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Though both monarchs and nobles usually inherit their titles, the mechanisms often differ, even in the same country. The British crown has been heritable by women since the medieval era (in the absence of brothers), while the vast majority of hereditary noble titles granted by British sovereigns are not heritable by daughters.
Often a hereditary title is inherited only by the legitimate, eldest son of the original grantee or that son's male heir according to masculine primogeniture. In some countries, titles descended to all children of the grantee equally, as well as to all of that grantee's remoter descendants, male and female, in the legitimate male line. Historically, females have much less frequently been granted noble titles and, still more rarely, hereditary titles. However it was not uncommon for a female to inherit a noble title if she survived all kinsmen descended patrilineally from the original grantee or, in England, if she survived just her own brothers and their male-line descendants. Rarely, a noble title descends to the eldest child regardless of gender (although by law this has become the prevalent form of titular inheritance among the Spanish nobility). A title may occasionally be shared and thus multiplied, in the case of a single title, or divided when the family bears multiple titles. In some traditions inheritance by adoption is an alternative to inheritance by biological kinship, as in the Hindu tradition to assure there is a male heir of the same caste. In the French nobility, often the children and other male-line descendants of a lawful noble titleholder self-assumed the same or a lower title of nobility; while not legal, such titles were generally tolerated at court during both the ancien regime and 19th century France as titres de courtoisie.
Prominent examples of hereditary titles include:
- Hereditary monarchy – in the Commonwealth realms, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Japan, Thailand, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tonga and Bahrain. Other national constitutions use different modes of succession to their monarchies, e.g. the election of the Pope in the Vatican City, and especially in the Orient often adding an element of selection (e.g. at a family council) among eligible relations of the monarch. Special cases are the two elective monarchies, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, where the constituent states of each federation are hereditary monarchies but those rulers form an electoral college that assigns the federal position of head of state to one of their number for a term (of five years).
- Titles of nobility in the United Kingdom and other countries (see peerage). In the United Kingdom, most titles of nobility (peerages and the lower title of Baronet) pass only to the eldest son (or occasionally the eldest daughter in the absence of male heirs); all other sons and daughters of peers are commoners though they may use one or more not independently heritable courtesy titles, either Lord, Lady or The Honourable depending on the rank of the peerage held by their father or mother, or another title styled like a peerage but without a seat in the Lords, usually one or two ranks below father's. In many European countries, titles may be inherited by all the heirs male of a family, whose members thus all share the same title at the same time (for instance, within the szlachta nobility of Poland or in the nobilities of the successor states of the Holy Roman Empire). In the Far East the main (Chinese-induced) tradition is rather for titles to devalue as the generations succeed each other, but not to the same rank.
- Hereditary chieftaincy - manifested in countries in various parts of Africa, Asia, South America, and Oceania. Examples range from the politically powerful (such as the Nigerian traditional rulers and the king of the Zulu Nation) to the merely titular (such as the rajas of India and the Arab shaykhs).
- Some court titles, e.g. in the United Kingdom, including Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain. Most of these are sinecures, i.e. purely ceremonial. They pass generally to the eldest son (except for that of Lord Great Chamberlain, which is split between the heads of the Cholmondeley and Willoughby families).
- Many other – especially feudal age – offices became inheritable, often connected to military (e.g. keeper of a castle; in Japan even Shogun) and/or domanial functions, which is also why some such functions became noble titles (e.g. Burgrave, Margrave)
- While the hereditary membership of a privileged class or caste may imply a title or not (sometimes confusingly called untitled nobility), it frequently forms a prerequisite for various titled positions, e.g. quarters of nobility required by a military order.
- Certain religious positions, such as the Aga Khan and Dā'ī al-Mutlaq.
- False titles of nobility
- Forms of address in the United Kingdom
- Great Officers of State
- Royal and noble ranks
- Royal and noble styles
- Murphy, Michael Dean. "A Kinship Glossary: Symbols, Terms, and Concepts". Retrieved 2006-10-05.
- Yang di-Pertuan Agong
- "Burke's Guide to British Titles: Courtesy Titles". Burke's Peerage and Gentry. 2005. Archived from the original on 11 July 2006. Retrieved 13 November 2006.
- Earl Marshal