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Titles of Honour
1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
Those various names
of greatness or eminency, which are the most distinguishing titles of civil dignity " (John Selden, Titles of Honor, 3rd ed., 1672). This definition covers, if we understand " civil " in its proper and widest sense, all titles, whether official or honorary, civil or military, temporal or ecclesiastical. In general, however, we now understand by titles of honour what Selden calls " honorary titles," i.e. distinctive designations implying rank and dignity, not office or vocation. The broader definition would cover all titles, including those of military and ecclesiastical rank, of municipal office and of university degrees. The narrower definition, which it is proposed to adopt for the purposes of this article, would cover only what in the United Kingdom are known as the " titled classes," which embrace only those whose titles are meaningless save as a mark of rank. In this category it is, however, necessary to include, somewhat illogically, the highest titles of all - those of sovereigns; for, though they have not been divorced from the functions of sovereignty, they are the fount and source of all the rest. In the present work a large number of titles are dealt with under their several headings (Emperor, King, Duke, &c.); in this article it is proposed therefore to discuss them only in their general aspect and to attempt some classification of them according to their meanings and origins.
The philosophy of titles is as tempting a subject as Carlyle found the philosophy of clothes. The democrat and the superior man affect to despise them. They point out that the world's greatest men need no such hall-mark to prove they are not base metal; in England they point to such examples as those of Pitt and Gladstone, who, dispensers of titles themselves, lived and died untitled; and they argue that to accept a title is not a sign of " greatness or eminency," but at best of a quality which falls short of this standard. This attitude has some justification in the limitless abuse at all times in the bestowal of titles as a means of bribing those whose ambition looks no higher than to be a " figure among cyphers." But the desire to be taken notice of is an instinct too deeply rooted in human nature for all the satirists that ever lived, or shall live, to eradicate; and of this instinct titles are the most ancient expression, more ancient - it may be hazarded - even than clothes.' The French Revolu 1 Many proper names are but primitive titles in disguise: e.g. Henry (q.v.) _" _" ruler of the home," or Walter=" lord of power." tionists in their zeal for primeval equality essayed to abolish them; at best they succeeded in making them universal, the citoyens of the first generation of republican France becoming the monsieurs of the next - just as every Englishman is now a " gentleman " or an " esquire," every Castilian a caballero, and every German a Herr. Similarly, in the democratic countries of the English-speaking world the common style of Mr (master), also once a prerogative of gentle birth, is apt to become too commonplace, and the official prefix of " honourable " is assumed on very slender pretexts. For where titles are not planted, they tend to sow themselves.
Titles are also elaborated under cultivation; for they are apt to.degenerate if too widely scattered, and need to be crossed with other varieties to produce a more marketable type. Thus James I. of England produced the baronet, and the titles of minister plenipotentiary, and envoy extraordinary were combined in the evolution of that fine flower of diplomacy the " envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary," so styled honoris causa, since technically he is neither " extraordinary " nor, as such, armed with plenary powers (see Diplomacy). These are but two familiar examples of a process which was at one time carried on with a singular earnestness and in a spirit of the keenest competition. Rival sovereigns, by the mouths of heralds and ambassadors, recited the long roll of their styles and titles at each other, in the spirit of Homeric heroes endeavouring to shout down the enemy before coming to blows. The ambassador of Queen Elizabeth to the tsar of Muscovy boggled at the length and complexity of the barbaric emperor's style, and endeavoured to address him by six of his principal titles only, but in the end was forced to repeat