Sunday 7 June 2020

How to Address Peers, a Handy Guide

Rarely a month goes by on Twitter without me having to correct someone who muddles up the name of a member of the House of Lords. Regrettably, some members of that House also don't seem to quite know what their own names even are!

So, here we present a guide. Which in my usual style will be presented in considerable detail. And we have to go through twice, once for Peers and their wives, and once again for their children (and their wives!)

Barons (and Lords of Parliament)

The lowest degree of the Peerage is that of Baron — except in the Peerage of Scotland where it is Lord of Parliament [1]. In all cases that anyone is ever likely to encounter, however, Barons are addressed as 
The Right Honourable [2] the Lord Lewis [3]
Or just the [4] Lord Lewis — which is probably the better form for most situations. In truly formal documents this might appear as
The Right Honourable the Baron Lewis
but that is almost never correct in any context you are likely to encounter [5].

What about the 'ofs' one sees? Well, it transpires that all Barons have a territorial designation (as they are known), just like all other Peers. In exceedingly formal things, that title would appear as
The Right Honourable the Baron Lewis, of Croesyceiliog [6] in the County of Torfaen [7]
But it would be totally incorrect to refer to such a Peer as Lord Lewis of Croesyceiliog. The designation is always omitted. But wait, I hear you say, all these other Peers have 'ofs'. And you would be correct. But the phrase you see is not their territorial designation, it is part of the title. And hence must not be omitted.

So to get the 'of' in the name proper, for example to differentiate two Lord Lewis, one of them would be created as
The Right Honourable the Baron Lewis of Croesyceiliog, of Croesyceiliog in the County of Torfaen
I.e. it is repeated. I promise it gets simpler from here. Whether Scottish Lords of Parliament are properly Lord Lewis or the Lord of Lewis is a question that entirely escapes me since none of the authorities can make their minds up on it. Just call them the Lord Lewis and you will be fine.

When Her Majesty the Queen communicates with a Peer in a highly formal context, she instead uses the formulation
Our Trusty and Well-beloved [10] Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Lord Strathclyde [11]
but you are not The Queen, so don't do that.

Now, here I make a point so important part of it is in bold: it is always incorrect to do Lord Firstname Surname for a Baron. Always. Every time. Always.

Except for a case we will consider later, which is exceedingly rare in the scheme of things, you should assume that any and all Lords are Lord Surname. 

Remember: if you feel the urge to write Lord Benjamin Lewis, stop and delete the Benjamin. Otherwise I have to tweet grouchy things to you.

The proper spoken form of address (and letter salutation) is
My Lord
Lord Lewis
is not in any sense wrong.  

Finally, properly speaking Peers simple sign with their title, i.e. Lewis, but actual practice here varies a lot. [12]


Wives of Barons are probably Baronesses, but calling them that is confusing, so they are invariably addressed as Lady, e.g. as
The Right Honourable the Lady Lewis
As above, no first names, and the Right Honourable can be omitted. Whether the 'the' can or should be seems to be even more vexed than for Barons [8]. Wives of Lords of Parliament are, obviously, Ladies of Parliament.

The generic term for all wives of Peers is Peeress. For reasons that I don't even pretend to understand, Debrett's says that the verbal form of address
My Lady
is incorrect, and that the form
Lady Lewis
should be used. Unlike Peers, Peeresses (but see below) sign as 
Firstname Title 

Baronesses suo iure

Suo iure Peeresses are Peeresses who hold their title as of right, and thus if otherwise eligible can [9] sit in Parliament. A practice seems to have developed of calling Baronesses suo iure Baroness, not Lady, e.g. as for 
The Right Honourable the Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
The confusing concept of abeyance means that hereditary Baronesses suo iure are exceedingly unusual (though more common than any other degree!) but female Life Peeresses are very common, and this is most often seen in that context.

Her Majesty seems to follow this usage too, e.g. the former Lord Speaker Baroness de Souza was
Our Trusty and Well-beloved Counsellor Frances Gertrude Claire Baroness D'Souza
Peeresses suo iure sign with just their title, like Peers. My Lady also seems to be incorrect for them too, though.

Right, that's Barons out of the way. You'll be pleased to know it really does get simpler from here. But first Bishops.


