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.
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.
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 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
Prince of Wales
King’s Younger Sons
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
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
Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Bath
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
Attorneys at Law, Etc.
Precedency of Women in England
Princess of Wales
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
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Dukes
Daughters of Dukes
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Marquesses
Daughters of Marquesses
Wives of the Younger Sons of Dukes
Wives of the Eldest Sons of Earls
Daughters of Earls
Wives of the Younger Sons of Marquesses
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.