the whole (Fletcher, Russian Commonwealth, cap. 6). As for the Ottoman sultans, the Oriental imagination of their secretaries was exhausted in adding " exorbitant and swelling attributes " to their styles, which were usually intended to be insulting to those whom they addressed. Thus Ahmed I., writing to Henry IV. of France, describes himself, with very much besides, as " emperor of victorious emperors, distributor of crowns to the greatest princes of the earth,. .. lord of Europe, Asia and Africa." So far as medieval Europe was concerned, the court of Constantinople, where East and West met, was the forcing-bed of the more extravagant varieties of titles and attributes. Old Rome had granted to its deserving citizens titles of honour, such as felix, pius, pater patriae, besides those which, like patricius, denoted hereditary rank. The first emperors were, in theory, merely citizens who alone and in a supreme degree were entitled to be the recipients of these honours. But the majestas reipublicae Romanae was soon identified with the person of the emperor. Himself become the fountain of honour, he showered his titular attributes upon those whom it was his whim or his policy to distinguish, while ever fresh styles were invented to illustrate his own unique dignity. For this purpose all the abstract terms in the vocabulary of flattery were put under contribution, not even excepting the lofty attributes of God ( nostra eternitas, nostra perennitas, " most high," " most mighty," " most sacred majesty "). This tendency ran riot when the East Roman Empire had become byzantinized, until by the middle ages there was - to quote Selden - " such innovation of titles as made the dignities of the empire almost ridiculous in those strange and affected compounds." 2 From the Byzantine court that of the Frankish emperors of the West largely borrowed its forms, and this again set the fashion for the courts of lesser potentates. To this source, then, are due the honorary attributes, if not in all cases the titles, of the sovereigns of modern Europe. Throughout the middle ages, indeed, there was no rigid classification of the abstract attributes (highness, eminence, excellency, honour and the like) addressed in the second and third persons to sovereigns or other dignitaries. These depended very much on the fancy of secretaries eager to display their Latinity - or even a smattering of Greek - by 2 E.g. Sebastocrator, compounded of Qe(3ao-r6s (augustus) and Kpa Iv (to rule), or panhypersebastos. devising new forms.' It was not until the i 7th century that they became fixed, under the influence mainly of the newly organized international diplomatic service (see Diplomacy). But meanwhile they had developed from the simplicity of the early feudal age' into a Byzantine pomposity, the exuberance of which bored even the ceremonious court of Spain into a free use of the pruning knife.' Honorary styles are, for the rest, now mere stereotyped formulae; the words that compose them have become - to use Emerson's phrase - " polarized " and deprived of meaning. Not otherwise could a German journalist, late in the 19th century, have recorded, without exciting surprise, that " to-day their All-highest majesties went to church to give thanks to the Highest." 4 The same is more or less true of all titles. They are traditional, and are mainly valued for this reason. An imaginative person might devise a dozen styles in themselves better fitted to express the peculiar eminency of a successful money-lender or a wealthy brewer than the feudal title of baron, or than that of knight to indicate the qualities of a Radical apostle of the gospel of " peace at any price." But the instinct in these matters is to put new wine into old bottles; and, on the whole, the bottles bear the strain. The process is, indeed, very old. William Harrison, in his inimitable style, has left a description of it in the 16th century (see Gentleman), and it was older far than his day. In all ages the new nobility has been looked down upon by the old; but the ancient titles have always in the end adapted themselves to their new users. Long before the bourgeois age was dreamed of, dukes as such had ceased to " lead " ( ducere ), marquesses to guard the " marches," Ritters to " ride," and no one marked the incongruity of their styles. The process is but continued if, for instance, in the 10th century the title of baron often suggests, not the feudal power of the sword, but the international power of the purse.
