UK Peerage Rankings
The ranks of the English peerage in descending order are:
- Duke & Duchess
- Marquess & Marchioness
- Earl & Countess
- Viscount & Viscountess
- Baron & Baroness
For our purposes a peer is defined as a member of any of these five ranks of the nobility in Great Britain and Ireland.
While most newer English peerages descend only through the male line, many of the older ones (particularly older baronies) can descend through females. Under English inheritance law all daughters are co-heirs, so many older English peerage titles have fallen into a waiting state between the various female co-heirs to see who the true title holder will be.
Oh, and there are Royal Dukedoms as well, such as the Duke of York which is normally bestowed upon the monarchs second son and more recently the Duke of Cambridge has been reassigned to the Queens grandson.
A Royal Duke is a Duke who is a member of the British Royal Family, entitled to the style of "His Royal Highness". The current Royal Dukedoms are, in order of precedence:
- Lancaster and Normandy - Queen Elizabeth II
- Edinburgh - HRH Prince Philip
- Cornwall and Rothesay (Scotland) - HRH Charles, Prince of Wales
- York - HRH Prince Andrew
- Cambridge HRH Prince William
- Gloucester - HRH Prince Richard *
- Kent - HRH Prince Edward *
* These Princes are grandsons of George V and not really part of the current reigning Royal Family. QE II's youngest son Prince Edward was only invested as the Earl of Wessex - but who knows, one day he and Prince Harry may become Royal Dukes.
Should a Royal Dukedom become vacant - usually due to the death of the Duke who has no male heirs - the title reverts back to the crown and can then be reassigned as the monarch sees fit - just like the Duke of Cambridge.
A very special case was the Duke of Windsor (aka Edward VIII, 23 June 1894 - 28 May 1972) who when he abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson was specifically granted a Royal Dukedom by his younger brother George VI (4 December 1895 - 6 February 1952) which could NOT be shared by his wife.
He was known as "His Royal Highness" but she wasn't allowed to use "Her Royal Highness" even though she was a Royal Duchess by marriage - that's what you get for marring an American commoner - and a Divorcee to boot.
So what about Camilla and Kate? Would you believe that they were both created as HRH before their respective marriages - seems our monarchy and/or the Church of England - are far more tolerant these days.
The general order of precedence among Dukes is:
- Dukes in the Peerage of England, in order of creation
- Dukes in the Peerage of Scotland, in order of creation
- Dukes in the Peerage of Great Britain, in order of creation
- Dukes in the Peerage of Ireland, in order of creation
- Dukes in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, in order of creation
with the following exceptions:
- The Sovereign's Grace may accord any peer higher precedence than his date of creation would warrant - i.e. the ruling monarch can fiddle the list.
- The Royal Dukes are Dukes of the United Kingdom; but they rank higher in the order of precedence than the age of their titles would suggest, due to their close relationship to the monarch. The Prince of Wales holds precedence above all Dukes, even Royal Dukes, although he is also the Duke of Cornwall and of Rothesay.
- Dukes of Ireland whose Dukedoms were created after 1801 yield precedence to earlier created Dukes of the United Kingdom.
Self explanatory really...
Most Dukes, Marquis and Earls also hold a series of lower ranking titles which can be styled to their first born son.
To be styled is to be allowed to use a courtesy title which belongs to your father (or Grandfather) who is a peer and not currently using his lower ranking titles.
Courtesy peerages are only used by the peer's eldest son, and the eldest son's eldest son, and so on. Other descendants are not permitted to use the peer's subsidiary titles. Only the Heir Apparent (and the Heir Apparent to the Heir Apparent etc) can use the titles.
An Heir Presumptive (e.g. a brother, nephew, or cousin) cannot use a courtesy title since there is no absolute certainty that he will ever actually inherit the substantive title. However, Scottish practice allows the style 'Master/Mistress of X' to an heir presumptive as well as to an heir apparent.
The wives of courtesy peers are also entitled to courtesy titles, which are the female equivalents of their husbands' titles. Thus, the wife of Earl of Arundel is styled Countess of Arundel.
For the British peerage, written references to holders of courtesy peerages are supposed to be in the form "Marquess of Blandford", "Earl of Arundel", etc., i.e. without the preceding definite article ("The"); substantive (real) peers are named with the article, e.g. "The Marquess of Winchester", "The Earl of Derby".
The lowest ranking honour is a life peerage which are Knighthood (Sir) and Damehood (Dame). These are awarded to all and sundry for anything these days and as the name suggests these titles cannot be inherited and so die off with the recipient.