How Well Do You Know the Titles in the British Aristocracy?


By: Zoe Samuel

6 Min Quiz

Image: Franz Xaver Winterhalter

About This Quiz

The British aristocracy is one of those peculiar national institutions that even its own members agree is logically rather absurd, but for some reason, nobody is bothered enough to get around to abolishing it. Indeed, at the highest levels - the royal family - there is enormous public support for its continuation: the Queen enjoys approval ratings that no democratic official has ever maintained over a comparable period of time, and unlike certain "elected" presidents in countries that only pretend to be democratic, she doesn't have to make up the numbers.

Thanks to shows like "Downton Abbey" and "Game of Thrones" and popular figures like Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and William and Kate, monarchy is more fashionable than it has been in some time. Coupled with democracy failing to deliver particularly qualified rulers in recent years, people are definitely more interested in the aristocracy, if for no other reason than it is a useful distraction from the flailing and shenanigans of the ridiculous people we've voted into high office.

Even so, most people don't necessarily know the ins and outs of aristocracy all that well. Do you know "your Grace" from "your Highness"? Could you define a courtesy title? What exactly is a GMCG, and could it really stand for "God Calls Me God"? Let's see if you know!

What is the proper form of address for a knight?

A knight is like a non-hereditary baron. The proper way to address a knight is to call him "sir."


Which is the oldest dukedom in Scotland?

This dukedom was created in 1398! To be considered a Scottish-only title it has to predate the Act of Union in 1707.


What is the title below an earl?

Viscount is the fourth title down!


What is the highest non-royal rank in the aristocracy?

The one below a prince is a duke. There aren't very many of them though.


What is the family name of the Dukes of Wellington?

The first Duke of Wellington was Arthur Wellesley, who defeated Napoleon and saved Europe from being absorbed into his growing empire.


Where does the Duke of Derbyshire live?

The Duke of Devonshire lives in Derbyshire at their ancestral seat of Chatsworth, which is the house that Mr. Darcy's Pemberley was based on. There is no Duke of Derbyshire.


Which Duke owns the most London property?

The Duke of Westminster owns a ridiculous amount of London property, for a net worth of well over $3bn. He is also single and in his 20s, meaning he is widely considered to be the most eligible man in England now that Prince Harry is engaged.


Which of these London squares is not named for the family of a duke?

Cavendish (Devonshire), Russell (Bedford) and Grosvenor (Westminster) are all the names of dukes' families. Gloucester Square is the only one here that is named for the duke's title, as opposed to the family name. The family of the Duke of Gloucester is called Windsor: the current duke, Prince Richard, is actually the grandson of George V, making him the Queen's second cousin.


Which of these is a real title?

There is a real Marchioness of Bristol, but the other three titles are fictional, hailing respectively from "The Royals," "Downton Abbey" and "The Buccaneers" by Edith Wharton.


What is a "life peer"?

Peers are either life peers or hereditary peers. Life peers get their peerages for things like outstanding service to Queen and country.


What is a "crossbench" peer?

If you're a peer and you sit in the House of Lords, you have to affiliate with a party, or you can ask to be a "crossbencher," which shows that you are not affiliated. They sit on special benches that are in the middle.


What is special about Margaret Thatcher's title?

Thatcher was given a baronetcy, which is a mini barony. It's hereditary, though her son has caught heat for behaving in a manner ill befitting it. Hereditary titles are not given out any more, so this was the last one.


What is the eldest son of a duke called?

The younger children of a Duke are Lord or Lady, but the eldest son and heir is called Marquis or Earl. This is called a "courtesy" title. That person's eldest son usually has another title, which means every time someone in the line above them passes away, they have to change their name yet again and get new credit cards.


What is the wife of an earl called?

Earl is an Anglo-Saxon title, but it's the counterpart of the French Count or Comte. Hence, the wife of an Earl is a Countess, not an Earless (since they do mostly have ears).


What is the correct form of address for an earl?

The proper address for an Earl is to call him my Lord or your Lordship.