Titles have therefore in themselves a world of historical significance. In some the significance is obvious, the history comparatively recent. In others the significance is veiled under obscure etymologies, which carry us back to the very beginnings of social life. We find in these words, too, most singular contrasts of fortune. Caesar, a nickname (caesaries ) given to some long-haired Roman, grows into a surname which the founder of the empire chanced to bear, and so remains to this day the title of German kaisers and Slavonic tsars, of the king of England as Kaisar-i-Hind and of the sultan of Turkey as Kaisar-i-Rum. The first of the German Caesars bore the name of Karl, 5 which in itself means no more than " man " and in English speech has sunk to the base meaning of " churl " (see Charles); for the barbarians beyond the eastern borders of his empire, the Slays and Magyars who felt the weight of his arm, his name became identified with his office, and remains to this day in the sense of " king " (Mag. Kiraly, Sla y. Kral, Russ. Korol). s On the other hand, we have the contrary process. The proud title of " count of the stable," once, borne by the highest official of the Byzantine court, is now associated in the public mind 1 The papal chancery, however, seems early to have established definite rules. Those sovereigns who had special titles, bestowed or recognized by the pope, such as " Most Catholic King " (Spain) or " Most Christian King " (France), were so addressed. The rest were " Illustrious " ( illustres). 2 The only title of mere honour would, e.g. in the 12th century, seem to have been dominus (Sire, Lord), which in the Anglo-Norman poem of Guillaume le Mare'schal is applied to any one of birth, from the king's son of France down to the humblest noble (see SIR).
By the Pragmatico de los titulos y cortesias of the 8th of October 1636 King Philip III. decreed that he was to be addressed in letters only as Senor, while at the end was to appear no more than " God guard the Catholic person of your Majesty." (Selden p. 103.) 4 Die Allerhochsten Herrschaften sind heute in die Kirche gegangen dem Hochsten ihren Dank u.s.w. The sentence is fixed in the writer's memory, but the exact reference is forgotten.
5 Known traditionally as Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus, Karl the Great), the unique instance of a posthumous title of honour being absorbed into a name. Modern English historians have tended to dissolve this immemorial union in the interest of historic accuracy. But " Charles " is only a degree less conventional than Charlemagne.
s A parallel case, but more obscure, of a proper name developing into a title is that of the curious title of " Dauphin," ultimately borne only by the heir-apparent to the French throne (see Dauphin).
mainly with humble police officials, in the United States with the humblest of all, the village constable only (see Constable). Less impressive perhaps is the fate of the title " valet," which, once that of a gentleman, has sunk to be that of a " gentleman's gentleman " (see Valet). The same word, too, develops differently in different languages. The German Knecht remains a servant; in England the cniht has developed into the knight, just as the serviens (servant) survives in the very various modern uses of the title serjeant ( q v.). In one exalted case at least we even have a title based on a mistaken etymological deduction. The title " Augustus," i.e. sublime or sacred, used originally of persons or places consecrated by the auguries, is derived ultimately, in a passive sense, from augere, to increase. This led to the rendering of the Latin title " semper Augustus," borne by the Holy Roman emperors until 1806, in German as " at all times augmenter of the empire " (zu alien Zeiten Mehrer des Reichs ), a style as ill-grounded in etymology as it was lamentably untrue in fact.' The fortunes of individual titles are outlined in the separate articles devoted to them. Here it only remains to discuss them generally from the point of view of their classification according to origin and general character. Of the styles that are mere attributes - like serene, honourable, reverend - enough has been said; they are but stereotyped courtesies. Most titles proper, on the other hand, have in their origins a deeper significance. The title king, for instance, recalls a remote time when it was borne by right of kinship, as head of a tribe (see King). Other titles recall that forgotten stage of society in which it was the rule for age to command and youth to obey: such as the French seigneur, sieur, sire, monsieur, monseigneur; the Italian signor, monsignore; the Spanish senor, and the English " sir," all derived from senior, " older " (see Monsieur and SIR), itself a Latin translation of a type of title which in the Teutonic languages appears to survive only in the English alderman. Seigneur, sire and the rest developed, of course, into the equivalents, not of senior, but of dominus (lord). But the idea of the title originally must have been the same as that of " elder," like the Arab sheikh (q.v. ) or the starostas and starshinas of the Russian village communities; the seniores, in early feudal times, were the full grown fighting men as opposed to the pueri (boys), the unfledged squires and