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How the British Aristocracy Works

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How the British Aristocracy Works

Post  Sharpiefan on Tue Jun 19, 2012 12:42 am

This is designed for those of you who are thinking of giving your officer characters a title, or for making characters from titled families.

In our period, the eldest son was a man of leisure: he was expected to inherit his father's estate and titles (if any). The second, third, and subsequent sons (even of the aristocracy) were expected to earn their living. Acceptable career choices were: the Church (taking the cloth), Law (taking silk), the Army (buying his Colours) or the Navy. It is these last two that most concern characters in StC.

A man taking the cloth or taking silk would be expected to go to University (either Oxford or Cambridge in this period).

Generally speaking, a boy entered the Navy at a young age - 11 0r 12 was common - and would be listed on the ship's books as Captain's servant or (more usually by 1809) Volunteer First Class. This was in contrast to boys entering the Navy with no expectation of progressing further than petty officer, who would be listed as Boys Third Class, if they were below the age of 16 or Boys Second Class if they were between 16 and 18.

Once a Volunteer First Class had reached the age of 19, he was eligible to be rated Midshipman. Once he had reached the age of 21, he could sit his Examination for Lieutenant. If he passed this, he was eligible for a commission as Lieutenant to a named ship. If he did not receive a commission, he remained aboard his ship as a 'passed midshipman', awaiting a vacancy.

A boy could join the Army straight from school: it is not unusual to hear of fourteen-year-old Ensigns commanding men twice their age or more. Commissions could be purchased for a specific sum, and it was possible to purchase promotion all the way up to Lieutenant Colonel, although one had to spend a specific amount of time in a rank before he could purchase the next rank up the ladder. Officers very often changed regiments in order to move up the ranks.

Back to the aristocracy. The British Peerage has levels. Going down the scale these are:

Duke and Duchess
Marquess and Marchioness
Earl and Countess
Viscount and Viscountess
Baron and Baroness

The below may look, at first glance, to be complicated, but it is not necessarily so. Address: how to address a letter. Begin: how to begin the letter. Refer to: how to refer to them to a third party, or in the third person. When speaking to a peer directly, Dukes and Duchesses are 'Your Grace' all others are 'My Lord (or Lady)' or (very formally) 'Your Lordship (or Ladyship).


Address: His Grace the Duke of ...
Begin: My Lord Duke
Refer to as: Your Grace
Address: Her Grace the Duchess of ...
Begin: Madam
Refer to as: Your Grace
Duke's Eldest Son and his Children
A duke's eldest son takes his father's second title as a courtesy title, and this is treated as if it were an actual peerage. His eldest son takes the grandfather's third title (if any), and is addressed as if he were a peer.
Duke's eldest son's wife:
Address as if her husband's title is an actual peerage.
Duke's Younger Son:
Address: Lord (Christian name and surname)
Begin: My Lord
Refer to as: Your Lordship
Duke's Younger Son's Wife
Address: Lady (husband's Cristian name and surname)
Begin: My Lady
Refer to as: Your Ladyship
Duke's Daughter
Address: The Lady (Christian name and surname). The surname is her husband's if she is married.
Begin: Madam
Refer to as: Your Ladyship
If she is married to a peer, she is addressed according to her husband's rank and title, unless he is a peer by courtesy and uses his father's second title.

Address: The Most Hon. the Marquess of ...
Begin: My Lord Marquess
Refer to as: Your Lordship
Marquess' Sons: Address as for Duke's sons
Marquess' Daughter: Address as for Duke's daughter
Address: The Most Hon. the Marchioness of ...
Begin: Madam
Refer to as: Your Ladyship

Address: The Right Hon. the Earl of ...
Begin: My Lord
Refer to as: Your Lordship
Earl's daughter: Address as for Duke's daughter
Earl's Eldest Son and Son's Wife: Address as if the courtesy title is an actual peerage
Earl's Younger Son and Son's Wife: Address as for Baron's son and his wife
Address: The Right Hon. the Countess of ...
Begin: Madam
Refer to as: Your Ladyship

Address: The Right Hon. the Viscount ...
Begin: My Lord
Refer to as: Your Lordship
Address: The Right Hon. the Viscountess ...
Begin: Madam
Refer to as: Your Ladyship
Viscount's Daughter, Son and Son's Wife: Address as for Baron's daughter, son and son's wife.

