Fantasy Guide to Noble Titles & What they Mean
So I get a lot of questions about what nobles actually do or how much they own or why a certain title is higher than another. Understanding the complexities of nobility and their hierarchy can be a bit of a head twister but hopefully this will help you out. Just for the moment we will be focusing on European Titles because I can’t fit all the titles into one post. Forgive my shitty doodles. The diagrams mark out where the particular noble would rule.
These titles have two meanings. In the latter half of the Austrian Empire, it was used to denote senior members of the Royal family such as children and siblings. It is also a non Royal title given to someone who rules an archduchy, a large portion of land with in the kingdom. They are in charge of the archduchy, ensuring it runs smoothly. They are referred to as Your Grace.
Grand Duke/Grand Duchess
The Grand Duke is probably the trickiest of all these titles as there is a dual meaning. A Grand Duke can rule a state as a sovereign like in Luxembourg or they can rule a Grand Duchy (a large portion of land within a kingdom) like the Grand Dukes of Russia. The Grand Duke was below the Archduke and their lands may be smaller. They are in charge of ruling their Grand Duchy, upholding the monarch’s laws in their name. They are referred to as Your Grace.
The Duke is the highest rank in most European nations. The Duke rules a large portion of the kingdom- called a Duchy- which you can think of as a county/state. The Duchies are often awarded by the monarch to their children who are not the heir. The Duke is charge with running that portion of land by order of the monarch, handling the over all business of that piece of the Kingdom. Dukes are referred to as Your Grace. There was only one Duke per Duchy.
A Marquess is the next rung down from Dukes. The Marquess is in charge of a portion of land within a Duchy which is called a Marsh which lays near a border. The Marquess is solely responsible for the running of that portion of land. The Marquess is called The Most Honourable (Insert name), the Marquess of XYZ. There could be multiple marquesses in a Duchy if it was near a large border.
An Earl/Count Rules over an Earldom, which is a section of a Duchy but it has less importance than a Marsh ruled by the Marquess. The Earl/Count is the third highest ranking within the Duchy. Often it was the subsidiary title of the heir of the Dukedom, so the eldest son/daughter of the Duke would be the Earl. The Earl/Count of X is addressed as Lord X for example, the Earl of Grantham, is called Lord Grantham. There could be multiple Earls/counts per Duchy.
Viscounts are the Earl/Count’s second in command, ruling a portion of land with the Earldom. They handled the judiciary matters of their lands and their barons. Viscounts were addressed as the Right Honourable (insert name) Marquess of XY. Viscounts can also be used as a subsidiary title for the son of a Earl. When Thomas Boleyn was made Earl of Wiltshire, his son George was made Viscount Rochford. There might be multiple Viscounts in a Duchy.
The Baron is the lowest of ranks in the nobility pyramid. Before the mid-medieval period, almost all nobles were labelled as Barons. They ruled over a portion of the land under the Duke, the Earl and Viscount. There were always a huge force of barons with in the Duchy. They handled the minor local disputes of their lands, collecting taxes and monies owed. If they faced a larger issue or crime, they would pass it up to the next ranking noble the Viscount and then it could travel all the way up to the Duke. The Baron of Townville were referred to as as Lord Townville.