valets. Other titles are derived from the idea of command or rule: such are those of emperor (q.v.); the Latin rex (regere, to rule, guide) - whence the French roi, Italian re and the English attributive style " royal " - and from the same common IndoEuropean root the Indian titles of raja and maharaja; the title of duke (q.v.); the Latin dominus, domina (originally, a master or mistress in the house, domus ), whence the modern dame, madame, mademoiselle, don and dom; the German Herr (cf. herrschen, to rule); or, to take an Oriental instance, that of sultan (Arabic salat, to rule). Some titles again are derived from mere ideas of precedence, like that of "prince" (q.v.), which may be described as the generic sovereign title; the Spanish title of " grandee " (q.v.); or that of " master " (q.v.), which as a title of honour survives in Scotland. Very rare are the titles of honour that have their origin in the idea of gentle birth, which indeed, in earlier times, was predicated of all wearers of titles in Europe. The only modern equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon etlzeling (q.v. ) in Europe would appear to be the Austrian title of Edler, which means, strictly speaking, no more than " noble," though it implies a rank higher than that of the untitled Adeliger. The English title "earl" (q.v.) has a similar origin, but passed through the stage of an official style as the equivalent of " count." The word " gentleman" (q.v.) is not a title, any more than the French gentilhomme; it is, in so far as it is used in any definite sense at all, an attribute, like the German hochwolgeboren or the Russian barin - the equivalent of the Latin generosus, " well-born." In the Mahommedan East its equivalent, in the sense of well-born, is the Arabic title sherif, ' So Rigord, the monk of St Denis, says in his Gesta of Philip Augustus, king of France, that he was so styled after the Caesars, who bore the name of Augustus because they augmented the empire. Unde iste merito dictus est Augustus ab aucta republics. now applied only to the descendants of the Prophet. The most characteristic and familiar of English titles, again, that of " lord," carries us back to a very primitive state, when the lord was par excellence the " loaf-warden " ( hlaf-ord, hlaf-weard). Here it may be noted that the title " lord " has no foreign European equivalent: the German Herr (though Herrenhaus is strictly House of Lords), the Italian signor, the Spanish senor, the Slavonic pan and the Greek 105pcos are all equivocal, being used most commonly in the sense of Mr (Master). Even the French do not translate " lord " by monseigneur (though seigneur is strictly speaking its equivalent), and still less by monsieur, though the ancient custom has survived of using the latter colloquially in place of all titles,' but by milord. Lastly there are two important European titles derived from personal relations with the sovereign, though they have long ceased to have any such connotation. Of these the oldest is that of " count," which goes back to the comites (companions) of the early Roman emperors (see Count); the second is " baron," originally meaning no more than " man " and so, under the feudal system, the king's " men " par excellence, the great tenants-in-chief of the crown (see Baron). In England the barons formed and form the body of the peerage, "peer" not being a title of honour, but the description of a status and function bestowed by their creation upon all barons, viscounts, earls, marquesses and dukes (see Peerage). In France, on the other hand, " peer " ( pair ) was under the old monarchy a title of honour; for not even all dukes were peers of France, and the style of such as were, therefore, ran duc et pair. From the above it will already have become apparent that titles of honour, as they now survive in Europe, are picturesque relics of the feudal system (see Feudalism). In theory they are still territorial, and it is the shadowy suggestion of landed estate that gives, in France and Germany, to the nobiliary particles de and von their mystic virtue. 2 In Great Britain there has been of late years a tendency in the case of some newly made peers to drop the affectation of territorial power. In the case of some titles, e.g. Earl Carrington - this merely follows a very ancient English tradition; even under the feudal system after the Norman Conquest it was not unusual for the great nobles to use their titles with their family names or those of their fiefs indifferently; for instance, the Norman earls of Derby described themselves, as often as not, as Earls Ferrers (see Derby, Earls Of). Convention, however, dictates that barons and viscounts should, on creation, adopt a territorial style. In the case of such titles as Lord James of Hereford and Lord Morley of Blackburn, this style is adopted from the place of birth; for which a certain precedent might perhaps be pleaded in the medieval custom exemplified in such names for royal princes as " John of Gaunt " or " Henry of Woodstock." On the other hand, there has been also a somewhat absurd tendency to exaggerate the territorial styles by piling one on the top of the other. It would be invidious to mention actual instances; but the process may be illustrated by the imaginary title of Baron Coneyhurst of Ockley.
