The following tables are meant to allow Presenters to quickly determine the title(s) of figures met by Player Characters in High Society. They can also be used by Players to select the status and title(s) of their own characters. As complicated as it all looks, this is actually an extremely basic treatment that greatly simplifies matters. The system of nobility in pre-Revolutionary France was actually much more Byzantine than is practical to depict here, and was seemingly designed to confuse anyone who wasn’t actually raised an aristocrat. Likewise, the outline of the English aristocracy and their titles is sufficient for game purposes, but it would doubtless fail to pass muster with the editors of “Burke’s Peerage”.
The tables exclude actual royalty, whose appearance in a scenario should always be planned beforehand.
The masculine form of a title is given first, followed by the feminine. “Styles” are the honorific expressions that are supposed to be affixed to the name of an individual who holds a title.
When referring to holders of pre-Revolutionary French titles, the name is usually given: [Style][Given Name],[Title][Family Name]. The British form is usually: [Style][Full Name],[Title]. For example:
- The Very High and Powerful Lord Donatien-Alphonse-François, Comte de Sade
- Lord George Gordon Byron, Baron Byron
- His Grace, William Douglass, Duke of Queensberry
When directly addressing the holder of a noble title, the form is usually: [Style of direct address][Name]. For example:
- “Monsieur de Sade, I am confused as to why you keep such fearsome instruments of correction in your bedchamber.”
- “Lord Byron, surely you shall not discard me after so passionately demonstrating the firmness of your love!”
- “Your Grace William, Mademoiselle Parisot inquires if you quite enjoyed yourself while spying on the Gates of Venus.”
Remember that French is the language of High Society across Europe. Aristocrats from Portugal to Russia speak French to each other, and it is common for nobility to not speak the vernacular language of the common people. Aristocrats everywhere regard themselves as having much more in common with each other than with the middle and lower classes of their own countries.
Random French Aristocrats, in Ascending Precedence (Pre-Revolution, or Ancien Régime) (d20)
1 – 4 | Gentilhomme or Gentilfemme (English equivalent: Gentleman or Gentlewoman) (Ordinary untitled aristocracy)
5 – 7 | Écuyer (English equivalent: Esquire) (Indicates an illustrious family, but otherwise untitled)
8| Chevalier (Hereditary knighthood, but not necesarily a member of an actual order) (Style: “Sieur”)
9 | Chevalier de l’ordre royal et militaire de Saint-Louis (Knight of the Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis) [Roll again for additional title, if any] (Style: “Sieur”)
10 | Chevalier de l’ordre de Saint-Michel (Knight of the Order of Saint Michael) [Roll again for additional title, ignoring results below 12]
11 | Chevalier de l’ordre du Saint-Esprit (Knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit) [Roll again for additional title, ignoring results below 12]
12 – 13 | Baron or Baronne (Style: “Very High and Powerful Lord” – “Monsieur” or “Madame” when addressed directly)
14 | Vicomte or Vicomtesse (English equivalent: Viscount) (Style: “Very High and Powerful Lord” – “Monsieur” or “Madame” when addressed directly)
15 – 16 | Comte or Comtesse (English equivalent: Count) (Style: “Very High and Powerful Lord” – “Monsieur” or “Madame” when addressed directly)
17 – 18 | Marquis or Marquise (English equivalent: Marquess) (Style: “Very High and Powerful Lord” – “Monsieur” or “Madame” when addressed directly)
19 | Duc or Duchesse (English equivalent: Duke) (Style: “Very High and Very Powerful Lord” – “Monsieur” or “Madame” when addressed directly)
20 | Prince du Sang or Princesse du Sang (descended from a former king, but not a child, nephew or niece of the current King) (Style: “ Monsieur Prince”, or “Madame Princesse”)
Notes about Ancien Régime titles:
- The French aristocracy of the Ancien Régime distinguish among themselves between the “noblesse d’épée” (“nobility of the sword”), whose ancestors were ennobled for medieval military in medieval times, and the “noblesse de robe” (“nobility of the robe”), who were ennobled later to hold governmental offices.
- The titles “Baron”, “Vicomte”, “Comte”, and “Marquis” are socially interchangeably without legal sanction. A Comte will often employ the title “Marquis”, for example.
- About 40 of the most powerful Comtes, Ducs, and Princes are further distinguished as Peers of France, and entitled to the Style “Monseigneur” (“My Lord”).
- An aristocratic family’s social status is determined by the length of time it has been ennobled, whether they are “noblesse d’épée” or “noblesse de robe”, the family’s accomplishments, and their current favor with the King, rather than their exact title.
- Unlike in England, the children of a titled French nobleman are also considered noble. They do not bear his title, however.
- The particle “de” (“of”) before a name often (but not always) designates nobility. The particles “du” (“of the” [masculine singular]) and “des” (“of the” [plural]) are also often seen before noble family names.
- Unlike English titles, French noble titles of the Ancien Régime generally indicate ownership and legal responsibilities (“seigneurial” rights) over a particular piece of land. However, a Gentlilhomme might also hold seigneurial rights over a property without possessing any other title.
- These titles, and their associated rights, are abolished in France in 1790, and replaced by the Napoleonic titles in 1808. The old titles are legally restored in 1814, but without the full seigneurial rights they carried before the Revolution.
