Courtesy titles in the United Kingdom
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A courtesy title is a form of address in systems of nobility used for children, former wives and other close relatives of a peer, and by certain officials such as some judges. These styles are used 'by courtesy' in the sense that the relatives do not themselves hold substantive titles. There are several different kinds of courtesy titles in the British peerage.
- 1 The children of peers
- 2 Indirect inheritance
- 3 The wives of peers
- 4 The children of gentry
- 5 Civil partners
- 6 Precedence status of courtesy titles
- 7 Judicial courtesy titles
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 External links
The children of peers
If a peer of one of the top three ranks (a duke, marquess or earl) has more than one title, his eldest son, not himself an actual peer, may use one of his father's lesser titles 'by courtesy'. However, the father continues to be the substantive holder of the peerage title and the son using the peerage by courtesy legally remains a commoner unless issued a writ of acceleration. If the eldest son of a duke or marquess has an eldest son, he may use a still lower title if one exists.
For example, The Duke of Norfolk is also The Earl of Arundel and The Lord Maltravers. His eldest son is therefore styled Earl of Arundel. Lord Arundel's eldest son (should he have one during his father's lifetime) would be styled Lord Maltravers. However, only the Duke of Norfolk is actually a peer; his son Lord Arundel and his hypothetical grandson Lord Maltravers remain commoners.
Courtesy peerages are only used by the peer's eldest living son, and the eldest son's eldest living son, and so forth. Other descendants are not permitted to use the peer's subsidiary titles. Only the heir apparent (and heir apparent to the heir apparent and so on) may use the titles. An heir presumptive (e.g. a brother, nephew, or cousin) does not use a courtesy title. However, Scottish practice allows the style Master/Mistress of X to an heir presumptive as well as to an heir apparent; for example, the brother of the present Marquess of Tweeddale has the title Master of Tweeddale.
The wives of courtesy peers are also entitled to courtesy titles, which are the female equivalents of their husbands' titles. Thus, the wife of an Earl of Arundel would be styled Countess of Arundel.
Holders of courtesy peerages do not, at the Court of St. James's, have their title preceded by the definite article ("The"), e.g., 'Earl of Arundel' rather than 'The Earl of Arundel' (except when the title begins a sentence).
Choosing a courtesy peer's title
The actual courtesy title which is used is a matter of family tradition. For instance, the eldest son of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry is styled Earl of Dalkeith, even though the duke is also the Marquess of Dumfriesshire, a title which outranks the earldom. Similarly, the eldest son of the Marquess of Londonderry is styled Viscount Castlereagh, even though the marquess is also the Earl Vane.
Titles with the same name as a peer's main title are also not used as courtesy titles. For instance, the Duke of Westminster is also the Marquess of Westminster and the Earl Grosvenor (amongst other titles). The duke's eldest son is not styled Marquess of Westminster (which would cause confusion between the son and the father), and so is styled Earl Grosvenor instead. The title used does not have to be exactly equivalent to the actual peerage: the eldest son of the current Duke of Wellington is styled Marquess of Douro, although the actual peerage possessed by his father is Marquess Douro (not of Douro).
If a peer of the rank of earl or above does not have any subsidiary titles of a name different from his main title, his eldest son usually uses an invented courtesy title of "Lord Surname". For instance, the eldest son of the Earl of Devon is styled Lord Courtenay, even though the Earl has no barony of that name, and similarly the eldest son of the Earl of Guilford is styled Lord North. The eldest son of the Earl of Huntingdon, who has no subsidiary titles, is styled Viscount Hastings to avoid confusion with the substantive peer Lord Hastings. The Earl Castle Stewart's heir uses the style Viscount Stewart in order to avoid confusion with the Lord Stewart, eldest son of Viscount Castlereagh, eldest son of the Marquess of Londonderry.
Courtesy prefix of "Lord"
Another form of courtesy title is the honorific prefix of "Lord" before the name. This non-peerage title is accorded to younger sons of dukes and marquesses. The courtesy title is added before the person's given name and surname, as in the example of Lord Randolph Churchill, although conversational usage drops the surname on secondary reference. The title persists after the death of the holder's father, but is not inherited by any of his children. The wife of the holder is entitled to the feminine form of her husband's title, which takes the form of "Lady", followed by her husband's given and surname, as in the example of Lady Randolph Churchill. The holder is addressed as "Lord Randolph" and his wife as "Lady Randolph".
Courtesy prefix of "Lady"
The honorific prefix of "Lady" is used for the daughters of dukes, marquesses and earls. The courtesy title is added before the person's given name, as in the example Lady Diana Spencer. The title persists after the death of the holder's father but it is not inherited by her children. The husband of the holder does not bear any courtesy title in right of his wife. The holder is addressed and, on secondary reference, referred to as "Lady Diana".
Courtesy prefix of "The Honourable"
The younger sons of earls, along with all sons and daughters of viscounts and barons are accorded the courtesy style of "The Honourable" before their given name and surname. This is usually abbreviated to "The Hon." The title persists after the death of the holder's father, but it may not be inherited by the holder's children. It is used only in third person reference, not in speaking to the person.