Bishops of the Church of England rank between Barons and Viscounts, and while not Peers do work a bit like them sometimes, so we will include them here. Except we are going to pretend that Bishops Suffragan don't exist, to avoid a highly vexing question about their names.

All diocesan bishops are, despite their reluctance to use the term, formally Lord Bishops. And the "short" form of their titles is words to the effect of (it can vary a little)
The Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Southwark
This applies even if they are not one of the twenty-six Lords Spiritual. Whether it applies to suffragans I am going to gloss over at lightning speed.

In exceptionally formal situations, this is expanded out to
The Right Reverend Father in God, Christopher Thomas James, by Divine Permission [13] Lord Bishop of Southwark.
The form
The Right Reverend Christopher Thomas James Chessun
is, formally speaking, only correct for retired bishops [14], but seems to have percolated into common usage.

Bishops normally, but not always sign as
+Firstname LatinNameOfSee
There's a list somewhere.

It is handy to remember that the Lord Bishop of London is invariably a Privy Counsellor and thus is
The Right Reverend and Right Honourable the Lord Bishop of London
The title seems to remain as Lord Bishop even when the incumbent is a women, as at present. 

Ok. On up the ranks — don't worry, the two Lord Archbishops provide even more opportunities for ecclesiastical nomenclature.

Viscounts and Earls

We can take these together, since they are remarkably similar in most respects.

In the most formal cases, and in lists and so on, they are written as
The Right Honourable the Viscount Lewis [15]
The Right Honourable the Earl Lewis [16] 
Both often, but not invariably, have a barony as a subsidiary title, and a small number of Earls have Viscountcies too, but that doesn't change the title.

When Her Majesty issues a Patent or similar to a Viscount, She uses
Our Right Trusty and Well-beloved Cousin Charles Robin de Bohun Devereux Viscount Hereford [17]
And for Earls the ever so slightly more florid
Our Right Trusty and Entirely Beloved Cousin Charles Henry John Benedict Crofton Chetwynd Chetwynd-Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury [18]
However, practically, both Viscounts and Earls are invariably simply addressed outside of formal occasions as
The [Right Honourable the] Lord Lewis
And mirror in all senses the Barons. They, like all other Peers, sign with their titles, and so on.

Their Wives

The wives of Viscounts and Earls are, naturally Viscountess and... Countess. Slight reversion to continental form there! These operate rather as one expects, viz.
The Right Honourable the Viscountess Lewis
The Right Honourable the Countess Lewis
But again, except for formal situations, the form Lady Lewis is invariable practice. Otherwise they work very much like the wives of Barons. 

There actually is a current Countess suo iure, and similar rules to Baronesses suo iure apply to her with, however, the monition that Baroness is obviously nonsensical.

Marquesses and Marchionesses

And now we meet the first big difference. The Marquesses [19]. In spectacularly formal documents, they are
The Most Noble and Puissant Prince [20] the Marquess of Croesyceiliog
In ordinary levels of formality they are
The Most Honourable the Marquess of Croesyceiliog
And in more normal situations simply Lord Croesyceiliog. Notice the 'of' is omitted? To leave it in would invite confusion with the Scottish Lords of Parliament (remember them?).

Her Majesty's form for Marquesses is identical to Earls, for reasons lost to the sands of time. 

The wives of Marquesses are Marchionesses, and similar rules to Countesses apply, albeit with Most Honourable not Right Honourable.

Still following? Good, it's fun isn't it? 

Dukes and Duchesses

Top of the tree (not really) are the Dukes. In absurdly formal documents they are
The Most High, Most Noble, and Most Potent Prince the Duke of Croesyceiliog
in very formal documents they are
The Most Noble the Duke of Croesyceiliog
and in reasonably formal documents they are (yes, three different versions!)
His Grace the Duke of Croesyceiliog
Unlike the lesser degrees, Dukes are never (ever!) addressed as Lord. The short form is to simply say
The Duke of Croesyceiliog
Equally, my Lord is the wrong form of address, where instead
Your Grace
should be used (this also provides the adjectival form, replacing His Lordship's with His Grace's, etc.)

Duchesses, whether suo iure [21] or otherwise are the same but with Duchess substituted for Duke everywhere. Dukes, like all Peers, sign with just their title.