Random Napoleonic Titles, in Ascending Precedence (Titles conferred from 1808 – 1814) (d20)
1 – 10 | Chevalier de l’Empire (Conferred upon members of the Légion d’honneur after 1808)
11 – 16 | Baron de l’Empire (Conferred upon wealthy financiers, some mayors, bishops, and army officers)
17 – 18 | Comte de l’Empire (Conferred upon government officials such as senators and ministers)
19 | Duc de l’Empire (Conferred upon high officials and marshals)
20 | Prince de l’Empire (Conferred upon members of the Imperial family, heads of vassal states, and great marshals)
Notes about Napoleonic titles:
- The Légion d’honneur (“Legion of Honor”) is created by Napoleon in 1802 to honor exceptional service to the state. It is made the lowest rank of the nobility in 1808.
- Napoleonic titles are conferred only upon men, except for former Empress Josephine, made “Duchesse de Navarre” in 1810.
- The titles are possessed for life, but are only hereditary if the bearer also has significant property and income of their own to pass to an heir.
- Napoleonic titles are essentially honorary, and do not confer any seigneurial rights of the kind that existed before the Revolution.
- The titles of “Chevalier”, “Baron” and “Comte” are stated before their bearer’s name. “Ducs” and “Princes” give their title after their name.
- Bearers of these titles are recognized as nobility after the Bourbon Restoration. The Légion d’honneur is maintained as a national order of knighthood.
Random British Aristocrats, in Ascending Precedence (d20)
1 – 6 | Gentleman or Gentlewoman (No legal title, but may be “Lord” or “Lady” “of the Manor” when in their own home)
7 | Esquire (Indicates a Gentleman entitled to armorial bearings, or just one who is very pretentious.) (Style: “Esquire”, after the name)
8 | Knight of the Bath (Non-hereditary, by Royal appointment) Style: “Sir”, or “Lady” for the wife of a Knight) [Roll again for additional title, if any]
9 | Scottish Laird (Style: “The Much Honored”) (No seat in the House of Lords)
10 | Scottish Baron (Style: “Baron”) (No seat in the House of Lords) (Title can be sold)
11 | Baronet or Baronetess (Hereditary title, but no seat in the House of Lords) (Sir “Sir” or “Dame”)
12 | Knight of Saint Patrick (Non-hereditary, by Royal appointment after 1783) (Style: “Sir”) [Roll again for additional title, if any]
13 | Knight of the Thistle (Non-hereditary, by Royal appointment) (Style: “Sir”, or “Lady” for the wife of a Knight) [Roll again for additional title, if any]
14 | Knight of the Garter (Non-hereditary, by Royal appointment) Style: “Sir”, or “Lady” for the wife of a Knight) [Roll again for additional title, if any]
15 – 16 | Baron or Baroness (Scottish Equivalent: Lord of Parliament) (Style: “Lord” or “Lady”) (Peer, with a seat in the House of Lords)
17 | Viscount or Viscountess (Style: “Lord” or “Lady”) (Peer, with a seat in the House of Lords)
18 | Earl or Countess (Style: “Lord” or “Lady”) (Peer, with a seat in the House of Lords)
19 | Marquess or Marchioness (Style: “Lord” or “Lady”) (Peer, with a seat in the House of Lords)
20 | Duke or Duchess (Style: “His Grace,” or “Her Grace,”; “Your Grace” when directly addressed) (Peer, with a seat in the House of Lords)
Notes about British Titles:
- Only members of the Royal family bear the title Prince or Princess.
- Note that there is no such thing as a British “Count”. The British title for men is “Earl”. Oddly, the wife of an Earl is a “Countess”.
- Only Peers who sit in the House of Lords are actually nobility. Everyone else is a technically a commoner, even if their father is a Duke. There are only about 300 Peers in Great Britain at any one time.
- A woman may only hold a title in her own right only if all male heirs to that title are dead.
- The geographic indicators attached to English noble titles are essentially meaningless. For example, the Baron of Whigglesbutt does not necessarily own any land in that charming town known for its callipygian maids.
Of Aristocratic Bastards
Note: we’re talking about the illegitimate children of aristocrats here, not the questionable behavior of the upper class. Although the latter often led the former, of course!
The 17th, 18th, and very-early 19th centuries were a relatively permissive period for the upper class of Europe, when every self-respecting man of means maintained one or more mistresses, sometimes in his own house. Likewise, only the eldest children of many aristocratic mothers were the actual offspring of their legal husbands. The illegitimate children of noble men were often open secrets – treated as untitled Gentlemen and Gentlewomen, even if not formally acknowledged by the father. It was also common practice for royalty to actually bestow a noble title upon their illegitimate children, whether or not they formally acknowledge parentage. For example, a good portion of the British aristocracy is descended from Nell Gwyn, the mistress of King Charles II. On the other hand, an aristocratic mother who knew her baby would not resemble her husband might go traveling, give birth to the child in some location distant from home, and then place the child in an orphanage. Noble men might turn a blind eye to such behavior, so long as everything was kept relatively discreet, and the actual heir looked passably similar to his presumed father. Of course, the royal houses of Europe had long displayed the disastrous physical and mental effects of continual inbreeding, so quietly preventing the aristocracy from suffering the same fate wasn’t necessarily to be considered a bad thing. In any case, royal and aristocratic bastards, secret or acknowledged, are a Romantic staple that should appear in any game that features interactions in High Society.