply called by their title instead of a surname or given name. Even by family. I mean you might not want to call your hero something silly or hard to pronounce when everyone’s going to be using it. Of course, there’s also a fine British tradition of calling your school boy chums by embarrassingly silly nicknames as well. Play around with it. Have fun. When you know your character well enough, you should have a good sense of whether or not a name/title will fit their character.

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