My lord! My lady! My Lord in heaven, seriously-stop already! Tedious isn’t it? And yet as historical writers, we have to get it right. Not just right, but dead on. Because those who read historicals? THEY KNOW! And if you make a mistake, and it gets printed, forget it.
Peerage basics are actually fairly complicated so basics is a misnomer. There are sites and books who spell it all out fare better than I, but here you go. (If you want a much more comprehensive site on it, try here.)
My one pet peeve of historicals: Why are there so many dukes?
Still, don't forget the order from lowest to highest:
Sir and Lady/Dame and Lord (non hereditary)
Baronet and lady (hereditary but don't hold seats in the House of Lords)
Baron and Baroness
Viscount and Viscountess
Earls and Countesses
Marquess and Marchioness
Duke and Duchess
Prince and Princess
King and Queen
You probably figured out those last 2 eh? Yeah. So there you have it, the order of titles. More importantly, what can you do with all that formality today?
Different ranks and different family relations are addressed in different manners. Today, it's a lot simpler than Jane Austen, even Georgette Heyer. Trust me, that's a bit relief!
Your heroine can now get away with calling the hero by his first name, as would close family and his closest of friends. Strangers would still refer to him in the proper manner-by his last name or title. Isn’t it amazing what a little modern thinking can get you? And how intimate it makes everything?
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