The "of" in Peerages


A frequent cause of error arises from the use of the connecting preposition "of" in the titles of peerages.  It is inserted in all ducal styles, and in those of all marquesses but four;  but in no fewer than forty-seven earldoms it is omitted.


In most cases the "of" is omitted when the title is prefixed to the family name.  There are, however, exceptions to this, for it is inserted in the Balfour, Cholmondeley, Coventry, Craven, Graham, Lytton and Onslow titles, although only in three of these cases is the family name also a place name.  It is omitted in fourteen cases where the family name differs from of the title - the Camden and Douro marquessates, and the Beauchamp, Brooke, Castle  Stewart, Cawdor, Cowley, Ferrers, Granville, Manvers, St. Aldwyn, Sondes, Temple of Stowe and Winterton earldoms.


It is never inserted in the conventional use of the titles of viscounts and barons - at least, in the sense of saying or writing "Viscount of" or "Baron or Lord of", though it may form part of the name of the title, as in Lord Hardinge of Penshurst (as to which see later).


As the point is one which writers and authors frequently have to check, it may be useful to include a full list of those marquessates and earldoms in which the "of" is omitted:
















Baldwin of Bewdley









Castle Stewart
























Lloyd-George of Dwyfor



Mountbatten of Burma










St Aldwyn







Temple of Stowe









In some lists I have seen the De La Warr earldom is included.  But even though the "de" has now received the dignity of a capital letter and in incorporated in the title name, it would be absurd to think it could ever be prefixed with "of" and I have therefore excluded it.


There is another use of the proposition "of" in titles to which reference should be made because it is frequently the subject of error, though in this case as often as not the offenders are the peers themselves rather than those who write to or about them.


All peerage titles have a territorial basis, as it were.  That is to say, that a man is created "BARON BLANK, of Blanktown in the County of Blankshire".  The practice dates back to feudal times, when the feudal dignity of a baron was inseparable from the possession of the lands of the barony itself.  In other words, to be tenant-in-chief of the King (the legal position of all peers in those days) was an essential pre-requisite to receiving a writ of summons to attend the King in the Great Council of the Realm.


Interesting illustrations of the difference between the title of a peer and his territorial designations are to be found in a number of peerages.  Thus when Sir Edward Brabazon, ancestor of the Earls of Meath, was raised to the peerage, his patent described him as Lord Brabazon, Baron of Ardee;  and when Thomas Graves, a distinguished naval officer who fought under Lord Howe in the Battle of the First of June, was ennobled, it was as Lord Graves, Baron of Gravesend in the County of Londonderry.


"Baron" is here used in the feudal sense of tenants-in-chief and it has nothing to do with a peerage title.  There are a good many cases similar to Brabazon and Graves to be found in the history of the peerage, but especially in the eighteenth century and in many Irish peerages.  They emphasise the fact that the territorial designation is not part of, or anything to do with, the title granted, but is a description of the person to whom the title is given.


In the cases mentioned the one was unquestionably of Ardee and the other of Gravesend, but it would have been incorrect to refer to either as Lord Ardee or Lord Gravesend.  It is true that in using the Brabazon barony for a courtesy style the heirs of successive Earls of Meath have been called Lord Ardee, but considerable laxity has prevailed in regard to courtesy titles, as I shall show later, and though long usage has by now sanctioned, as it were, the error, it has no real justification.  The proof of this lies in the fact that if the elder son of an Earl of Meath were ever summoned to the House of Lords as a peer himself in his father's barony it would be as Lord Brabazon.  So to summon him as Lord Ardee would create a fresh barony.  The successors of Thomas Graves in the peerage have never been called anything but Lord Graves.