The daughter of a duke, marquess, or earl who marries a commoner becomes "Lady [Given name] [Husband's surname]". The daughter of a viscount or baron who marries a commoner is styled "The Honourable [Given name] [Husband's surname]" (the given name is dropped and Mrs is substituted if the husband's right to the style derives from office or appointment rather than from ancestral peerage).
Any woman who marries a peer uses the feminine version of his peerage title, even if her own precedence is higher than his, as in the case of a duke's daughter marrying a baron, because a peerage is a substantive title the usage of which is preferred to any courtesy style, unless she marries into the Royal Family. If a woman marries the younger son of a duke or marquess she becomes "(The) Lady [Husband's given name] ['Husband's surname']." If she marries the younger son of an Earl, Viscount or Baron she becoms "The Hon Mrs [Husband's given name] [Husband's surname]."
In case of a divorce, she may keep the same style as during marriage or she may choose to assume the style "Mrs. [Given name] [Husband's surname]." Regardless of what she chooses, she loses all precedence acquired from marriage and because of the former option, there can be multiple Lady John Smiths.
Until 2004 adopted children of peers had no right to any courtesy title. Pursuant to a Royal Warrant dated 30 April 2004, adopted children are now automatically entitled to the same styles and courtesy titles as their siblings. However, unlike biological children, they cannot inherit peerages from an adopting parent (and so, as they cannot be heirs apparent, adopted sons may only use the styles of younger sons). [Note - Scottish peerages' rules for courtesy titles and styles differ.]
|Peer||Wife||Eldest Son||Younger Son||Unmarried Daughter|
|Duke||Duchess||Father's Subsidiary Title||Lord [First name] [Last name]||Lady [First name] [Last name]|
|Marquess||Marchioness||Father's Subsidiary Title||Lord [First name] [Last name]||Lady [First name] [Last name]|
|Earl||Countess||Father's Subsidiary Title||The Honourable [First name] [Last name]||Lady [First name] [Last name]|
|Viscount||Viscountess||The Honourable [First name] [Last name]||The Honourable [First name] [Last name]||The Honourable [First name] [Last name]|
|Baron||Baroness||The Honourable [First name] [Last name]||The Honourable [First name] [Last name]||The Honourable [First name] [Last name]|
Occasionally a peer succeeds to a peerage upon the death of a relative who is not one of his or her parents. When this happens, the relatives of the new peer may be allowed to use the courtesy titles or styles which would have been accorded them if the new peer had succeeded a parent or grandparent in the title.
For instance, Rupert Ponsonby, 7th Baron de Mauley, succeeded his uncle in 2002. His brother Ashley had no title, as their father was only the younger son of a peer and was never actually Baron de Mauley. However, in 2003, Ashley was granted, by Warrant of Precedence from Queen Elizabeth II, the style and precedence that would have been his had his father survived to inherit the barony, becoming The Honourable Ashley Ponsonby. Precedence in such circumstances is usually granted but is not automatic.
The wives of peers
The wives of eldest sons of peers hold their titles on the same basis as their husbands, i.e. by courtesy. Thus the wife of Marquess of Douro is known as Marchioness of Douro.
In contrast, the wife of a substantive peer is legally entitled to the privileges of peerage: she is said to have a "life estate" in her husband's dignity. Thus a duke's wife is titled a "duchess", a marquess's wife a "marchioness", an earl's wife a "countess", a viscount's wife a "viscountess" and a baron's wife a "baroness". Despite being referred to as a "peeress", she is not a peer "in her own right": this is a 'style' and not a substantive title. However, this is considered a legal title, unlike the social titles of a peer's children.
It is also possible for a woman to be a substantive peer in her own right, by succession or by first creation (i.e. ennoblement, most commonly in recent times under the Life Peerages Act 1958). Her children use courtesy titles according to her rank, as with the children of male peers, but her husband acquires no distinction in right of his wife. Thus the husband of Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone is called Peter Bottomley and has no courtesy title.
A convention has developed whereby her Christian name is added in front of her title to distinguish her from any subsequent wife of her former husband. Hence, "Her Grace The Duchess of London" becomes "Mary, Duchess of London". In written forms, she is not entitled to the use of the address "Her Grace..." but may be addressed as "Duchess". "The Rt Hon. The Lady London" becomes "Mary, Lady London" and may be addressed as "Lady London," or "My Lady".
On 21 August 1996 letters patent changed titles of divorced wives of British princes, depriving their former wives of the style of Royal Highness. For this reason Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales after divorce became Diana, Princess of Wales. The same happened to Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York who became Sarah, Duchess of York.
If a prince or peer dies, his wife's style does not change unless the new peer is a married man (or a woman, if the succession permits); traditionally the widowed peeress puts "Dowager" in her style, i.e. "The Most Hon. The Marchioness of London" becomes "The Most Hon. The Dowager Marchioness of London."
