Baron/Baroness

This title, Baron, derives from the Old Germanic word “Baro“, meaning “Freeman“. Created c. 1066, a Baron is the lowest rank of peerage, and is usually applied to “tenantsinchief“, the holders of land granted to them directly by the Monarch. The normal form of address is Lord/Lady.

Barony/Baronial/BaronageBaron‘s were originally (in Britain) those who held their lands directly from the King. Not all British nobles have Baronies and many ViceCounts, do not. (Louis Epstein) The majority of nobility in Britain are just plain Barons. In the UK, life peers are also Baron‘s or Baronesses.

Once, a Baron was an important noble, especially before the Renaissance. It was the Baron‘s who brought King John to heel at Runnymede, and “RobberBaron” has entered English as the term for one of the Lord’s who collected “tolls” from Rhine RiverTraffic. In olden times, when there was little differentiation in degree or rank between neighboring nobles.

Baron” could signify a noble, large or small, a meaning with some currency today on the continent, roughly equivalent in meaning to “peer” or “Lord” in the UK. The status of Baron‘s varies. It can be a very high title or something of little consequence. It is definitely a noble title, however, it needs to be clearly distinguished from “Baronet“.

Viscount/Viscountess

Created in 1440, the title Viscount comes from the Latin “vicecomes“, or “vicecount“. The Viscount was a sheriff of a shire (county) and was the Earls deputy. The normal form of address is Lord/Lady.

Viscountcy/Viscounty – This title is mostly confined to the United Kingdom and France, though it appears rarely in Italy and elsewhere. This is the leftover title, what the King bestowed on someone who was not important enough to merit being made a Count. It’s rather late innovation. It originated in France, as the Counts deputy, I.e. the “Vice Count“.

Earl/Countess

The term Earl derives from the Old Norse word “Jarl“, meaning warrior, nobleman. The continental equivalent is “Count“, which derives from the Latin word “comes“. In Britain, the title began to be used c.800, replacing the Old Anglo Saxon title of “Ealdorman“. The Earl was the King‘s official representative in the shires (counties). The normal form of address is Lord/Lady.

Earldom/Comital/Countly – “Earl” is related to Old NorseJarl“, and is equivalent to “Count“, which derives from the Latin word “Comes“. This in turn is related to the English word “County“, which pretty much explains what a Count was, the principal figure of a county.

William I of England regarded the AngloSaxonEarl” as a synonym for “Count“, and while this was not correct, it was a practical equivalency. Old English lacked a feminine and thus the French term was adopted for an Earls wife as well as for women who hold Earldoms in their own right.

Some will maintain that a British Earl outranks any continental Count. Compared to some other systems, especially those that incorporated the results of the often slapdash practices of older systems (e.g. Italy), there are proportionally fewer British Earls than Counts.