Dukes: a Dime a Dozen… British Peerages

Those of us who write historical romances love our dukes. We create them left and right. I have two, which is not a large number when one considers I have 50 novels available: Brantley Fowler from A Touch of Velvet: Book 2 of the Realm Series is the Duke of Thornhill and Huntington McLaughlin from Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep, Book 1 of the Twins’ Trilogy, will be the Duke of Devilfoard upon his father’s death. 

In truth, there were barely two dozen dukes during what we consider to be the Regency Era. 

Year           Dukes    Marquesses    Earls      Viscounts      Barons    Total

1790           21                6                    86             13                  81            207

1800          19               11                    87             15                  125          257

1810           17                12                   94             23                 138         284

1820          18                17                 100             22                 134          291

There were nine peeresses in their own right in1790, who are not included in these totals. Ten peeresses are counted in 1800 and eight peeresses in 1810.

Sixteen Scottish peers were elected to take seats in the English House of Lords during each Parliament. 

Year              Scottish peers              Holding English titles       Without English titles 

1800                   88                                         16                                       72

1810                   85                                          23                                      62

1820                  80                                          26                                      54

In addition to the peers holding English titles, 28 men with Irish titles were elected for life to hold seats in the English House of Lords. 

Year                Irish Peers               Holding English titles         Without English titles 

1800                   208                                   41                                       167

1810                    221                                   44                                       177

1820                   217                                   42                                        175

The title of DUKE originally signified Sovereign status, for example William the Conqueror was Duke of Normandy, and it was not adopted as a peerage title until 1337, when King Edward III conferred the Dukedom of Cornwall upon his eldest son, the Black Prince. The first person to receive a dukedom (not a member of the royal family) was Sir William de la Pole, Marquess of Suffolk, who became Duke of Suffolk in 1448.

“At present there are 24 dukes (not including royal dukes). The premier duke and earl of England is the Duke of Norfolk. His ancestor John Howard was created Duke of Norfolk in 1483, but because he inherited his dukedom through his mother, Margaret Mowbray, the duke’s precedence (ie his seniority in terms of the antiquity of his title) is dated 1397, which is when Margaret Mowbray’s father was created Duke of Norfolk. The premier peer of Scotland is the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon (created 1643). The premier duke, marquess and earl of Ireland is the Duke of Leinster (created 1766). The most recent (non-royal) dukedom to be created is Westminster in 1874.” (Debrett’s

King Richard II was the first to bestow the title of MARQUESS in England. He conferred the title of Marquess of Dublin upon Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, in 1385. The title was conferred by letters patent under the Great Seal, which represents the Sovereign’s authority. Those holding the title of “earl” did not like the idea that the new title of marquess was given precedence over them, which caused a great “stink.” Therefore, de Vere’s patent was revoked in 1386.

“At present there are 34 marquesses (not including courtesy marquesses). The premier marquess of England is the Marquess of Winchester (created 1551), who lives in South Africa. The premier marquess in Scotland is the Marquess of Huntly (created 1599). Since 1989 only one marquessate has become extinct, Ormonde, in 1997.” (Debrett’s)

During the reign of King Canute, the Danish equivalent of an EARL was found in England. With the Norman kings the title became hereditary; however, an ‘ealdorman’ was a term used in the 900s for a person who administered a shire for the King. Later, this was the auspices of the Sheriff of the county. From the time of King Richard II (1377-1399) all earldoms were either life creations or hereditary with “remainder to heirs male.” Only Scottish earldoms could pass through the female line. 

“At present there are 191 earls (not including the Earl of Wessex and courtesy earldoms), and four countesses in their own right. The premier earl of England and Ireland is the Earl of Shrewsbury and Waterford (created 1442). The premier earl on the Union Roll is the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres (created 1398). The most recent earldom to be created is Stockton, created in 1984. Since 1989 four earldoms have become extinct, Amherst, Monsell, Sondes and Munster, and Breadalbane is dormant.” (Debrett’s)

VISCOUNTS were originally the lieutenant (vice-comes) of a count. As a title it was often used for the Sheriff of a county. The firs recorded British peerage of viscount occurred when Henry VI combined two titles for John Lord Beaumont, who became Viscount Beaumont in England and in France (1440). As a peerage it was the 17th Century before it knew any popularity among the elite. 

“At the present time there are 115 viscounts (not including courtesy viscounts). The premier viscount of England is Viscount Hereford (created 1550). The premier viscount of Scotland on the Roll is Viscount Falkland (created 1620), and the premier viscount of Ireland is Viscount Gormanston (created 1478). Since 1989 eight viscountcies have become extinct: Muirsheil, Furness, Watkinson, Lambert, Leverhulme, Greenwood, Cross and Ingleby, and Barrington is dormant or extinct.” (Debrett’s)

BARONS were once land-holding noblemen, not part of the peerage. As such, they were often summoned to appear before the King, usually by Royal writ to attend Parliament. By the time of King Edward III (1300s), baronies became hereditary dignities. John Beauchamp de Holt was the first baron to receive letters patent. Again, this was during the reign of King Richard II. After 1400, most baronies were created by letters patent. 

“In Scotland the equivalent of Barons in England are Lords of Parliament.
The rank of baron is easily the most populated in the peerage. There are currently 426 hereditary barons and lords of Parliament (not including courtesy baronies and lordships), and nine hereditary baronesses and ladies of Parliament in their own right. The premier baron of England is Lord de Ros (created 1264), and the premier baron of Ireland is Lord Kingsale (created 1223), who lives in New Zealand. Since 1989, 24 baronies have become extinct, one (Kinnaird) is dormant or extinct, and another (Audley) is in abeyance.” (Debrett’s)


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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1 Response to Dukes: a Dime a Dozen… British Peerages

  1. mlaird0128 says:

    I want a copy of one of these books. I love looking at historical books like this.

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