A substantive title (or substantive peerage) is a title of nobility or royalty held by someone (normally by one person alone) and acquired either by direct grant or inheritance. It is to be distinguished from: a title shared among cadets; or borne as a courtesy title by a peer's immediate offspring; or acquired as a consort by virtue of marriage or grant.
The peerage in the British Isles and some continental nobilities (e.g. in Spain, pre-republican France and exceptionally in other European nobilities) confer titles solely upon an individual, for instance Duke of Leinster (a substantive title, in the Peerage of Ireland). A peer's eldest living son and heir, or eldest male-line grandson and heir-eventual have, however, traditionally been accorded a subsidiary title of the peer's (if he ranks as an earl or higher) as a courtesy title. Until 1999 heirs apparent could be summoned by the British Crown to the House of Lords in right of that subsidiary title through issuance of a writ of acceleration, thereby transforming a courtesy titleholder into a substantive Peer of the Realm (e.g., Baron Cecil of Essendon).
Among royalty and continental nobility, a title may be used by several members of a family, for example, "Prince/Princess (Prinz/Prinzessin) of Liechtenstein" borne by cadets of the dynasty of the Prince (Fürst) of Liechtenstein; or "Duke/Duchess (Herzog/Herzogin) in Saxony", borne (but used as a subsidiary title since the eighteenth century) by cadets of the various Wettin monarchs of royal Saxony and of ducal Saxony; or "Grand Duke/Grand Duchess of Russia" (Russian: Великий князь, Velikiy knyaz, German: Großfürst etc.), borne by all dynastic children and children of the sons of Russian emperors.
Although official, these titles are treated as non-substantive, the Almanach de Gotha historically recording them as prefixes to the given name, whereas substantive titles usually followed the titleholder's given name (and numeral, if any). Recent examples include Princess Madeleine, Duchess of Hälsingland and Gästrikland and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. The Almanach de Gotha treated similarly titles used by dynasties of abolished monarchies: the head of the house bearing a traditional title of the dynasty in lieu of or after the given name (e.g. Duarte Pio, Duke of Braganza), while cadets shared a princely title as prefix in addition to any suffixed substantive title accorded them as individuals by the head of the house (e.g. Infante Miguel, Duke of Viseu and Prince Aimone, Duke of Apulia).
The titles of heirs apparent to a monarchy are treated as substantive titles, such as the Dutch Prince of Orange, Belgian Duke of Brabant, Spanish Prince of Asturias, British Prince of Wales, Danish Crown Prince, Luxemburgish Hereditary Grand Duke, and the Monégasque and Liechtensteiner Hereditary Princes.
Titles granted to or inherited individually by junior members of dynastic families are generally substantive, e.g., Princess Royal (in the United Kingdom), Duke of Cádiz (in Spain), Count of Flanders (in Belgium), Duke of Orléans (in France), Duke of Halland (in Sweden), etc.
In accordance with a tradition dating back to the reign of Napoleon I, titles in pretence were treated by the Almanach de Gotha as if still borne by members of reigning dynasties, with the exception that titles exclusively borne by monarchs (e.g. Emperor, King, Queen, Grand Duke Grossherzog), their consorts, and heirs (Crown Prince, Hereditary Prince) for the duration of their lifetimes were restricted to the last dynast who held the title during the monarchy.
For any of the British peerages - England, Scotland, Ireland, UK, etc., written references to:
- substantive peers are customarily in the form The Marquess of Winchester, The Earl of Derby, etc., including the preceding definite article (The), where the distinguishing name (e.g. Winchester or Derby) is the name of a place, but with neither The nor of where it is not - e.g. Marquess Camden, Earl Ferrers, etc.
- courtesy peers are named without the article, e.g. Marquess of Blandford, Earl Grosvenor, Earl of Ulster, accordingly, i.e. excluding a preceding definite article.
In the German nobility, the difference between a holder of a substantive title and a courtesy title in any given family may not be easily determined as most families use the same titles for all members. However, the head of a comital family may be styled The Count of X or NN, Count of X while all other members of his family are referred to as Count/Countess NN of X. Not all families use the same title for the head and cadet members: Some mediatized dynasties and Prussian noble families accord a higher title to the most senior member of the family as determined by male primogeniture.
A similar usage developed among the ancient Gaelic Irish nobility. Formerly the head of either a royal or comital sept held the very name itself as his title, being the only member who did not use his given name. An example is Aodh Mór Ó Néill, who did not become King of Tyrone/Ulster until becoming "Ó Néill", his British title (Earl of Tyrone) being deemed subsidiary. However, the heads of a number of these families now employ the definite article. See also Chief of the Name.
The spouse of a monarch, heir apparent or titleholder may or may not share usage of the substantive title, but when this is the case the spouse holds the title by courtesy and/or derivatively. In all European monarchies (excepting The Netherlands) the dynastic wife of a male monarch shares her husband's rank and bears the female equivalent of his title (i.e., Empress, Queen, Grand Duchess, Duchess or Princess). The husband of a female monarch, however, does not acquire the crown matrimonial automatically. Only in Monaco has the male equivalent (Prince) of the monarch's title been conferred upon the husband of an heiress presumptive since the nineteenth century. In the medieval era, the husband of a female sovereign in Europe usually took the title, rank and authority of his wife jure uxoris. Later, the husbands of queens regnant were usually, but not automatically, elevated to the wife's royal status, sometimes as co-King and sometimes merely as King consort (e.g. John III of Navarre, Philip II of Spain, Francis II of France, Henry, Lord Darnley (later Duke of Rothesay, etc.), William III, Pedro III of Portugal, Ferdinand II of Portugal, Francis II of Spain), etc.