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The wives and children of peers are granted the use of certain titles, depending upon the rank of the peer. Because these people do not actually own these titles - they are derived from their husbands/fathers - they are called courtesy titles as they are granted by courtesy alone.
Wives, Sons, and Unmarried Daughters
The general rules are as follows:
|Peer||Wife||Eldest Son||Younger Son(s)||Unmarried Eldest Daughter||Unmarried Younger Daughter(s)|
|Duke||Duchess||Takes his father's next highest, unambiguous title (e.g., Marquess of Hartington or Earl of Coventry [instead of Marquess of Buckingham])||Lord Firstname Surname||Lady Firstname Surname||Lady Firstname Surname|
|Marquess||Lady Husband's Title||Takes his father's next highest, unambiguous title (e.g., Earl of Glamorgan)||Lord Firstname Surname||Lady Firstname Surname||Lady Firstname Surname|
|Earl||Lady Husband's Title||Takes his father's next highest, unambiguous title (e.g., Viscount Wilmot of Athlone) or, if there is no subordinate title, Master Surname||Master Firstname Surname||Lady Firstname Surname||Lady Firstname Surname|
|Viscount||Lady Husband's Title||Master Surname||Master Firstname Surname||Mistress Lastname||Mistress Firstname Surname|
|Baron||Lady Husband's Title||Master Surname||Master Firstname Surname||Mistress Lastname||Mistress Firstname Surname|
Wives of Peers
Duchesses are referred to as "The Duchess" or "Her Grace" and addressed as "Duchess" or "Your Grace."
All other wives of peers are "Lady Husband's Title," for example, Lady Rochester.
The heirs of earls, marquesses, and dukes are allowed to adopt their father's next-highest title as a courtesy, which they use in every way as if it were a "real" peerage.
For example, the Duke of Newcastle's heir is known as the Viscount Mansfield, which is the duke's highest subordinate, unambiguous title (Earl of Newcastle is too easily confused with the Duke's own title). His subordinate titles are distributed by courtesy only to his direct heirs - his eldest son, and his eldest son's eldest son, etc. Thus, the Duke of Newcastle's son, Henry is known as the Viscount Mansfield and Lord Mansfield's son Henry is known as Lord Ogle. If Lord Mansfield were to predecease his father and son, then Lord Ogle would assume the courtesy title of Viscount of Mansfield while his eldest son would be born Lord Ogle.
It became the rage during the 17th century to throw in a number of new lesser titles to "fill in" when creating a new higher title, so the older a dukedom or an earldom, the more likely the second title is to be a much lower one, skipping steps, if you will: the eldest sons of the Dukes of Norfolk, Grafton, St. Albans, Richmond, Buccleuch, and Northumberland are earls, the Dukes of Dorset's and Manchester's are viscounts, and the Duke of Somerset's only a baron. But since Dorset's and Machester's eldest sons are viscounts, their eldest sons cannot take a barony as a courtesy title. If there is no courtesy title available, the eldest son of a duke, marquess, or earl takes the family name as a courtesy title.
It is important to note, however, that an heir of a peer who is not a direct descendant of that peer (i.e., his eldest son or his eldest son's eldest son) does not take any secondary title as a courtesy title. He remains known by whatever title (if any) he derived from his own father until he accedes to the peerage.
For example, the 6th Duke of Devonshire never married. Since he also had no brothers, his heir was a cousin. The cousin was a great-grandson of the 4th Duke; before the 6th Duke died, he was plain Mr. William Cavendish. Even though the line of succession was clear, Mr. William Cavendish was never given the courtesy title Marquess of Hartington. Similarly, after Mr. William Cavendish succeeded and became the 7th Duke, he was in turn succeeded by his eldest son, who became the 8th Duke. But the 8th Duke had no son, and he was succeeded by his nephew, a son of his younger brother, Lord Edward. Before he acceded, the 8th Duke was plain Mr. Victor Cavendish.
Younger Sons of Dukes and Marquesses
Younger sons of dukes and marquesses prefix "Lord" to their First and family Surname (not their father's title), for example, Lord Henry Villiers.
Younger Sons of Earls
Younger sons of earls, however, only get to be called "Master Firstname Surname" for example, Master Charles Audley.
Unmarried Daughters of Dukes, Marquesses, and Earls
Daughters of earls, marquesses, and dukes similarly are known as "Lady Firstname Surname," for example, Lady Serena Carlow. Daughters take the precedence, if not the actual title, of their eldest brother. See the explanation of Parcener.
Eldest Sons of Earls with No Subsidiary Titles, Viscounts and Barons
Eldest sons of viscounts and barons are known as "Master Surname". For example, Master Barrons.
Younger Sons of Viscounts and Barons
Younger sons of viscounts and barons are known as "Master Firstname Surname". For example, Master Francis de Courtenay.
Unmarried Younger Daughters of Viscounts, and Barons
Younger daughters of viscounts, and barons are known as "Mistress Firstname Lastname". For example, Mistress Anne Jocelyn.
Wives of Peers' Sons
Wives of peers' sons who bear courtesy titles also take their ranks and titles (with a few careful exceptions outlined below) from their husbands, so they are also "Lady Husband's Title." If she is the wife of the younger son of a duke or marquess, this means that she will be addressed, for example, as Lady Henry Villiers. Or, if her husband's courtesy title is her father-in-law's next-highest title, she will be addressed as if her husband actually enjoyed that peerage, for example, Lady Coventry.
Husbands and Children of Peers' Daughters
Husbands are not entitled to courtesy titles derived from those enjoyed by their wives. Children of peers' daughters are also not entitled to special courtesy titles derived from their grandfather's rank.
- A person is never Lord/Lady X "in his/her own right" unless that person actually inherits the peerage. A person who is granted a courtesy title by birth -- even if that title is one of his father's lesser peerages -- does not "hold the title in his/her own right." The 1st Duke of Marlborough's eldest daughter, who did inherit the peerage (via Parliamentary and royal warrant), was Duchess of Marlborough in her own right. But before her father died, she was not Lady Henrietta "in her own right." She was Lady Henrietta by courtesy. When she married the Earl of Godolphin, she was the Countess of Godolphin by courtesy (even though she was called a "peeress" after her marriage). And her husband, the earl, did not become Duke of Marlborough by courtesy; he remained a mere earl (much like the husband of a queen is not a king by courtesy).
- Widows of peers may continue, by right, to use the courtesy title derived from their husbands' title. They will only be known as dowagers if they are the mother, stepmother, grandmother, or step-grandmother of the current peer. Otherwise, they retain the title unchanged. Men who marry peers' widows are not entitled to a courtesy title derived from hers. If the widow's new husband has a lower precedence than the late peer, she will lose her precedence and take that enjoyed by her current husband. Thus, Lady Atherstone would move from being seated at dinner behind the daughters of dukes and before the wives of marquesses' eldest sons to being seated only ahead of the wives of common citizens and burgesses.
- Unlike dukes and duchesses, lower ranks of the peerage are not spoken of as "The Marquess and Marchioness of Rotheram," but as "Lord and Lady Rotheram." There are a few formal occasions on which the full title would be used, but it would never occur in intimate speech.
Married Daughters of Peers
The rule is that a woman who marries a peer takes her courtesy title from her husband. Period. However, if a peer's daughter marries anyone who is not a peer, including commoners, knights, baronets, or any sons of a peer (including his heir who bears a courtesy title), then she may, if she chooses, maintain her own rank as long as it outranks her husband's. When her husband inherits a peerage, however, she must abandon her former title and precedence and she acquires her husband's. See Precedence and Forms of Address for more detail.