Friday, June 13, 2008

The Lady Is Entitled

Have you noticed that many times in books the young lady is angling to marry a title, but the gentlemen all want a wealthy heiress? That’s because, sad to say, very often the lady’s title, if she even had one, couldn’t be passed to the next generation. It couldn’t even be shared with her husband. If Miss Annabelle Pretty married the Duke of Studley, she became Lady Studley. But if Mr. Studley married Lady Annabelle, he stayed Mr. Studley and she became Mrs. Studley!

She could, if she were very high in the instep (read conceited), continue to be called Lady Annabelle, but she would never be Lady Studley. The lady’s rank rose or fell to that of her husband.

If you weren’t married yet and your father was a duke, marquess, or earl, you were entitled to call yourself Lady Firstname. That’s why Lady Emily, the heroine of La Petite Four, is Lady Emily Southwell, not Lady Emerson (her father is the Duke of Emerson and Southwell if the family’s last name). Daughters of other titled fellows might be the Honourable Miss Lastname, such as Persephone and Penelope Leland in Marissa’s Bewitching Season, but the term “honourable” was usually only used in formal correspondence.

Your father’s rank gave you a few other privileges. A young lady took the same precedence as her eldest brother. So, if, as Marissa mentioned Tuesday, your papa was a duke, and his first-born son held the courtesy title of a marquess, than your “Lady” was equivalent to a marchioness (the female version of marquess). That meant that in social situations, you sat below the marchionesses at the table but quite a bit above your younger brothers. (Look for more on this whole precedence thing in a future post.)

Once in a rare while, you might also have your own title. The title of duke and baron could go to a daughter, if she had no brothers. If she had sisters, they all took the title (duchesses or baronesses), but they couldn’t act on it until the reigning monarch settled which one was considered the title holder. That didn’t have to be the oldest sister. But in no case in the 1800s could a lady take her seat in the House of Lords, and in many cases the responsibilities that went with the title had be to undertaken by her husband. That didn't change until 1963.

So, I guess the lady wasn’t very entitled after all!

2 comments:

Gillian Layne said...

This is such a well done explanation of how it works. Thank you!!

Regina Scott said...

You're welcome!