From the fact that, as feudalism developed, fiefs became hereditary, it comes that most European titles of honour are hereditary. Knighthood alone formed, in general, an exception to this rule. Yet, in their origin, no one of the titles familiar to us were descendible from father to son, and the only hereditary quality was that of abstract nobility. Yet, by a curious inversion of the whole idea of titles of honour, an inherited title has come to be far more valued than one bestowed; 3 it has the 1 E.g. Monsieur de la Rochefoucauld, for M. le duc de la R. In the United Kingdom the parallel custom stops short of dukes. All other peers, from marquesses to barons, are commonly spoken of and addressed by the title of lord.
In Germany a distinction is drawn between those titles derived from estates still held by the head of the family and those that are landless. The latter are simply " of " (von ), the former are " of and at " (von and zu).
Thus in the Instructions annexed to the commission for the selection of the new order of baronets, King James I. gives these precedence over knights, " because this is a Dignity, which shall be Hereditary, wherein divers circumstances are more considerable, than such a Mark as is but Temporary." (Selden, op. cit. p. 685.) peculiarly aristocratic virtue ascribed by Lord Palmerston to the most Noble Order of the Garter: " There is no damned merit about it;" it has the crowning quality that it must needs be the monopoly of the few. Hereditary titles sink in value, indeed, just in proportion as they become common. In the United Kingdom their value has been kept up by the rule of primogeniture: there can be only one bearer of such a title in a single generation. In France custom distributes the various titles of a family among all the sons, the eldest son, for instance, of a duke inheriting his dukedom, the second son his marquisate, the third his countship, and so on. In Germany and Austria titles pass to all the sons in each successive generation, though in Prussia the rule of primogeniture has been introduced in the case of certain new creations (e.g. Furst, prince). The result is that equivalent titles vary enormously in social significance in different countries. An attempt has been made to estimate the extent of this variation in the case of individual titles in articles devoted to them. Here we need only illustrate the argument by one striking example. The Russian title of " prince " ( knyaz ) implies undoubted descent from the great reigning houses of Russia, Poland and Lithuania; but the title descends to all male children, none of whom is entitled to represent it par excellence. There may be three or four hundred princes bearing the same distinguished name; of these some may be great nobles, but others are not seldom found in quite humble capacities - waiters or droshky-drivers. The title in itself has little social value.
In the countries east of the marches of the old Empire, i.e. Hungary and the Slav lands, existing titles are partly developed from the native tradition (feudal in Hungary, Bohemia and Poland; autocratic and Oriental in Russia and the lands of the Balkan peninsula), partly borrowed from the West, like that of grof (count) in Hungary and graf in Russia. Just as in autocratic Russia the sole indigenous title of honour ( knyaz ) is associated with royal descent, 4 so in the Mahommedan East there are, outside the reigning families, no hereditary titles, except that of sherif, already mentioned. In India the hereditary styles of certain great Mahommedan nobles are exceptions that prove the rule; they represent reigning families whose raj has been absorbed in the imperial government, and they are still reigning princes in the sense in which the heads of German mediatized houses are so described (see Mediatization). For the rest, the titles of Oriental princes follow much the same gradation as those of the West. As caliph, or vicar of the Prophet, the Ottoman sultan is in Islam the equivalent of the pope in Roman Catholic Christendom; his imperial dignity is signified by the Persian title of padishah (lord king), his function as leader of a militant religion by the style of " commander of the faithful " (see Amir). Shah is in Persia the equivalent of king; the style of shah-in-shah, king of kings, recalls the days of the Persian " great king " familiar in the Old Testament. Khan (prince) and amir (commander, lord) are other Eastern sovereign titles. Pasha and bey, originally exclusively military titles, are now used also as civilian titles of honour, but they are not hereditary. When the pashalik of Egypt was made hereditary the situation was ultimately regularized by bestowing on the pasha the Persian title of khedive. In the Far East, Japan has adopted a system of titles, based on her ancient feudal hierarchy, which closely corresponds to that of Europe (see Japan). China, on the other hand, stands apart in the curious custom of bestowing titles on the ancestors of persons to be honoured, and in making them hereditary only for a limited number of generations (see China: Social Customs). In Europe such posthumous honours are rendered only in the case of saints (see Canonization).