Her Majesty's formulation for Dukes is even more florid,
Our Right Trusty and Right Entirely Beloved Cousin [22] Edward William Fitzalan-Howard Duke of Norfolk [23]
I actually find the Dukes the simplest of the five degrees since they don't quasi-revert to looking like a Baron in most situations.

You will notice we still haven't seen a single example of Lord Firstname Surname. This is correct. And we wont until after another ecclesiastical digression.

The Lord Archbishops

The Lord Archbishops of Canterbury and York formally rank above the non-Royal Dukes, with the Lord High Chancellor nestled betwixt them. They also provide some wonderfully flowery titles. In highly formal documents, they are respectively (like London they are invariably Privy Counsellors)
The Most Reverend Father in God and Right Honourable Justin Portal by Divine Providence the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan
The Most Reverend Father in God and Right Honourable John Tucker Mugabi by Divine Providence the Lord Archbishop of York, Primate of England and Metropolitan
In lesser documents, they are usually
The Most Reverend [24] and Right Honourable the Lord Archbishop of [Canterbury] [York] 
The Primatial and Metropolitical [25] suffix is sometimes included.

Unlike mere bishops, archbishops are addressed as Your Grace, so the formulation
His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury
whilst not heard all that often is correct. The Most Reverend and the Grace bits only attach to an Archbishop whilst in office, on retirement they revert to Right Reverend.

They sign, respectively
+Justin Cantuar
+John Eboracum
Now we have to go around again to deal with children, which I warn in advance is an implausibly complicated topic.

Courtesy Titles

But first another monition: courtesy titles are explicitly not titles in the Peerage. They confer no rights whatsoever to anything, and are at least in theory entirely optional.

The children of all Peers, even Life Peers, have some form of courtesy title (how this works for things like legitimacy and adoption is something so complicated I will, like for suffragans, gloss right over it). These can be divided into two groups: those for 'other' children, and those for their Peer's heir (and his heir's heir; and I suppose at least in distant theory, his heir's heir's heir...)

And oddly, we will do them in that inverted order.

(It is arguable that the forms of address for younger children are not, strictly speaking, courtesy titles, but I think it is simpler to think of them as part of this morphological class rather than as a third one)

Younger Children

In a way this is a slight misnomer, since this section actually applies to all the children of Barons and Viscounts. But this was the simplest way to do it. 

Except for Marquesses and Dukes, these are
The Honourable Stephen Kinnock [26]
Being a Privy Counsellor displaces this, so the Honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg became the Right Honourable when he became Lord President of the Council.

And now we come to the dreaded Lord Firstname Surname. The younger sons of Dukes and Marquesses are either
Lord Benjamin Lewis
Lady Sophie Lewis
In this case and only this case, this is the correct way to do it. Now, the chances are whoeever you are writing about is not the younger son of a Duke or Marquess, and thus you almost never need to do this.

Also notice there is no 'the'. These courtesy titles also don't change the persons signature, nor does Her Majesty have a special way of addressing them beyond a commoner — which they legally remain.


The heirs of Dukes, Marquesses, and Earls, however, work slightly differently. Assuming their father has a usable subsidiary title (and I believe there is no extant Peerage without at least one underneath it, though in theory a Barony by Writ [27] could separate from an Earldom or similar by Patent).

Instead of being the Honourable, or Lord, they take their father's highest [28] subsidiary title and become, for example
Henry Fitzalan-Howard, Earl of Arundel
Again, notice the lack of a 'the'. In simpler circumstances, he is referred to like the Barons as Lord Arundel.

If the heir of a Duke or Marquess is known by courtesy as either a Marquess or an Earl, then his heirs can take a further, lower subsidiary title, e.g. before his father became Duke of Norfolk, the [29] Earl of Arundel was known as Lord Maltravers.

I think in theory, if the chain went Duke, Marquess by courtesy, Earl by courtesy, then a third iteration of this could happen. I am not sure how likely that is in practice.

Wives of heirs are addressed like their substantive equivalents, again without the 'the' and so on.
That concludes the peerage portion of all this. Except it doesn't, quite, because I have neglected to cover former wives, and some other oddities (like how daughters of Earls are inexplicably Lady not the Honourable). But if you need to deal with those, go buy Debrett's.

