TT: Lord Byron? Baron Byron? George?

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?   Page back one and join me as I look into whether NaNoWriMo is a trick or a treat.  Then come back take a look while Alan shows  just how weird a single person’s titles can get…

Vorpal Blade and Woofle Dust:  Traditional Tools When Tracking the Trail of Titles

JANE: There’s one important group of titles we haven’t discussed.  How about lords and ladies?  From my studies of English lit, I know this is a deceptively simple title.  Lord Byron wasn’t named “Byron,” was he?  I think his name was George Gordon or something like that.

ALAN: Ah yes. His family name was Byron and he was christened George Gordon Byron. (Gordon was his mother’s maiden name). His father later took the additional surname “Gordon” so as to have a legal claim to the Scottish estates of his wife. After that, the young Byron often referred to himself as George Byron Gordon (though he never, as far as I can tell, called himself  George Gordon Byron Gordon, which I think is a shame).

In 1822, his mother-in-law, Judith Noel, died.  Her will required young George to change his surname to “Noel” in order to inherit her estates. So he became George Gordon Noel or, sometimes, George Byron Noel, or any other combination of names you can dream up as long as they ended with Noel. As a child, he had inherited the Barony of Byron and was therefore additionally entitled to call himself “Lord Byron.” After changing his surname, he often signed himself as Noel Byron. He was also fond of the initials NB, partly as a linguistic joke and partly because they were the initials of his hero, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Where were we?

JANE: In the process of amazing me out of my mind…  Actually, you were explaining what a lord or lady is…

ALAN: Oh that’s easy. All members of the peerage, no matter what their rank, are collectively referred to, and are addressed as, lords and ladies. After all, what do you say when you are talking to an aristocrat? You can hardly keep referring to him as “your earlship.”

JANE: Actually, I wondered if that’s exactly what you were supposed to do.  This is something of a relief.  Go on…

ALAN: Just imagine the social horror and embarrassment if he wasn’t an earl! What if he was a count instead? I think you’d have to go into permanent exile after a faux pas like that. So you call him “my lord,” and his wife is “my lady.” Byron was actually a baron, but he always referred to himself as Lord Byron, probably because Baron Byron sounds so silly.

JANE: It does, indeed, especially for a man of his temperament.  What do you folks do when lords or ladies have titles that are different from their names?

ALAN: That’s quite simple as well. A peer is usually addressed as (rank) (name of title). The name of the title can be either a surname or a place name. Sometimes the two are identical, but they don’t have to be, of course.

Byron’s name was the same as his title, probably because of a long family association. Consequently, he could be called either Lord Byron or Lord Byron, whichever seemed more appropriate at the time.

JANE: “Ah, hello, Lord Byron.  Or should that be Lord Byron?  Or will you settle for George?  No?  You prefer Noel Byron?” Frankly, my head hurts.

ALAN: But titles don’t necessarily have a family association to a place. For example, in 1984, Harold Macmillan (a British Prime Minister in the 1950s) was appointed Earl of Stockton. He is more usually referred to as Lord Stockton, probably because Lord Macmillan simply doesn’t sound right, even though it is perfectly correct.

JANE: It sounds all right to me…  Of course, since Macmillan (the publishing conglomerate) has written my paycheck from time to time, I think highly of them.

ALAN: You speak truer than you know. The publishing firm of Macmillan was his family business, and young Harold joined the firm as a junior partner in 1920. But by 1940, the siren song of politics became too strong for him to resist and he changed his career. So, for you, calling him Lord Macmillan would be entirely appropriate.

JANE: Yes!  At last a title that I can get right!

ALAN: Obviously anyone who doesn’t have a title must be a commoner, and that includes the children of the nobility (who are not themselves noble until or unless they inherit the title).  However, these children are allowed to be called by courtesy titles, even though they hold no rank in their own right.

JANE: Courtesy titles?

ALAN:  The heir apparent to the title (always male) is allowed to use one of his father’s lesser titles, if one exists. Younger children are referred to as lords and ladies. But you must understand that they aren’t really lords and ladies, they are just called lords and ladies…

Children of the peerage can also be addressed as “The Honourable…”. This distinguishes them from their parents who are more properly addressed as “The Right Honourable…”

I think Lewis Carroll might have been sprinkling more of his magic woofle dust here.

JANE: You beat me to it.  Actually, you make me feel very good about how confused I have gotten about English titles over the years.  They really don’t make sense.

ALAN: I don’t know what I’ll be in  my next life, but I’ll guarantee you it will have nothing whatsoever to do with the protocols of the peerage. Trust me, I find it even more bewildering than you do! I want to go home and stick my head in a bucket of cold water so as to cool my fevered brain.

JANE: I have a bucket of cold water on the back patio, but, sadly, you are too far to avail yourself of it.  Perhaps a teapot?  Dormice?  Stuffing therein?

I have one more question for you, but since I’m woofle-dusted, I shall wait until next time.

(Now, where did I leave my vorpal blade?  Wanders off muttering.)


15 Responses to “TT: Lord Byron? Baron Byron? George?”

  1. Ann M Nalley Says:

    What? I can call him Lord Bryon or Lord Byron? What? (Scrolls up the page to re-read the post.) What? : )

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    I kept thinking of Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. I wonder why? Perhaps it’s because I’m reading Eddie Lenihan’s Meeting the Other Crowd. Do give my best to the gentry and all the Lords Byron and Dunsany out there.