Of ecclesiastical titles of honour it can only be said that they tend to an even greater exaggeration than those bestowed on secular dignities. The swelling styles of the Eastern patriarchs are relics of the days when Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem were vying with each other for precedence (see Church History and Patriarch). The style 4 The designation barin (boyarin, boyar) is not, properly speaking, a title, but the equivalent of " gentleman." of the bishop of Rome, who alone in the Western Church retains the name of pope, includes the old Roman titles of pontifex maximus and pater patriae, and always in his signatures the proudly humble phrase " slave of the slaves of God " ( servus servorum Dei ), based on Matt. xx. 27 (see Pope). Of ecclesiastical titles those expressing orders and no more - priest, deacon, sub-deacon and the rest - are never honorary (Prester John, q.v., is a shadowy medieval exception). Those expressing office, whether in the Church at large (patriarch, archbishop, &c.), or in the papal court (e.g. protonotary), are often merely honorary. That of bishop even became for a time, after the Reformation, a title borne by certain secular princes (see Bishop). " Cardinal," which with the predicate Eminence (q.v.) is now reserved for the princes of the Roman Church, was at one time the honorary style of the chief clergy of great cathedrals generally (see Cardinal). " Abbot," the official title of the head of the monastery, has also in several languages (e.g. the French abbe ) come to be used as a purely honorary title (see Abbot). For the honorary styles of the clergy in the Englishspeaking countries, see the articles Reverend, Vicar, Rector, Canon, Dean. As for the archdeacon, it is only in the Church of England that he can be still defined as " one who performs archidiaconal functions "; elsewhere, if he exists at all, he is purely titular (see Archdeacon).
Among titles of honour, finally, may be reckoned honorary degrees bestowed by universities, the pope, and in England by the archbishop of Canterbury. Any degree may be bestowed honoris causa. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge thus regularly bestow the degree of D.D. (doctor of divinity) on those of their alumni who become bishops. It is also the custom to bestow honorary degrees at the yearly " Commemoration " (generally D.C.L., doctor of civil law, at Oxford; LL.D., doctor of laws, at Cambridge) on a selected list of eminent personages. The right of the archbishop of Canterbury to confer degrees honoris causa, known as " Lambeth degrees," is supposed to be derived from one of his powers as legatus natus of the pope, which survived the Reformation. An attempt was made by some of the Swiss reformers of the 16th century to abolish degrees. They were certainly " popish " in their origin, and others besides Herbert Spencer have objected to them as misleading, since they are by no means necessarily a hall-mark of learning. They tend, however, to multiply rather than to decrease in number, and in England some criticism has been aroused by the growing custom in certain quarters of assuming degrees (notably that of D.D.) granted corruptly, or for wholly insufficient reasons, by certain so-called " universities," notably in the United States. For a list of the degrees of the principal universities and their hoods, see UNIVERSITIES, ad fin. The history of many peerage and other titles is outlined in the articles on historic families in this work. For British peerage titles the standard work is G. E. C. (okayne)'s Complete Peerage (1st ed., 8 vols., 1887; new ed., vol. i., 1910). For baronets and others see the manuals of Burke and Debrett. The standard authority for the royal houses and " high nobility " of Europe is the Almanach de Gotha, published yearly. See also the article NOBILITY, and for further references the authorities attached to those on individual titles, e.g. COUNT. (W. A. P.)
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Titles of Honour'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​t/titles-of-honour.html. 1910.