And remember the cardinal rule: Lord Firstname Surname is almost always wrong. Ask me if you're unsure (but I wont check, I will just assume it is wrong because the chances of you hitting the one case where it isn't are near zero, as we demonstrated above). Baroness Firstname Surname is exceptionally wrong, but that should be obvious by now.

Some other Lords

We will now briefly cover a few other types of Lord, just for completeness.

Justices of the Supreme Court are by Royal Warrant styled
[C1] Lord Sumption
The exact story behind this is quite complicated (and hilarious, to be quite honest) but these are explicitly not Peerages and in a legal sense operate more like a courtesy title.

Various offices are Lord Something, e.g. the Lord High Chancellor, the Lord Mayor of London, the Lord-Lieutenant of Berkshire. In all cases the Lord bit attaches to the office not the person.

The Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland provides the solitary exception to this idea, the incumbent being addressed as Your Grace like the pre-Act of Union Kings of Scots were.

And that is that. And remember the rule: Lord Firstname Surname is wrong (except for a corner case which you are unlikely to hit). 


[C1] Rich Greenhill espied a spurious definite article here, which has been extirpated with the fury of God's own thunder.

[1] Baron means something else in Scotland, and a vestige of that can be seen in the Prince of Wales' title, which ends with "Baron Renfrew". His Royal Highness is most certainly not Lord Renfrew.
[2] I am not going to get into the game of whether Barons not Privy Counsellors are Right Honourable. They are, and the Ministry of Justice are just wrong on this point.
[3] To feed my ego, throughout this I am going to use me as the example :-)
[4] The 'the' is somewhat non-optional, but the sky doesn't fall in if it is left out, but it can cause odd confusion as we will see in a bit
[5] That Wikipedia insist on muddling this point up irritates me no end.
[6] I assure you this is a real place
[7] As is this
[8] Even Debrett's equivocates on this one!
[9] Since 1963
[10] Here insert 'counsellor' for Privy Counsellors
[11] His lordship is a real person!
[12] A whole joke in Fawlty Towers turns on this actually quite arcane point!
[13] Except Durham, Durham is 'by Divine Providence' for... palatinate reasons. Durham also has a ducal coronet on his arms and a sword crossed with a crozier behind them, not two crossed croziers. 
[14] Strictly it is correct for any bishop without a see, but almost always the cause of that is retirement.
[15] There are a small number of Scottish "of" Viscounts too, e.g. Oxfuird, which is also the name of a famous Peerage Claim.
[16] Earls of territorial things, like Mar are "of" while names, like "Grey" omit the of. 
[17] The Lord Hereford is the Premier Viscount of England.
[18] Lord Shrewsbury is not the Premier Earl of England, but since Arundel is held by the Dukes of Norfolk, his lordship is the most ancient Earl not to hold a higher title. Great name too!
[19] A few Scottish ones have, on occasion, spelled this Marquis in memory of the Auld Alliance.
[20] Those who say this is incorrect are wrong, but really this is all but defunct, I will admit that!
[21] The 3rd Duchess of Hamilton was a Duchess suo iure so this has happened.
[22] They are, obviously, not literally Her cousins.
[23] His Grace is the Premier Duke of England, and by virtue of also holding the Earldom of Arundel the Premier Earl; He is also the Earl Marshal of England and thus an hereditary Great Officer of State.
[24] I wrote this that way just to write Metropolitical
[25] Intriguingly and lost to the sands of time why, Meath and Kildare over in Ireland is a bishopric but a Most Reverend. 
[26] His father is the Lord Kinnock, the former Labour Leader, included here to demonstrate that this applies to Life Peers too.
[27] Try not to worry too much about it.
[28] Except in a few cases where this is confusing, where they take the second highest.
[29] The definite article here is part of the containing sentence, not part of the title. Which is confusing but c'est la vie.

1 comment:

  1. You write "Assuming their father has a usable subsidiary title (and I believe there is no extant Peerage without at least one underneath..."

    I believe *every* peer of whatever rank must have a baronetcy (lowest rank) since that distinction is what makes all members of the group "peers" or equals. If on a higher rank is created for whatever reason a baronetcy will also be created.