The territorial basis is still essential in the wording of the Letters Patent creating a peerage, although for a very long time past the reason underlying it has disappeared, and many peerages have been conferred on men who have had no landed possessions at all.  In such cases there is invariably some personal associations with the place chosen - that a man was born there or his family had associations with the district, that he himself was living there, or that the place was associated in some way with the new peer's public service.  Thus when Sir Rufus Isaacs, later the Marquess of Reading, was raised to the peerage he chose the title of Lord Reading because he had represented that borough in the House of Commons for a number of years.  But even when, as in this case, a new peer has chosen a territorial name for his style, the territorial basis is still essential, and Lord Reading's patent would record his peerage as "BARON READING, of Reading in the County of Berkshire".


Even foreign place names are chosen in, for instance, cases where soldiers and sailors who have been ennobled have rendered distinguished service abroad, though it is usual to associate with the title home place names also.  Thus Lord Nelson's first peerage was "BARON NELSON, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk", and when, after his death, his honours went to his brother and an earldom was added, the earldom was "of Trafalgar and of Merton in the County of Surrey".  The Duke of Wellington was "VISCOUNT WELLINGTON, of Talavero and Wellington in the County of Somerset".  In modern times Sir David Beatty was created "BARON BEATTY, of the North Sea and of Brooksby in the County of Leicester", and Field-Marshal Byng was raised to the peerage as "BARON BYNG OF VIMY, of Thorpe-le-Soken in the County of Essex".


So that, as I have said, "BARON BLANK, of Blanktown in the County of Blankshire", is the essential form in which a new title is set out in the Letters Patent in the normal case.  This is the form in which the announcement of his peerage subsequently appears in The London Gazette, but it is not his title.  That is simply "Lord Blank", and his signature will be merely "Blank".  It is not correct for him to be referred to as, or for him to sign himself, "Blank of Blanktown".


Nevertheless there has been an increasing tendency of recent years for newly-made peers to adopt this style and to try to convince others of their right to do so.  That deservedly popular and philanthropic peer, the late Viscount Wakefield, invariably signed himself "Wakefield of Hythe", both as baron and viscount, and most writers and newspapers followed his example and referred to him accordingly.  But there is nothing in the record of the honours bestowed on him to justify this departure from the normal.


Not long ago it was stated in a popular commentary in one of our most reputable newspapers:


Except where it is necessary to differentiate a title from another of the same name the "of etc." should not be used.  I mention this because this rule is sometimes broken by newly-made peers, and often by journalists.


On formal documents, however, the full title is used.  This is why Lord Tyrrell's signature, which is thrown on the screen as Film Censor, is Tyrrell of Avon.


With all respect to the writer of that comment his own paragraph was about as full of errors as it could be.  He was wrong when in an introductory sentence which I need not quote he referred to "Lord Cherwell of Oxford", and he was wrong in his final "explanation" of when the "of etc." should be used.


A peer's signature is the same whether it is on a formal or an informal document, and, again with all respect to an eminent public servant, Lord Tyrrell was wrong when he appended the signature "Tyrrell of Avon" - whether it be to a film or any other document.


The rules on the point are quite clear.  They have been understood and observed for a very long time, but they were definitely formulated by King George V under the guidance of a former Garter Principal King of Arms, the late Sir Henry Burke.


If it is desired to use a surname as the title of a peerage, and that surname is already in use as a title, then the new peerage must be qualified by a territorial designation.  Examples of that rule are seen in the several Howard peerages - Howard de Walden, Howard of Charlton, Howard of Effingham, Howard of Glossop, Howard of Morpeth amd Howard of Penrith.


Another instance is to be found in the two Hardinge peerages.  When Sir Charles Hardinge, second son of the second Viscount Hardinge, was himself raised to the peerage and desired to retain his surname in his title, it was clearly impossible for him to be merely Lord Hardinge if confusion were to be avoided.  He was therefore created Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, and that is both formally and conventionally his proper style.


But the rules go further than that.  They lay down that if a surname has ever been used as title any new peerage using the same surname must be qualified with a territorial designation even though the former peerage be extinct.


