Correct use of titles of nobility--Are most Brits as clueless as most Americans?

I noticed in the movie
What A Girl Wants that the father character was variously referred to as Lord Dashwood, Lord Henry, and Lord Henry Dashwood. As I understand the correct usage of titles, that would never be done IRL. Lord Henry Dashwood and Lord Dashwood would have to be two separate people, the former being a younger son of a Marquis or Duke, and the latter being most likely a titled peer in his own right.

My question is, is the average Brit equally clueless about these things?

And, regarding the movie in question, it’s fairly evident that the father figure is supposed to be a peer. In which case, how can he be running for Parliament? Are peers allowed to run for MP now?

I don’t know the film which you mentioned. Was it a British production or an American one?

In general, I’d have thought that British people were more aware than Americans, at least at an official level, of the correct use of peerage titles and forms of address. I don’t know that the same would necessarily be true of the average Briton and American though. And I don’t think that film producers in any country worry too much about what, to them, seems a minor technical detail.

Before the recent reforms to the composition of the UK House of Lords, most hereditary peers and all life peers were automatically entitled to a seat in the Lords. Consequently they were not permitted to stand for election to the House of Commons. However, since the reforms most of the hereditary peers have lost their seats in the House of Lords. Presumably they are now able to stand for election to the House of Commons?

Previously, hereditary peers could neither sit in the House of Commons nor vote in general elections.

They can now do both, unless they are among the ninety or so who have retained seats in the House of Lords, in which case both disqualifications still apply.

If any ‘normal’ Brit needs to address ‘Lord Bumblebee’ correctly, the correct etiquette on the part of Lord Bumblebee’s (or the host’s) entourage is to ensure that all addressees are informed of the correct protocol.

In other words, in the OP it was a failing of Mr Dashwood’s staff.

Yes. Not that the average Brit needs to have a clue about such things.

What, however, is irritating is when journalists get it wrong. Such confusion has become the norm, and, as you point out, calling someone ‘Lord Henry Dashwood’ or ‘Lord Dashwood’ implies rather different things about them. Most irritating of all are those life peers who insist on being called ‘Lord Henry Dashwood’, seemingly under the impression that it sounds less grand, when in fact it suggests that they were born into an especially grand family.

This is a battle that has already been lost.

I suspect their motives. If they wanted to “sound less grand” they would have delcined the peerage in the first place, surely.

Not necessarily. Plenty of people who strongly disapprove of titles have accepted peerages, usually because they calculate that a seat in the Lords can give them a useful public platform.

It would be useful for a U.K. Doper or someone who understands the process to explain exactly what the Lords reforms comprised – who are members of the House of Lords today, and how are they selected?

On the other hand, it’s quote possible for someone to be a peer in his own right and also heir apparent or presumptive to a different peerage. A good example would be Edward Wood, usually known as Lord Halifax – who was IIRC a younger son of the Marquis of Halifax from birth (and hence Lord Edward Wood by courtesy only), rose in British government until named as Viceroy of India, where he entered the peerage as Lord Irwin (presumably a baronate) in his own right, then inherited the Halifax title. At some point he was both heir to the Marquisate and a Baron in his own right.

Yours is a curious example. If his father was a Marquis and he was the heir apparent, shouldn’t he have been an Earl or Viscount by courtesy, making him, say, the Earl of X, and everyone would call him Lord X? And then, when he was created a Baron, his courtesy title was still higher in stature than his life peerage title, so it sounds like there were two or three things he could be called, but all of them different.

I did read once that with the social and cultural changes of the 60s, younger members of noble families didn’t care much to use courtesy titles and peerages that they were traditionally entitled to; does that remain the case today?

Halifax was, I think, originally a younger son whose older brother(s) died, ergo not heir until late in his father’s life – I believe after he got the peerage in his own right. I agree that it’s an odd example, though not uncommon. As for your comment that “there were two or three things he could be called” – after Munich there were several other things too! :smack:

Well, Polycarp, the composition of the Lords is all a bit complicated, but here goes.

There are currently five categories of members of the House of Lords.

  1. Life peers. Individuals granted peerages for life. Appointments are made on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, although by convention he/she includes some names recommended by the other party leaders. There is no limit to the number that can be created. There are currently about 560 of them, of whom about 50 have been created since the beginning of this year alone.

  2. Law lords. Senior judges who carry out the judicial functions of the House of Lords. Although they cannot hear appeals once they reach the age of 75, they continue sitting as peers until their deaths so they are, in effect, another type of life peer.

  3. Archbishops and Bishops. The 26 most senior Anglican bishops. The most senior of all automatically get seats, while the others are appointed on the basis of length of service. They cease to sit when they retire, although retiring Archbishops of Canterbury conventionally get a life peerage.

  4. The 90 hereditary peers retained under the 1999 reform. This is where it gets really complicated. These 90 peers were elected from among those who sat in the Lords at the time of the 1999 reform. Each of the major parties, plus the crossbenchers, were allocated a share of these 90 seats according to the affiliations of the hereditary peers at the time of the reform. The peers of each party then held ballots to determine which of them were to get them. In practice, this meant that the more active peers survived the purge. These 90 peers will continue to hold these seats until such time as the second stage of Lords reform takes place, although it is still not clear what and what that second stage will be. Conceivably they could retain these seats indefinitately. Provision was made for by-elections to be held in the event of those peers dying and such a by-election has already been held. It has been pointed out that these elections involve some of the smallest electorates for seats in the parliamentary assembly of any Western democracy.

Defining exactly who sat as hereditary peers before 1999 is also difficult as there were all sorts of weird exceptions and anomalies. Most however were titles which passed to each successive male heir of the person to whom it had originally been granted.

  1. Great officers. The Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain (both of which are hereditary offices) also retained their seats under the 1999 reform, ostensibly because they take part in certain ceremonies involving the House. Both the current holders have avoided any other involvement in its proceedings since then.

As for the Halifax title, it was only a viscountcy, not a marquisate. Other cases of the heirs to peerages being granted peerages in their own right were not completely unknown. More common, however, were cases of the heirs to dukedoms, marquisates or earldoms being summoned by virtue of one of their father’s lesser titles. The obvious modern example was Lord Cranborne, the peer who brokered the 1999 deal with Blair. He had been summoned in the viscountcy of his father, the Marquis of Salisbury.

The really peculiar cases are when an eldest son inherits a peerage during his father’s lifetime. This can happen in those rare cases when a peerage can pass through a female line.

As for aristocrats choosing not to use their titles, it all depends on the individual and the specific context. The current example that immediately springs to mind would be ‘Michael Ancram’, the Deputy Leader and Foreign Affairs spokesman of the Conservatives in the Commons, who is actually the Earl of Ancram. He calculated, probably correctly, that using his title would have harmed his political career, even in the Conservative party. That he had a title was one reason why he did so badly when he tried standing for the party leadership.