  3. janelindskold Says:

    Given that Halloween is one of the nights when you’re most likely to meet those other “gentry,” be careful what you wish for, oh, heteromeles!

    • Heteromeles Says:

      And here I thought I’d posted that on November 1. And don’t worry, I respect the local crowd. They’re quite an interesting bunch around here.

  4. Louis Robinson Says:

    Hmmm… I need to peer around in Burke’s a bit.

    I’m almost certain that peers are _always_ addressed by title, which means that Lord MacMillan would only be completely correct for Baron MacMillan. Earl MacMillan or the Marquis of MacMillan could be addressed or refered to informally as Lord MacMillan, but the Earl of Stockton should always be Lord Stockton, except on formal occasions when he’s the Right Honourable the Earl of Stockton. Lord [surname], for someone whose peerage title isn’t his surname, should only appear in the form Lord Randoph Churchll, for example. This is the courstesy title appropriate for the son of a Marquis or Duke. [Lord Randolph was a younger son of the Duke of Marlborough – and yes that title is still around] The sons of Earls don’t rate a lord, although their daughters get Lady, while all children of Viscounts and Barons have to make do with Honourable.

    You need to read your Heyer again. The use of courtesy titles, in particular, is very well illustrated, although, strictly, correct only for the period of the novel. There haven’t been a lot of changes since, other that it being customary for new creations of Earl and lower to use the family name as the title. Stockton is the only non-royal exception I can think of that isn’t a military title [Lord North Cape, for example, took his title from the battle of which he was victor]. Of course, Lord Stockton was exceptional in being made an Earl at all. Modern peers are normally life peers – the title becomes extinct when they die – and Earldoms aren’t. I understand that this was accepted forSir Harold because he had no heir to inherit the title, so it became extinct anyway.

    Just to add to your confusion anything I might have taken away, in Scotland barons are _not_ peers, and don’t get a “Lord” in front of the name. They were, nonetheless, major landowners in the Lowlands [mostly, I think], and there’s at least one song referring to them. The lowest rank of peer was a Lord of Parliament, which is what the [in]famous Lord Darnley was. I don’t think there’s anywhere else where barons aren’t nobility.

    • Alan Robson Says:

      Thank you again for clearing up the minutiae of this utterly nonsensical system. How do you ever find your way around it all?

      But in all fairness, I must point out that the Earldom of Stockton is still alive and well. Harold Macmillan’s son Maurice pre-deceased his father, but when Harold himself died the title passed on to Maurice’s son Alexander (Harold’s grandson). He is the second Earl of Stockton and, as far as I know, he is still hale and hearty.

  5. Barbara Joan Says:

    I have to admit, I’m confused and feel very ignorant since I don’t even know what a Heyer is that something for the peerage like Goran is for bridge?

    • Alan Robson Says:

      Barbara — I too am confused and I too feel very ignorant, so you are by no means alone in this. None of it makes any sense. I suppose that’s what you get when you live at the tail end of a couple of thousand years of fairly arbitrary aristocratic to-ing and fro-ing!

      I think when referring to “Heyer” Louis actually means the novels of Gorgette Heyer. She wrote a lot of romances involving the upper classes. Hopefully she managed to get all her references right (but I wouldn’t hold your breath if I were you).

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        You mean I actually managed to be obscure without intending to? Excuse me a minute while I pry the arm out from behind my back. I seem to be stuck…

        There we go. Now…

        Ah, yes, I was indeed referring to Georgette Heyer. I’m no expert on the Regency – as was proven the one time I thought I’d caught her out. Turned out _i_ was the one who didn’t know from nothin’ 🙂 I’m sure that she did make mistakes, but apparently most of the anomalies are deliberate. Either simplification or things that her audience wouldn’t read correctly 120 years later, mostly because of cultural shifts. From the accounts I’ve read, her research is in general impeccable. Enough so, in fact, that I’m told that An Infamous Army was used as a text on Waterloo at Sandhurst [the British Army’s officer school] because it contains the single most readable, accurate account of the battle in English.

        Barbara, the ‘something for the peerage’ is Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, the Burke’s I said I needed to peer into in the first sentence. It, together with the companion Burke’s Extinct and Dormant Peerages, is the master guide to the peerages of the United Kingdom and England. IIRC, the first book is also complete for the peerages of Scotland and Ireland [and yes, they are distinct bodies] but the second isn’t. The opening sections are written by experts in the field, often members of the College of Heralds, and cover things like modes of address, precedence, inheritance and so on. It’s mostly pretty straightforward. At least, when written out. Like most things, it gets stickier when dealing with real people, or so I’m told.

  6. Tom MacCarrol Says:

    George Gordon Byron Gordon- sounds a *lot* like ‘Major Major Major Major’ from Catch-22.

  7. paulgenesse Says:

    Fascinating post. Thanks for all the information.

    Paul Genesse

  8. Heteromeles Says:

    In reading the comments above, I was reminded of HL Mencken’s quote that, “in America, happiness is making $10 more per week than your brother-in-law.” It seems that, in the British peerage, there’s an analogous issue with titles, and monarchs making their friends happy?

    • Ann M Nalley Says:

      Heteromeles, I was hoping you might reply…. many months ago, Jane posted about Melissa Zink and her art…. did you provide a link to some of her artwork? I am working on a calligraphy piece currently, and I was hoping to have a look at some of Ms. Zink’s letter work… Thanks, Ann M. Nalley

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