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The View from the East End (84)

By Inspector Hopkins

March 9, 2008
 

The Peerage

 by Inspector Hopkins

Newcomers to Sherlockiana will quickly notice the large number of “Lords and Ladies” as they read through the canonical tales.  Many a case involved some member of the nobility, and several of Holmes’s clients were among them.

What IS the Nobility, anyway?

Inspired by a talk given by Bill Hyder of the Six Napoleons of Baltimore scion society some time ago, I decided to combine his ideas along with another research safari through my favourite Wikipedia sites. As I found with British Honours, this is another subject which can become quite complicated in a very short time! Although volumes could be written about it, I hope to condense and summarize it well enough here so that we can see how it applies to the Canon.

In a nutshell, there were two classes of people in Victorian England: noblemen and commoners. Assigned by the Sovereign (either King or Queen) of England, the nobility was ranked into five levels of peerage: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, and Baron. In general, some titles were inherited by their children and spouses as “courtesy titles”. 

Duke

This was the highest ranking hereditary title in the British peerage. His wife was called a duchess. Dukes were addressed as “Your Grace” and referred to as “His Grace”. The younger sons of a duke could be referred to as “Lord firstname [lastname]”.

In the Canon, we have the Duke of Holdernesse starring in PRIO, and the Duke of Balmoral mentioned in NOBL and SILV. Recall that in NOBL, Lord Robert St. Simon was the second son of the Duke of Balmoral. Thus, as has been previously pointed out by some Sherlockian scholars, the “Noble Bachelor” should only have been referred to as either “Lord Robert” or “Lord Robert St. Simon” and not “Lord St. Simon” as was done several times in the story.

Note carefully that the eldest son of a duke, marquess or earl, although not a peer himself, was entitled to use a courtesy title, usually the highest of his father’s lesser titles (if any). This helps to further explain why The Duke of Holdernesse’s eldest (albeit illegitimate) son was so jealous of his younger brother, Lord Saltire. Recall that one of the lesser titles that the Duke held was the most venerable “K.G.” (Knight of the Garter) order of knighthood.

Marquess

As with dukes, their younger sons could be referred to as “Lord firstname [lastname]”. The wife of a marquess was a marchioness. A marquess was formally styled “The Most Honourable The Marquess of X” and informally styled Lord X, and his wife Lady X. The only marquess that was mentioned in the Canon was the “Marquess of Montalva” (the Tiger of San Pedro aka Don Murillo) in WIST, so it wasn’t a British peerage.

Earl

An earl had the title “Earl of X” when the title originated from the name of a place, or “Earl X” when his title came from a surname. His wife was referred to as a countess. In either case he was referred to as Lord X and his wife as Lady X. Younger sons were styled “The Honourable firstname lastname” and daughters “The Lady firstname lastname”.

In the Canon, we have the Earl of Dovercourt in CHAS, the Earl of Rufton in LADY, and the Earl of Blackwater mentioned in PRIO. Recall further that in EMPT, The Honourable Ronald Adair was the second son of the Earl of Maynooth.

Viscount

As with Earls, they were addressed in speech as Lord X and Lady X, and their children were also known as “The Honourable firstname lastname”.  No Viscounts were mentioned in the Canon.

Baron

A baron was the lowest rank in the peerage, and his wife was referred to as a baroness. The only baron that was mentioned in the Canon was the evil Baron Gruner in ILLU, but again, this was not a British peerage.

However, there were two “Baronets” in the Canon: Sir Eustace Brackenstall in ABBE, and Sir Henry Baskerville in HOUN.

The name baronet is a diminutive of baron, and the rank of a baronet is between that of a baron and a knight.  A baronetcy is unique because it is a hereditary honour, but it is not a peerage.  In addition, although a baronetcy was not considered an order of knighthood, a baronet was still addressed as “Sir firstname [lastname]”.  An understanding of these points will explain why Henry Baskerville was entitled to be addressed as “Sir Henry” when he inherited Baskerville Hall.

If all this seems confusing, you’re not alone.  In fact, I sincerely think it was no coincidence that Ronald Adair and Robert St. Simon were the second sons of their respective fathers . . .

Otherwise, Watson’s “literary agent” would have had to come up with a believable title for both of them.

The interested Sherlockian is referred to the following links should further confusion be desired:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peerage_of_the_United_Kingdom
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courtesy_title
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukes_in_Britain
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baron
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baronet

Until next time, and thanking you so very much for your attention, I indeed remain,

Yours faithfully,
STANLEY HOPKINS