Thus when the late Mr. Henry Neville Gladstone, third son of the famous Victorian statesman, was created a peer, his style was Lord Gladstone of Hawarden, although the viscountcy of Gladstone previously bestowed on his younger brother, the former Mr. Herbert Gladstone, was already extinct.  Similarly, when the late Sir Brien Cockayne, son of the famous genealogist and authority on the peerage, was created a baron in 1920, he was styled Lord Cullen of Ashbourne because there had been a previous Viscountcy of Cullen, though it became extinct as long ago as 1810.


These rules do not apply in the cases of peers who choose a territorial name for their titles, since the use of any territorial name would not be allowed to a new peer if it were already in use in an existing peerage.  (In the rare cases where a surname and a place name are the same, some such differentiating designation would be necessary.)  That is why, although there is undoubtedly a Lord Cherwell, he is not Lord Cherwell of Oxford.


In case anyone should feel inspired to point out that there is a Dukedom of Queensberry (it is held by the Duke of Buccleuch) and a Marquessate of Queensberry existing separately, and two Earldoms of Mar (though the holder of one is known as the Earl of Mar and Kellie), it is necessary to add that these are exceptional ones, due to peculiarities in the Scottish peerage law which need not be entered into here.  I am concerned with explaining only the broad principles which govern normal practice.


The point to bear in mind in considering whether the "of etc." is correctly used is that a peer's title and style is definitely settled between the new peer himself, Garter King of Arms and the Prime Minister (acting for the Crown) when his Letters Patent are prepared, and if he is to be "of" somewhere it is clearly laid down at the time.  In that event he is gazetted as "BARON BLANK OF BLANKTOWN, of Blanktown in the County of Blankshire", the difference in type and the repetition of the place name giving a clear guide.


There are instances, of course, where the place name in the style differs from that of the territorial designation.  I have already mentioned one in Lord Byng of Vimy, of Thorpe-le-Soken.  Lord Byng of Vimy was his title;  he could not be merely Lord Byng because a Barony of Byng was already held by the head of his house, Viscount Torrington.


The increasing tendency to retain the family name in the style of a peerage has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of these "of" peerages in recent years.  The latest instances are supplied by those famous Service chiefs of the late war,  Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope, Field-Marshal Viscount Alexander of Tunis, Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Portal of Hungerford, Admiral Lord Fraser of North Cape, and Earl (at first Viscount) Mountbatten of Burma.  Each desired to retain the name which his services had made famous, but in the first five cases it had already been used for a peerage style.  There was no such bar in the case of Lord Louis Mountbatten, but, as with Alexander of Tunis and Montgomery of Alamein, he naturally desired to associate with his title the campaign which will for ever be inseparable from his name, and received Royal permission to do so.


Sir Alan Brooke, the war-time Chief of the Imperial General Staff, solved his problem (there is a Brooke earldom and two Brooke baronies) by following the example of Lord Noel-Buxton and Lord Courtauld-Thomson, each of whom joined Christian and surname in a new hyphened surname and then used it for his title.  But while they used the hyphen to do so Sir Alan made one word of the two names and became Viscount Alanbrooke.


Secretaries of societies and associations are frequent offenders in regard to this "of".  Anxiety to do the correct thing leads them to an excess of formality, and one is continually receiving invitations to functions to be addressed or presided over by "Lord Blank of Blanktown" when "Lord Blank" is all that is required or is correct.


Even that august body of which we heard so much during the war, the British Council, has been among the sinners, although, as the educator of other nations in the customs and usages of the British people, one would expect it to show greater care.  When the late Lord Lloyd was its President its notepaper always styled him Lord Lloyd of Dolobran.  Since then its notepaper has borne the styles of Lord Tyrrell of Avon, Lord Riverdale of Sheffield and Lord Snell of Plumstead.  All are incorrect.  But I am assured that the Council has now mended its ways.


The rules to which I have referred have generally been observed for a number of centuries, but it must be remembered that departures from them can be made at the Royal pleasure.  This accounts for several titles carrying the "of etc." both in ancient and modern practice.


Peerages with "of" in the title