UK

Royal wedding etiquette: Who's who

Royal weddings are full of protocol but for guests at Prince William and Kate Middleton's big day how should fellow guests be addressed?

The guest list will be a who's who of British aristocracy, yet few know the correct forms of address for those with titles.

Duke / Duchess

The duke is the highest of the five grades of the peerage. If a duke is also a member of the armed forces, the clergy or an ambassador, their rank precedes their title. For example, "Major-General the Duke of…". The wife of a duke is always described as the duchess, or the Duchess of X when introduced. In legal documents, dukes are addressed as the Most Noble William Edward Duke of X.

Marquess / Marchioness

Second to the duke comes the marquess/marchioness. On being introduced to one, it is correct to address them as lord or lady. There are currently 34 marquesses. The premier marquess of England is the Marquess of Winchester, created in 1551 (though he actually lives in South Africa). The premier marquess in Scotland is the Marquess of Huntly (created in 1599).

Earl / Count or Countess

Earl/count or countess comes third in the peerage rankings. The title has been in existence since King Canute's time (the 10th Century). There are 191 earls (not including the Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward) and courtesy earldoms, and four countesses in their own right. The premier earl of England and Ireland is the Earl of Shrewsbury and Waterford (currently Charles Henry John Benedict Crofton Chetwynd Chetwynd-Talbot). Thankfully he, like other earls, counts and countesses, should be addressed simply as lord or lady.

Viscount / Viscountess

Viscount/viscountess is addressed as lord rather than the Viscount X. This title comes from the office of the deputy or the lieutenant ("vice-comes") of a count, a rank that had become hereditary in the Holy Roman Empire by the beginning of the 10th Century. It was also used for the sheriff of a county. In Britain it was first recorded in 1440, during the Hundred Years' War after King Henry VI was crowned king of England and France. He wanted to consolidate the titles of the two countries, and created John Lord Beaumont both Viscount Beaumont in England and Viscount Beaumont in France.

Baron / Baroness

Baron/baroness is the last rank of the peerage. The word in Old French meant "free man". In the 13th Century the barons were summoned by the monarch to attend the Counsel or Parliament. The first baron to be formally created was John Beauchamp de Holt, made Baron Kidderminster by King Richard II in 1387. Address a baron simply as "lord". And equally a baroness is called "lady". The title baron or baroness is only used in legal or formal documents.

The same form of address applies in Scotland where the equivalent of baron is lord of Parliament, a title that can also be held by women - they are addressed as lady. There are 426 hereditary barons and lords of Parliament, not including courtesy baronies and lordships, and nine hereditary baronesses and ladies of Parliament in their own right.

Source: Debretts