Boggling British Peerages
When I created my steampunk persona, I wanted a character of nobility as we don’t have a lot of them running around the steampunk world. Thus was created lady Lucretia Strange, the Baroness Strange. In order to be accurate, I started researching proper forms of address for nobility.
It’s all kinds of baffling.
“The Baroness Strange” rather than “Baroness Strange” is the correct formal description of her title, so far as I can tell, although I see enough of both uses I’m still shaky on it.
The Strange part doesn’t actually have anything to do with her last name: I could just as easily have been Lucretia Smith, the Baroness Strange. The older the tile, however, the more likely it is that the title and place name will be the same, such as Charles Spencer, the Earl Spencer (brother of Diana, Princess of Wales).
But wait, I’ve read Robin Hood and/or seen a movie/TV show about him. Why was he the Earl OF Huntington?
Because some earldoms use the “of,” and some don’t. Incidentally, Some Barons are just Baron X (like Baroness Strange), and some are Baron X of Y (if I wanted to invent the title Baroness Strange of Tiddlywinks), but there is never a Baron of Y (unlike earls like the Earl of Huntington).
History of the Name
I chose the Strange title in large part because of its historical existence, not just because it’s vaguely goofy and, thus good steampunk name in my thinking. There really is a Baron Strange title in the UK, the current one dating to 1628. It’s the fourth creation of that title. The first was created in 1295 when Roger la Strange was made Baron Strange.
Even better, the Baron Strange title is one of a minority of titles that can be inherited by a woman (in this case, me).
I’ve also just discovered that she doesn’t actually get to be Lady Lucretia Strange (which means I have to change some descriptions of her around the internet.) She’s Lady Strange. Lady Lucretia Strange implies her father, Baron Strange, is still alive and, thus, she doesn’t have a title of her own.
But if I stuck to historical formality, my first name would rarely get used, and I doubt many people would be comfortable using a last name or title, as it is really formal for today’s society, and we aren’t reenactors.
Princess Diana never existed.
Women become princesses when they marry princes, right? Yes. But while her husband was “Prince Charles,” he got that form of address because he is the son of the monarch. The title he holds in his own right in Prince of Wales, so when he married, his wife became Diana, Princess of Wales, not Princess Diana, which would mean she was close descendant of the monarch, which would be incestuously icky.
Why do media outlets so often call her Princess Diana? Because they’re dumb, with probably a bit of nostalgia for Disney movies, fairy tales, and the hopes of five-year-olds. Seriously, it’s just not her title.
Likewise, when Prince William (grandson of the monarch) married, the queen gave him his own title, the Duke of Cambridge. So now he and his wife are William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Kate is not Princess Kate, although when Charles becomes king and, presumably, makes William the Prince of Wales, she will be Princess of Wales just as Diana was.
This means it’s quite legit to talk of “the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son, Prince George,” which immediately baffles everyone. Is their son of higher rank than them? No. George gets to be “Prince George” because of his place in the succession, and because he has no title of his own.
That also means, incidentally, little George is technically a commoner at the moment, as is Prince Harry, William’s little brother. That will change when they get their own titles, which the Queen has been handing out upon marriage (although she’s under no requirement to do so).
All of this led a cousin of mine to suggest that tea tax be damned, all this silliness might have been a bigger reason for the colonies to insist on independence.