What is a lady knight called?

A lady knight is a dame - and there's nothing like one!


How many hereditary titles are there still?

There are around 750 titles at present.


What happens if a lord dies with no heir?

Titles will go "extinct" if there is no heir, meaning it ceases to exist altogether.


Can you lose a title without wanting to?

Technically the PM can recommend to strip you of your title and then the Queen will take it away. If you commit treason or some other extremely serious crime, this can happen.


Can a person with a title be a Member of Parliament?

You can't be a lord and an MP at the same time. Tony Benn gave up the title of Viscount Stansgate to be an MP.


If there is a Lord Smith, how many people can be correctly called Lady Smith at the same time?

Since Lord Smith is just a lord, his daughters are not ladies, so they're not called Lady Smith. However his mother, having been married to the last Lord Smith, is the Dowager Lady Smith. Likewise, his wife is Lady Smith. Where it gets confusing is if Lord Smith is married and divorced multiple times - since his exes cannot be forced to give up their titles, there could end up being a number of rival Lady Smiths out there.


If you have a French or other foreign title, does that automatically transfer to Britain?

People with foreign titles can certainly use them in Britain, but it won't always get them the reaction they want! Certainly people might be less welcoming to titles from less friendly nations.


Can a foreign citizen be a knight?

Foreign citizens can be a "KBE" or Knight of the British Empire.


Is Lord Sutch a real lord?

Screaming Lord Sutch was the founder of the Monster Raving Loony Party, a parody political party in the UK whose ideas included things like lowering the voting age to 18, and giving passports to pets - both of which are now the law in the UK (albeit without the Monster Raving Loonies ever winning office). David Sutch actually changed his name legally to Screaming Lord Sutch. The British parliamentary system means that all candidates have to stand in a row while the winner is announced, meaning perfectly serious politicians had to stand next to Lord Sutch in his ridiculous top hat and silly coat and then shake his hand when they inevitably beat him.


Besides dukes, who is the richest lord in Britain?

A lot of British aristocrats are not actually immensely rich - and many have a very nice house or a fabulous art collection but without the cashflow to match. Others, however, are pretty darn wealthy. Generally the richest ones are those who had estates in what is now central London, which is the source of the Cadogans' wealth.


Which of these is the correct plant for a very important Scottish knightly order?

The Order of the Thistle is a very important chivalric order founded by James VII in 1687.


What is the difference between a baron and a lord?

A baron is the lowest kind of lord, just above a knight. "Lord" is just a generic word for a title-holding person.


Which ducal house owned the land on which the British Museum now stands?

The Russell family, Dukes of Bedford, owned this piece of land until it was subject to a compulsory purchase order in order to build the museum.


What is the proper form of address when you email a Duchess for the first time?

It sounds weird, but it's correct. The first time you meet a Duchess, you're supposed to address her as ... Duchess.


What are the robes made out of that lords wear to the State Opening of Parliament?

These red robes have ermine collars, plus insignia denoting what rank the relevant peer is.


Do hereditary peers get to make the law?

When the hereditary House of Lords was set to be abolished by Tony Blair's government in 1997, a compromise was reached to keep 92 of the hereditary peers. This was meant to be temporary, but they have never gotten around to doing anything about it. Many peers didn't object to being abolished, as they agreed that they ought to be, but these 92 put up a fight.


What is special about the Marquess of Pembroke?

The first hereditary title given to a woman was this one. Henry VIII gave it to Anne Boleyn before marrying her, as a way of making his intentions clear.


Which of these is NOT a known nickname for members of the Order of St. Michael and St. George?

GCMG, KCMG, and CMG are all real acronyms for this order. They are respectively, Grand Cross, Knight Commander, and Commander of the Order of St. Michael & St. George.


Which is the oldest dukedom in England?

The duchy of Norfolk is very old, dating back to 1397. The dukes live at Arundel Castle in Sussex and are still the Earl Marshal and Hereditary Marshals of England.


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