THE LOST LANGUAGE OF POLITE SOCIETY Earl


Ugh, another show about the royal family??
(A quip from my husband when we first started watching Downton Abbey 😆)
At that moment, I was captivated with the conundrum of Lady Mary finding herself in a most compromising position, that of having a naked dead guy lying on top of her in her bed but since I had to set the record straight and quick (he was itching to switch to the hockey game that was on), I did what I had to do.

I launched into a vague explanation of the ins and outs of royal titles and 'non-royal' titles; how a person with a title is not necessarily 'royal' so despite what it looked like, Downton Abbey was not about royalty. I went on just long enough for confusion to take over and at that point, he shrugged his shoulders and continued watch along; mission accomplished on my part!

Until the following week's episode when he asked me what the difference was between someone like the 'royal Earl' of Wessex (Prince Edward) and the 'not royal but still noble Earl' of Grantham? Good God, wasn't it just my luck; he had been listening to me and my desperate attempt to save my screen time.
But now, we were on to the tricky stuff; trying to make sense of it all to someone who cared more about the Stanley Cup than Lord Stanley himself.
You see, a title doesn't necessarily mean you are considered 'royalty'. We North Americans assume that anyone with a stuffy sounding title must have some sort of familial relation to the Queen but it just ain't so.

For example, Lady Diana Spencer had a title, her father was an Earl, she came from a preeminent aristocratic family that dated back to the 15th century and yet, for as many people who recognized she was from a noble family, there were just as many of the old guard members of Buckingham Palace's inner circle that considered her a 'commoner'. Much like Lady Diana's father, the fictitious Earl of Grantham had a title and came from an aristocratic family, had an ancestral home and land he presided over but was not considered royal because his genealogical line did not descend from a past or present monarch. Simply put, his blood was blue but not blue enough to run through the same veins as any king or queen who reigned supreme in jolly old England. He came to his title through its passage from hereditary male heir to hereditary male heir and once the last hereditary male heir dried up so would the title and everything that went with it. 😞

Earlier today, while I was enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend, I was reminded of my husband's confused look when it seemed to spread across my friend's face shortly after the news broke that Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex were expecting their first child. The news segment had mentioned that although the baby will be a great-grandchild of a reigning monarch, it doesn't necessarily mean that the child will be given the title of Prince/Princess.
As it stands the new royal baby will most likely be titled the Earl of Dumbarton (a lesser title of Prince Harry's) if it is a boy, while a daughter would be Lady (first name) Mountbatten-Windsor, unless the Queen steps in to alter the standing rule.
That rule was introduced back in 1917 when King George V, Queen Elizabeth's grandfather, decreed that the titles His/Her Royal Highness (HRH) and Prince/Princess should be restricted to the children of the sovereign (like Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward), the children of the sovereign's sons, and the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales (that would be our boy George). Of the Queen's own grandchildren, only 4 out of 8 are styled Prince/Princess, two are styled Viscount and its equivalent Lady at the request of their parents, while two have no titles granted to them at all (the children of Princess Anne and also at her request).

A mouthful for anyone to say let alone clearly understand, even for those of us who like to think of ourselves as royal enthusiasts. While my friend and I hashed out the traditional potential names for the future royal baby and a few of our personal favs over a second cup of espresso (crossing our fingers that it is a healthy baby girl named Lady Diana Mountbatten-Windsor), the discussion turned to titles in general and more importantly who tops who?
My friend came late to the Downton Abbey party and now that she is slowly binge-watching all the seasons to catch up before the new movie comes out in the fall of 2019, she's hellbent on absorbing any info she can so she can better understand who she is watching.

The Titles in British nobility (also known as the peerage) denote rank or order of importance within the British nobility and all fall below King/Queen, and then Prince/Princess. Sons of a King/Queen also are given lesser titles like Duke of So-and-So or Earl of Nowhere when they marry but their title of HRH Prince takes precedence over those.

The five ranks, in descending order, are:
Duke/Duchess
Marquess/Marchioness
(pronounced MAHR-kwus/MAHR-shuh-nus)
Earl/Countess
Viscount/Viscountess
(pronounced VYE-count/VYE-countess)
Baron/Baroness

The funny thing about all these British titles is that, with one exception being 'Earl', they all come from the French. William the Conqueror was originally the Duke of Normandy and in 1066 when he invaded and conquered Britain, all those French noble titles came with him and then anglicized to the words that are still in use today.

Still on the fence as to who is who, who was who or just want more detailed information? If you have a few hours and your ADD is in check, Debrett's The Peerage of England, Scotland and Ireland is the book for you!


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