Peerage

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The British Peerage is a well-known system of nobility existing in the United Kingdom.

There are five ranks:

  • Duke (Duchess)
  • Marquess or Marquis (Marchioness)
  • Earl (Countess)
  • Viscount (Viscountess)
  • Baron (Baroness); in Scottish peerages (created before the Union of 1707, the corresponding title is Lord (Lady)

There are two types: hereditary peerages and life peerages. Life peerages honour a person’s accomplishments, the peer holds the title only for his lifetime; it is not passed on to offspring.

The hereditary peerages are passed to the next generation following the law of primogeniture. That is, that they are inherited by the eldest son (even if that child has an older sister). It there are no male heirs, the title usually ceases to exist, or becomes extinct.

Occasionally, a title may be set up in such a manner that it can descend through the female line as well, but this is nowadays highly unusual. (A notable case was the late Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who had no sons and petitioned the monarch to allow the title to be inherited through his daughter.) For titles created for some centuries, this is done only as "special remainder": the grantee's daughters are given rights of succession, but thereafter the succession is in the male line only. In early times, however, it was quite normal for peerages to be heritable by daughters in the absence of sons. Many such peerages survive to the present day, though they make up only a small proportion of the total.

A woman may sometimes be elevated to the peerage in her own right. Although a (male) peer’s wife receives a courtesy styling, a peeress’s husband does not.