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Encyclopedia > Earldom

An Earl as a member of the British peerage ranks below a Marquess and above a Viscount. A British Earl equates in rank to a continental Count. The wife of an Earl bears the rank of Countess. The Peerage is a system of titles of nobility which exists in the United Kingdom and is one part of the British honours system. ... A marquess is a nobleman of hereditary rank in Europe China and Japan. ... A viscount is a member of the European nobility, especially of France, and of the British peerage, where a viscount ranks above a baron, below an earl (a count in France), and corresponds in Britain to the Anglo-Saxon shire reeve. ... // Definition A count is a nobleman in most European countries, equivalent in rank to a British earl, whose wife is still a countess (for lack of an Anglo-saxon term). ... This page is about the European nobility; for the baseball term, see count (baseball). ...

Contents


Etymology

The word "earl" derives from Middle English "erl" meaning warrior, nobleman, equivalent to the jarl in Old Norse. It remains unclear whether there exists connection by etymology to the Anglo-Saxon term "Ealdorman" which translates literally as "Elder", "Senior", and refers to a chief counselor of the realm. That term survives in modern English as "Alderman", a councilman or representative in local government or a local church governing body. The Norman French-derived "count" was not used probably due to its resemblance to the unflattering word "cunt", though "countess" was and is used for the female title. Middle English is the name given by historical philologists to the diverse forms of the English language spoken in England from around the 12th to the 15th centuries— from after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror in 1066 to the mid to late 15th century, when the Chancery Standard... Jarl is the Scandinavian language cognate of Earl. ... Old Norse or Danish tongue is the Germanic language once spoken by the inhabitants of the Nordic countries (for instance during the Viking Age). ... Etymology is the study of the origins of words. ... An alderman is a member of a municipal legislative body in a town or city with many jurisdictions. ... The Norman language is a Romance language, one of the Oïl languages. ... Cunt is an English term that refers to the human female genitals. ...


History

England

After the Norman Conquest the largest secular subdivision in England was the shire. This had not been the case in Anglo-Saxon England when some shires were grouped together into larger units known as earldoms, headed by an ealdorman or earl. Under Edward the Confessor earldoms like Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria -- names that represent earlier independent kingdoms -- were much larger than any shire. These earldoms disappeared soon after the Conquest. The Normans did appoint earls; however, they were associated with only a single shire at most. There was no administrative layer larger than the shire after the Norman Conquest. Bayeux Tapestry depicting events leading to the Battle of Hastings The Norman Conquest was the conquest of the Kingdom of England by William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy), in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings and the subsequent Norman control of England. ... For information on the fictional Shire of J. R. R. Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings, see Shire (Middle-earth) A shire is an administrative area of Great Britain. ... The Anglo-Saxons refers collectively to the groups of Germanic tribes who achieved dominance in southern Britain from the mid-5th century, forming the basis for the modern English nation. ... Edward the Confessor (c. ...


Earls originally functioned essentially as royal governors. The English kings found it dangerous to give additional power to already powerful aristocrats, and so gradually sheriffs assumed the governing role. The details of this transition remain obscure, since earls in more peripheral areas (such as the Scottish and Welsh marches and Cornwall) retained some viceregal powers long after other earls had lost them. The loosening of central authority during the Anarchy also complicates any smooth description of the changeover. Sociologists usually define power as the ability to impose ones will on others, even if those others resist in some way. ... Etymology The Ancient Greek term Aristocracy meant a system of government with rule by the best. This is the first definition given in most dictionaries. ... Sheriff is both a political and a legal office held under English common law, Scots law or American common law, or the person who holds such office. ... Mark or march (or various plural forms of these words) are derived from the Germanic word marko (boundary) and refer to an area along a border, e. ... Cornwall (Cornish: Kernow or occasionally Curnow) is a county of England, the part of Great Britains south-west peninsula that is west of the River Tamar, often known as the Cornish peninsula or plateau. ... The Anarchy in English history commonly names the period of civil war and unsettled government that occurred during the reign (1135–1154) of King Stephen of England. ...


A loose connection between earls and shires remained for a long time after authority had moved over to the sheriffs. An official defining characteristic of an earl consisted of the receipt of the "third penny" of the revenues of justice of a shire. Thus every earl had an association with some shire, and very often a new creation of an earldom would take place in favor of the county where the new earl already had large estates and local influence.


Also, due to the this association of earls and shires, the medieval practice could remain somewhat loose regarding the precise name used: no confusion could arise by calling someone earl of a shire, earl of the county town of the shire, or earl of some other prominent place in the shire; these all implied the same. Thus we find the "earl of Shrewsbury" (Shropshire), "earl of Arundel" or "earl of Chichester" (Sussex), "earl of Winchester" (Hampshire), etc. In a few cases the earl was traditionally addressed by his family name, e.g. the "earl Warenne" (in this case the practice may have arisen because these earls had little or no property in Surrey, their official county).


As this last case illustrates, an earl did not always have an intimate association with "his" county. Another example comes from the earls of Oxford, whose property largely lay in Essex. They became earls of Oxford because earls of Essex and of the other nearby shires already existed.


Eventually the connection between an earl and a shire disappeared, so that in the present day a number of earldoms take their names from towns, mountains, or simply surnames. Nevertheless, some consider that the earldoms named for counties (or county towns) retain more prestige.


Scotland

Some major earldoms in Scotland originated from the office of mormaor: others developed later by analogy. Scotland (Alba in Scottish Gaelic) is a country in northwest Europe, occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain. ... The title of mormaor or mormaer designated one of the rulers of the seven provinces of Celtic Scotland, i. ...


Forms of Address

An Earl has the title Earl of X when the title originates from a placename, or Earl X when the title comes from a surname. In either case, the Earl is referred to as Lord X, and his wife as Lady X. Countesses who hold earldoms in their own right also use Lady X, but their husbands do not receive any titles.


The eldest son of an Earl generally bears the courtesy title of Viscount or Lord; one refers to a younger son of an earl as the Honourable [Forename] [Surname] and to a daughter as Lady [Forename] [Surname] (Lady Diana Spencer furnishing a well-known example). A courtesy title is a form of address in the British peerage system used for wives, children, and other close relatives of a peer. ... A viscount is a member of the European nobility, especially of France, and of the British peerage, where a viscount ranks above a baron, below an earl (a count in France), and corresponds in Britain to the Anglo-Saxon shire reeve. ... A lord is a male who has power and authority. ... Diana, Princess of Wales (Diana Frances Mountbatten-Windsor, née Spencer) was the first wife of HRH The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales. ...


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