If today’s little wedding in London is sending your head awhirl with thoughts of court and nobility, you might like to know how to get your royals right
First of all, there’s a general hierarchy. Emperor beats king; king beats viceroy; viceroy beats archduke; archduke beats grand duke, who beats duke, then prince, marquess, count, earl, viscount, baron, baronet, hereditary knight, knight and dame. Of course, we don’t have all of those in England. And plenty of other countries have their very own courtlies such as csars. More about royal hierarchy here, plus how long those titles have been in use for all you historical fans.
Then there’s how you address them. If you’re talking to a duke, it’s ‘I say, Duke’, as though you were addressing John Wayne. Marquesses and their wives are Lord and Lady with their place name – Lord Bath. But you don’t use the place name when addressing dukes and duchesses, unless you had several dukes in earshot at once. Clear?
In Scotland there are chiefs who are called Macdonald of Macdonald, or use The as their forename (The Chisholm).
If all that’s getting you in a royal flush, drop a knee at Debrett’s.
The wife of an earl is a countess but if you’re addressing her in person you call her Lady Wherever, not Countess. Unless she’s Countess of Wessex. Most earls are earls of Somewhere, although a significant number do not use the ‘of’ – like Earl Spencer. Most of the noble ranks should be addressed as lord or lady. Their children are too, except if they’re The Honourable, although that’s only used in correspondence and formal documents, and never on visiting cards or invitations even though you might think those are correspondence. And if the Hon is female she’s ‘The Hon Jane Smith’ but if she gets married she’s ‘The Hon Mrs Newsurname’ with no forename. Honestly, only Debretts can save you.
And if you’re writing about the royal household of the British monarchy, we have a few colourful roles such as a Lady in Waiting (when they’ve waited for long enough they might qualify and actually become a lady). But did you know there’s also an Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales, an Apothecary to the Household, and the Clerk of the Green Cloth? Bustle over to here.
Fascinating as these details are, what’s most interesting is what they’re like as characters. So if you’re writing about people with extraordinary positions, remember their lives are not like those of others and neither are their personalities. This post of mine might help you – how to write presidents, kings, queens and superstars.