If a widowed peeress's son predeceases her, her daughter-in-law does not use the title of Dowager, but is styled, e.g. "The Most Hon. Mary, Marchioness of London", until her mother-in-law dies, at which point she may use the title of Dowager. In more recent times, some widows choose to be styled with their Christian names, instead of as Dowager, e.g. "Olave, Lady Baden-Powell" ("Lady Olave Baden-Powell" would incorrectly imply she was the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl).
Divorced wives and widows who remarry
It used to be customary for women with higher titles from one marriage to retain them even on subsequent remarriage. As Lord Macnaughten put it in the case of Earl Cowley v Countess Cowley  AC 450: "...everybody knows that it is a very common practice for peeresses (not being peeresses in their own right) after marrying commoners to retain the title lost by such marriage. It is not a matter of right. It is merely a matter of courtesy, and allowed by the usages of society." The divorce court, in the above case, granted the earl an injunction preventing his former wife from using his title; however this was overturned by the Court of Appeal, whose decision was confirmed by the House of Lords, on the grounds that ordinary courts of law lacked any jurisdiction in matters of honour.
The same practice was followed by widows who remarried. A prominent example was Catherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, who continued to be known as Queen Catherine even after her marriage to Lord Seymour of Sudeley (and, indeed, she disputed precedence with the wife of her brother-in-law the Duke of Somerset on this basis).
This usage died out later in the twentieth century, and women who remarry now ordinarily take a new married name and do not retain their former title.
The children of gentry
Courtesy suffix of "Younger"
A form of courtesy title granted is the suffix of "Younger" at the end of the name. This title is granted to the Heir Apparent of a Laird (Lord) and is placed at the end of his or her name (example - Mr John Smith of Edinburgh, Younger). The wife of a Younger may herself place the title at the end of her name. The holder is addressed as the younger (example - The Younger of Edinburgh).
Courtesy prefix of "Maid"
The courtesy prefix of "Maid" is granted to the eldest daughter of a Laird (Lord). If the eldest daughter is also the heir presumptive she may either hold the title "Younger" or the title "Maid". The title is customary and not automatically given. The title is placed at the end of the name (example - Miss Ali Joy, Maid of Newcastle). The holder is addressed as "The Maid of [Lairdship]".
If a peer or knight enters into a civil partnership, his or her partner is not entitled to a courtesy title. Currently, there is a private members bill in Parliament to allow the spouse of a woman who holds an honour, if they enter civil partnership or marriage, to assume the title The Honourable.
Precedence status of courtesy titles
The courtesy titles and styles of children of peers are social, not legal. For this reason, in official documents, Lord John Smith is often referred to as John Smith, Esq., commonly called Lord John Smith; The Hon. Mrs. Smith would be called Mary Jane, Mrs. Smith, commonly called The Hon. Mary Jane Smith. Only peers in attendance at Parliament enjoy statutory precedence. There is, however, official precedence accorded at the Court of St. James's that results from being the wife or child of a peer, and to which social styles are attached. The wives of peers, however, are peeresses and legally enjoy their titles in exactly the same manner as peeresses in their own right.
Children of peers can outrank certain actual peers. For instance, the daughter of a duke outranks a countess. However, if the daughter of a duke marries an earl, she drops to the rank of countess, because her courtesy title is subsumed in his substantive title. But, if that same daughter marries a commoner, she retains her rank. If that daughter marries the eldest son of an earl, though he may be a courtesy peer, she may keep her rank until the son inherits the earldom, when she must drop to the rank of countess.
Judicial courtesy titles
Following the creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the first Justices of that Court held life peerages, and continued to hold them. However, the Government has announced that future appointees will not be created peers, and the first non-peer appointed to the Court was Sir John Dyson. In order to avoid any distinction between the Justices of the Court, by Royal Warrant all Justices of the Supreme Court not holding a peerage are styled as if they were life peers, and retain the style for life. Thus, Sir John Dyson is now styled as Lord Dyson. Wives of male justices not holding a peerage are styled as if they were wives of peers.
In Scotland, Senators of the College of Justice (judges who sit in the Court of Session) use the title Lord or Lady along with a surname or a territorial name. All Senators of the College have the honorific, The Honourable, before their titles, while those who are also Privy Counsellors or peers have the honorific, The Right Honourable. Senators are made Privy Counsellors upon promotion to the Inner House. For example, Alastair Campbell is known as The Honourable Lord Bracadale, whilst Ronald Mackay is known as The Right Honourable Lord Eassie. Some Senators also hold peerage titles, such as The Lady Clark of Calton, and these would be used in place of judicial titles.
- "Showbiz Tonight". CNN.com. 20 December 2005. Retrieved 26 December 2012. "The Queen herself knighted Sir Elton John, so his new bride would normally be called a lady. Would David Furnish be called Laddie? No chance, says the palace. It called the question 'interesting,' but passed the buck to the government."
- Honours (Equality of Titles for Partners) Bill 2012-13
- Equality (Titles) Bill [HL] 2013-14
- "Courtesy titles for Justices of the Supreme Court". The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. 13 December 2010. Retrieved 26 December 2012.
- Montague-Smith, P. (editor). (1979). Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage