In medieval society, Medieval titles,structures and roles were highly predetermined, often established even before birth. People in the Middle Ages were bound to the social class in which they were born and raised. To preserve noble bloodlines and safeguard the wealth and social status of elite families, a rigid set of succession and inheritance rules governed medieval nobility. While nobles occupied the upper echelons of the feudal class system, just below the king and his royal vassals, there existed a hierarchical order within their own class. For this very reason, medieval titles held a lot of importance and the title determined the kind of life a person lived.
Hereditary Titles or Peerage
The term peerage refers to the widely accepted system of hereditary titles during the Medieval era. While this system was especially prevalent in England, it was not confined to that region alone. A peerage could denote either a collective group of nobles or individual titles, and an individual noble within this system was commonly referred to as a peer. Hereditary titles, on the one hand, were used to denote positions within the feudal hierarchy. These titles were inherited through bloodlines, typically following a specific lineage, from one generation to the next.
Successors often inherited multiple titles simultaneously. Some titles had a longer history than others, and even if they held a lower rank, individuals with these titles often wielded considerable influence compared to higher-ranked nobles with more recent titles.
What were the Titles Used for Royalty During Medieval Times
The royal titles during the medieval era were different in different parts of the world. For example, the titles in royal England were quite different from those of France and Prussia. Some of the royal titles included:
- Duke and Duchess
- Marquess and Marchioness
- Earl and Countess
- Viscount and Viscountess
- Baron and Baroness
Medieval Titles of Nobility
Just like the royal titles, even the nobility had its own titles that were of prestige and each member who held one was proud of it.
Viceroy and Vicereine:
Viceroys were royal officials who governed countries, city-states, or colonies on behalf of monarchs. The term was commonly used for individuals of both genders.
Archduke and Archduchess:
The Habsburg monarchs of Austria were the first to adopt this medieval titles and it became the customary way to address the rulers of the Habsburg dynasty. This title held great significance, ranking higher than that of a duke and just below that of a king.
Grand Duke and Grand Duchess:
These titles were commonly utilized for lesser monarchs in Germanic regions and across Western Europe. Similar to the Archduke, the Grand Duke held a position second only to that of a king and wielded more authority than an ordinary duke.
Marquess and Marchioness:
Marquess held greater power and influence compared to an Earl. A female noble in the Marquess’s domain or the wife of a Marquess bore the title of Marchioness. In France, the Marquess and the Marchioness were known as Marquis and Marquise, respectively.
Margrave and Margravine:
Military commanders responsible for defending the provincial borders of the Holy Roman Empire were granted a distinctive title that could be passed down through certain families: Margrave. Over time, leaders of the Imperial Diet adopted this title and referred to themselves as Margraves until the Empire’s dissolution in the early 19th century. The wife of a Margrave was addressed as a Margravine.
Earl and Countess:
The Earl held the third-highest noble rank in the peerage system. While ranking below a Duke and a Marquess, an Earl still wielded influence over Viscounts and Barons. The wife of an Earl was known as a Countess.
Viscount and Viscountess:
The Viscount, known as Vicomte in French, occupied the fourth position in the hereditary aristocratic hierarchy. Possessing greater influence and authority in comparison to a Baron, elites outside the peerage accorded respect to individuals holding this title. The female counterpart of a Viscount and his wife were referred to as Viscountess.
Other Positions and Titles Outside of the Peerage
Knights, Dames, and other individuals who received non-hereditary titles were classified as non-nobles. Nevertheless, they held land and wielded a restricted degree of influence. Coexisting alongside the nobles were individuals highly regarded in society, despite the circumstances of their birth. Some people were granted the privilege of using a coat of arms and were known as armigers. This privilege could be acquired through a grant, matriculation, or hereditary right. Those individuals who held land and enjoyed a certain level of social standing were collectively referred to as the gentry.
Although the feudal system rigidly divided people into various classes, Medieval society, on the whole, was well-organised and established clear-cut parameters for each class. Monarchs of that era believed that imposing such a structure was essential for maintaining order.