Address: The Right Hon. the Lord ... or The Lord ...
Begin: My Lord
Refer to as: Your Lordship
Baroness (in her own right)Address: The Right Hon. the Baroness ...
Baroness (wife of a Baron) Address: the Right Hon. Lady ...
(for both)
Begin: Madam
Refer to as:Your Ladyship
Baron's Son
Address: The Hon. (Christian name and surname)
Begin: Sir. (Eldest sons of Barons in the Peerage of Scotland are usually addressed The Hon. the Master of [peerage title].)
Baron's Son's Wife
Address: The Hon. Mrs. [husband's surname] or, if necessary for distinction (if two sons are married) the husband's Christian name should also be used.
Begin: Madam
if she is the daughter of a Duke, Earl or Marquess, she should be addressed as such
Baron's Daughter
Address: The Hon. (Christian name and surname); if married to a commoner The Hon. Mrs. [husband's surname]. If married to a Baron or Knight, The Hon. Lady [husband's surname]
Begin: Madam
If she is the wife of a peer, or of the son of a Duke or Marquess, address as such.

On the marriage of a peer or Baronet, the widow of the previous holder of the title becomes Dowager and is addressed as the Right Hon. the Dowager Countess of ... / The Dowager Lady ... As more than one Dowager may hold the same title, the Christian name is used as a distinction - e.g. The Right Hon. Charlotte Viscountess ...

Baronets and Knights

Address: Sir [Christian name and surname], Bart.
Begin: Sir
Baronet's Wife
Address: Lady [surname]
Begin: Madam
Refer to as: Your Ladyship

Knight Bachelor - Address as Baronet, except that the word 'Bart' is omitted.

On Introductions
A person would never introduce themselves to someone else (Mr Collins' faux pas in Pride and Prejudice, which Elizabeth Bennet tries to prevent.) One would always be introduced by a mutual acquaintance - in the Assembly Rooms in Bath where Mrs Allen and Mr Tilney have no mutual acquaintance, Mr Tilney has the Master of Ceremonies perform the introductions, which was part of the MC's job description).

The lower-ranked person is introduced to the higher-ranked one... but only if the higher-ranked person requests it, or grants permission. (Towards the end of Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine de Bourgh does not grant Elizabeth permission, at first, to introduce Mrs Bennet to her, forcing an uncomfortable silence - people cannot talk without being introduced.

A proper introduction goes something along the lines of, "Lady Jane, please allow me to introduce my daughter/cousin/friend Miss Smith. Miss Smith, Lady Jane Harris." It is explained to the senior (Lady Jane here) how the introducer knows the other (Miss Smith) but it is not explained to Miss Smith how the introducer knows Lady Jane - the inference being that that can be explained afterwards.

The eldest daughter is Miss Jones, her sisters are Miss Maria and Miss Emily. If Miss Maria is visiting relations in another part of the country, she becomes Miss Jones by courtesy. When the eldest sister marries, Miss Maria becomes Miss Jones. The same rule applies for men - the eldest son is Mister Grey, his brothers are Mister James (of marriageable age) and Master Edward (still at school). The courtesy title 'The Honourable' is never used in person, only in writing (on cards and when addressing letters).

There is more about peerages here and on titles here.

Miss Emma Vickery
Captain John Vickery, 5/60th Rifles
Rifleman Gabriel Cotton, 5/60th Rifles
Private George Thompson, Royal Marines
Private Tom Oxley, Royal Marines drummer
Able Seaman Sam Oxley, Royal Navy
Boy 3rd Class Terry Button, Royal Navy

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