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 Norse “Jarl“, 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 Anglo–Saxon “Earl” 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 Earl‘s 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 Earl‘s than Counts.