Sunday, October 6, 2013

Common Title Errors

This post is the third in my series on English titles.  The three posts are Regency Titles, Courtesy Titles and Common Title Errors.
In my previous two posts, Regency Titles and Courtesy Titles, I talked about English titles. Naming conventions are somewhat complex and errors abound in Regency romances. But once you get the hang of the titles, remembering the correct usage is not too difficult.

The most glaring error is using Lord (Lady) /last name/ in the wrong place when referring to the daughters and younger sons of peers. Most are Lord (Lady) /first name/ /last name/.

I'll continue with Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey from my previous post. Peter, as the second son of the Duke of Denver, holds the courtesy title of "Lord"--Lord Peter Wimsey. He is never Lord Wimsey. By the same token, Peter's wife, Harriet, is Lady Peter Wimsey, or Lady Peter for short, but never Lady Wimsey or Lady Harriet Wimsey. Peter's sister, Mary, was Lady Mary Wimsey, not Lady Wimsey, before she wed. After her marriage to Mr. Charles Parker, her name became Lady Mary Parker, not Lady Parker. She is addressed as Lady Mary.

Another error is referring to the younger son of an earl as "Lord". While an earl's heir held one of his father's lesser titles and hence was a lord, his younger brothers were not. Each younger son's title is "The Honorable", and he is addressed as "Mister". And the earl's daughters are all Lady /first name/ /last name/, like Lady Mary Wimsey.

The next error is bestowing the courtesy title of "Lord" or "Lady" on the children of viscounts and barons. Their children are "(The) Honorable", and addressed as "Mister" or "Miss". One very popular romance gave the daughter of a viscount the title of "Lady". In my A Similar Taste in Books, the heroine, Miss Clara Haley, is the daughter of Viscount Haley.

While the generic "my lord" or "my lady" serves to address most title holders, this form is incorrect for dukes and duchesses. A duke is "His Grace" to the lower orders, "Duke" to his peers, and his title to his friends. The friends of Lord Peter's brother, Gerald, the Duke of Denver, call him "Denver". Only his closest friends and family call him "Gerald".

And lastly, while dukes, marquesses and earls are usually "of somewhere", viscounts and barons never (or rarely) are. Viscounts and barons are /title/ /lastname/. Baronets are Sir /first name/ /last name/. Their wives are Lady /last name/. Knights are addressed the same way as baronets. Earls may be "earl lastname", for example, Earl Spencer.

Some examples from my books. John, the Earl of Siddington, in my Regency Halloween comedy, Pumpkinnapper, is Lord Siddington or Siddington. Henry, Baron Grey, the hero of Pumpkinnapper, is Lord Grey or Grey. The baronet Sir Charles Gordon of Mistletoe Everywhere, is Sir Charles.

As for addressing all titleholders, the title is used the first time only. After that, it's "sir" or "ma'am".

Confused? I certainly am. Going through all this becomes easier the more you look at it. And there are always exceptions.

Some good links on titles: (Thank you, Joanna Waugh)

And a book
Terms of Address, published by Adam Black in London (Thank you, Jean Hart Stewart)

Have fun.

Thank you all,


Claudia H Long said...

That was exhausting! Thanks for the interesting post. I'm glad to discover your blog- saw in on a retweet.

Linda Banche said...

LOL, Claudia! Glad you enjoyed the post.

Francine Howarth: UK said...

Fun write-up and not something I have any problem with. Though I will add another for you. a lady by birth (earl's/duke's/ marquess/marquis' daughter) when marrying below her station to untitled person retains her title, but formally introduced thus: Mrs Darnley, the Lady Georgina. Also, wives/daughters of earls/marquis' et al are formally introduced as Anna Lady Fitzwarren as would be say a sister standing alongside be introduced as Isobel Lady Fitzwarren. They are not referred to as merely Lady Anna & or Lady Isobel during formal introductions. If more than one duchess is present they are not introduced(formally)even in the company of friends as Her Grace the Duchess of... It will be Anne Duchess of ... Mary Duchess of... Once the introduction's are over with Your Grace will suffice. Servants on the other hand abide to a different code suited to the occasion. Below stairs they may refer to Lady Anna or Lady Isobel when identifying some aspect about either (or worse), but above stairs they rarely if ever should use the lady's name: it is bad etiquette to do so. "Downton Abbey" have got this wrong time and time again, when the butler keeps saying "yes Lady Mary" - "no lady Mary". In real life Downton era he wouldn't have dared!

Grace Burrowes said...

Much helpful guidance here, in both text and comments.I have made plenty of boo-boos in this area myself, and I'm sure I'll make more.

Somewhere along the way I heard that WE are more stickling about Regency address NOW than anybody was at the time, and that this is a function of Queen Elizabeth being advised that in the post WWII era, the decorum of the established order needed a boost. Rules promulgated in 1958?... made uniform what had been a bit looser previously.

I've seen period references, for example, that refer to a duke as my lord, something we're told equates to a hanging felony on the pages of a modern Regency.

Does this ring any bells, or have I had too much madeira?

Grace Burrowes said...

Oh, and a question... I've also seen that if a man is created an earl, or inherits and earldom obliquely, from a cousin or uncle, then the man's sisters become ladies. The law Latin is by right of partenir, or something like that. Goes back to a medieval convention of a woman taking her consequence from her oldest brother.... ring any bells?

C. Allyn Pierson said...

Excellent post, Linda! For beginners Daniel Pool's book, "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew," has a good overview of this subject. He doesn't cover as many details as you have, but it's a good start and easy to go back to. His book's main weakness is that it doesn't differentiate customs which developed in the Victorian Era from those in the Regency, so some of the areas he covers may not be completely true for the beginning of the century. Fortunately, the rules of the peerage and titles do not change, although they are less important now.
Keep up the good work!

Linda Banche said...

Francine, glad you liked the post. I'm sure there are many wrinkles I'm not familiar with, and I intended the post for those of the gentry and higher talking with the nobility. But thanks for the extra info. All information gratefully accepted!

Thanks, Grace. I'll believe that we're pickier now than in the past. We have the internet, and even 50 years ago, most people could read and get the information in libraries. 200 years ago most people couldn't read, libraries were scarce, and many people would never see an aristocrat in their entire lives. Even the nobility didn't spend their lives memorizing Debrett's. In this case, "my lord" to anyone, even a duke, would suffice.

I think you're right about the earl's sisters. They would be "ladies". His mother, however, would not be the countess, or dowager countess if he was married, because her husband wasn't the earl.

In most cases, these kinds of errors don't matter very much. Only the pickiest people will even know or care. Most readers want a good story, and yours are good!

Thanks, C. Allyn. I have Daniel Pool's book, and I like it for the basic stuff, too. When I first read it, everything was strange to me, but now, most of the stuff in there seems second nature.

Francine Howarth: UK said...

Grace Burrowes. The answer is NO. Sisters of a gentleman who becomes an earl by default of a death (male inheritance line) do not become ladies unless they were daughter's of an inherited lord. Ascendy to lady is by marriage or that of birthright. Or by royal/parliamentary consent as in granted title for services to the crown or nation i.e. Baroness Lady Thatcher.