In a typical feudal society where lords preside over their domains and each lordship is inherited by the son I know it's typical for their children to also have titles. However I'm unclear on the traditional hierarchies involved.

What is an appropriate title for:

  • The first son and heir?
  • A second son who will (short of tragedy) not inherit his father's lordship
  • A nephew or other similar relative

I'm toying around with them either being dukes, barons or earls but I'm unsure how these typically rank alongside lords (I'd hate to have them accidentally outrank their father). I'd rather stay away from knightly titles such as sir because of the nature of the world they live in.

Using English medieval history as a basis what are the most appropriate titles?


closed as off-topic by L.Dutch, JBH, sphennings, Frostfyre, Vincent Nov 10 '17 at 15:11

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    $\begingroup$ Other than words like "prince" or the French "dauphin," I haven't seen many titles for "heir of the Lord." However, have you considered giving them titles as part of a social standing? It would be reasonable for the heir of a Lord to be a duke, not because they're the heir, but because the Lord would give them something smaller to manage first before becoming Lord. And, of course, because the title is an actual position not a hereditary title, the title would be different for each individual. It would depend on whatever social responsibility can reasonably be bestowed on them. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 10 '14 at 7:52
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    $\begingroup$ Dukes, Earls, and Barons are all lords. This is explained further in evandentremont's Peerage link under Styles and Titles. That answers everything but the nephew question (I'm pretty sure that a nephew is nothing unless currently the heir apparent). Note that it's not the lord who grants a courtesy title to an heir apparent -- he merely delegates his lesser title to his heir for courtesy purposes. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Nov 10 '14 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I could see it either way however I'm looking at the ruling classes for a world which is similar (but not the same as ours, I've stated I don't want them to be knighted as that position doesn't exist in my world). We're happy government and characters (within reason meta.worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/185/…) are on topic. Personally I'd much rather post here (as I'm a more active member). I believe as a general guideline if a question is on topic for two sites generally we try to avoid migrating them $\endgroup$ – Liath Nov 10 '14 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling that's true - I was trying to scope to avoid people inventing titles! $\endgroup$ – Liath Nov 10 '14 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ Lois Bujold's Barrayar has a Vor caste. The powerful Vor are Counts, who have heirs. The Count is Count Vorkosigan and his sons are Lord Miles VK, and Lord Mark VK. These titles for younger sons are not transferable to the next generation. There are also some inherited Lordships given by the Emperor, who are just Lord VorWhatever. This does keep you from having to invent a bunch of extra titles. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Nov 11 '14 at 1:40

Typically titles are bestowed from the king, some are hereditary some are not but historically it was very unlikely that a lord would give his son a title. It was far more common that the royal family would recognise the lordling themselves.

Firstly a lord is actually a catch all title for a member of the nobility, in England nobles were usually one of the following (descending in importance):

  • Duke (some are royal and some not)
  • Marquis
  • Earl
  • Viscount
  • Baron

All of these qualify as Lords although Dukes are sometimes addressed as "Your Grace". In addition children of the ruling lords were often referred to as Lords and Ladies.

Typically when the son of a lord reaches maturity they may be granted their own title but this will come from the king not from their father.

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    $\begingroup$ I would add that this would be perfectly acceptable when referring to lower echelons as well, a knight for example. $\endgroup$ – James Nov 10 '14 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ Baron is pretty much the lowest aristocratic level. Knights can be in every levels. Well not exactly. Even taking medieval English as a reference is very broad since it's over 1000 years of history. The feudal system was in constant evolution. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 10 '14 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ In the modern UK peerage, children sometimes use a courtesy title, which may be one of the father's lesser titles, or a prefix of "Lord" or "the Honourable". $\endgroup$ – Royal Canadian Bandit Nov 11 '14 at 10:44

As far as I know, hereditary titles don't have associated names for their heirs apparent (like "vice-count"). The heir of a king might automatically be a prince or duke (as the male heir to the United Kingdom is more-or-less automatically the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Rothsay and other stuff), but none of those titles specifically means "heir to the throne".

In a heavily-aristocratic society you could see senior nobles having spare titles for their kids in a similar way. For example, the Earl of Flim wins favor and is additionally created the Duke of Zorch; he can then (depending on the law) pass on the earldom to his daughter, so she becomes Countess of Flim. When the Duke of Zorch dies, she becomes the Duchess (or Duke) of Zorch, and passes on the earldom to her son, and so on. In a living aristocracy these titles may also correspond to actual jobs in government or commerce.

Asdie from that, aristocracy being what it is, you'd expect to see a lot of heirs being given non-hereditary titles (knighthoods and baronetcies) while they wait, just so they don't have to sign their name "Mister".

So, yes, it would be realistic to have titles for most of your ruling-class characters, but children wouldn't usually hold titles outranking their parents.


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