S we have already observed in an earlier portion of this great work, one of the duties of the Heralds in ancient limes was that of marshalling processions--and in the performance of this duty they had to see that nobody got in front of anybody behind whose boots etiquette ordained that he or she should walk. According to the dictum laid down by the American Constitution "All men are born free and equal," (niggers of course excepted--they take a back seat--though not so far back now as formerly,) but the Heralds do not by any means accept this constitutional arrangement--they place men, and women too for the matter of that, on a line, at the head of which stands the sovereign of the country, and subjects follow in regular rotation, according to that station of life In which they may have started, and to which they may have attained.
We will, just in order to prevent any of our royal, ducal, or lordly readers getting out of place, run over the various ranks of which humanity in general is composed.
Before starting we may premise that holding a high position on a cab rank does not necessarily involve a peerage, or, ex officio, entitle the holder to take his seat in the House of Lords. This point being settled, we come first of all to the Sovereign, who, as the fountain of honour, dispenses titles and other luxuries to those who please him or her, or still better, please his or her ministers. The sovereign is therefore, ex officio, the first gentleman or lady in the kingdom--and is literally at the top of the Heraldic tree. The subjects of the sovereign are also not unfrequently to be found up a tree--worse luck. Monarchs now-a-days do not have altogether a bad time of it, especially in constitutional countries, where the first axiom of Government is that the King can do no wrong. When things do not work easily, the prime minister of the period has his head metaphorically smacked, and is kicked out of office, and the sovereign rubs his hands contentedly, and
thinks how pleasant it is that there is not the slightest chance of his being served in the same way. And thus matters work pleasantly for all parties--and frequent changes of government give every one a chance of having a finger in the national pudding.
After the Queen in the scale of precedence comes the Prince of Wales. As a loyal subject, the author hopes it will be a long time before his Royal Highness does come after our present gracious sovereign. And after our future king come the other sons of the Queen, her grandsons, brothers, uncles, and nephews--all gradually shelving down to the common rank and file.
Then, having finished up our stock of royalty, the Church comes in for our attention, and the Archbishop of Canterbury makes his appearance. He, as the Lord Primate of All England, takes the first place among the Peers spiritual and temporal. Apropos of All England, it is a popular delusion to imagine that he is captain of the All England Eleven, although we believe it would be quite possible to pitch a good wicket in the gardens of Lambeth Palace, if one or two good ground men were engaged to look after the turf, and have it carefully rolled.
But we digress--the Lord High Chancellor follows the Primate, and is followed by the Archbishop of York. The trio, in fact, forming a human sandwich in which the Chancellor plays the meat. Then come various great officers of State, such as the Lord High Treasurer, the Lord President of the Privy Council, the Lord Privy Seal, and the Lord Great Chamberlain, if these are of hereditary baronial rank; while the Lord High Constable, Earl Marshal, Lord High Admiral, Lord Steward of the Queen's Household, and the Lord Chamberlain take rank above all peers of their own degree, and enjoy themselves accordingly.
After these Royal and Official personages follow Dukes--Royal specimens of the order coming naturally first.
The title Duke, as our readers are aware, comes from the Latin word "Dux," a leader, (no connection with green peas, though, if very rich, they sometimes shell out liberally, and instances have been known of even these exalted personages being done particularly brown at times). History says that Moses was the first Duke; at any rate he led the Jews a pretty dance through the wilderness. Be that as it may, Dukes were originally only of Royal blood, and the first English creation was Edward Plantagenet, the son of Edward III. who was raised to that rank by his father, as Duke of Cornwall--but Henry VI. broke through this royal rule.
During the Wars of the Roses Dukes had a lively time of it, as also did the nobility of England generally, each party as it got the upper hand having an awkward trick of celebrating its victories by decapitating, or otherwise extinguishing the leaders on the vanquished side--and the consequence was that the peerage was a good deal thinned out--and Dukes, like strawberries at Christmas, became excessively scarce. So much so, in fact, was this the case, that at the accession of Elizabeth there was only one to be found in England, the Duke of Norfolk. He, unfortunately for himself, got mixed up with Mary Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth, who had a forcible way with her at times, had his head carefully removed from his shoulders in 1572, as a gentle hint that she disapproved of his associations. After that the ducal title was extinct until 1623, when James I. created George Villiers Duke of Buckingham.
Charles II. created several young people in whom he was interested Dukes, and those of Grafton, St. Albans, and Richmond owe the origin of their titles to that exceedingly Merry Monarch.
Dukes take precedence of each other, as in fact do all peers of equal rank, according to the dates of their patents.
After dukes proper, come the eldest sons of Royal Dukes, and then follow the Marquesses.
The first Marquess was invented in 1386, by Richard II. who created Robert de Vere, Marquess of Dublin. Two years afterwards that nobleman got into trouble, and was attainted of treason and banished--and we have no doubt considered himself particularly lucky at being able to take his head with him into his banishment as part of his personal luggage.
After the Marquesses come the eldest sons of Dukes--Dukelets we might call them--and then follow the Earls.
The title of Earl is the most ancient of all--barring of course, the Apocryphal Duke Moses--and dates its origin from the Saxon kings.
Alfred the Great used the title as a substitute for King, and up to the time when Dukes were created, it was the highest dignity short of actual sovereignty extant.
Earl is the same as "Comes," or Count. In the early periods possessors of this title never used any other addition to their Christian names--but in process of time, by way to distinguish one from another, and preventing the various Earls Robert or Earls William getting badly mixed, they began to add to their names those of their shires. As at that time there were not so many of them, this method was sufficient. To avoid mistakes, we beg to inform those of our readers that the wife of an Earl is not an Earless--she is best known as a Countess.
After the Earls come the eldest sons of Marquesses, and they are followed in due course by the next highest grade of nobility, viz:--
Viscounts, who were originally a species of deputies to the Earls, or Counts--as their Latin name "Vice-comes," would seem to imply. What their duties were is not mentioned--but probably at the first starting of their business they had to do all the odd jobs which the Earls themselves either did not care about or think worth while doing.
Originally Viscounts were not an order of the Peerage, but only an official title; but in 1440 Henry VI. conferred the title by patent on John Baron Beaumont,--and,
Then we come again to the younger generation, and up crop the eldest sons of Earls and the younger sons of Marquesses, who walk very much in front of the Bishops of London, Durham, and Winchester, who take top seats on the episcopal bench, and are followed by the other lawn-sleeved gentlemen, according to the seniority of consecration.
And apropos of bishops, the last-made bishop has no seat in the House of Peers, he has to wait outside the door and content himself by looking at the proceedings through the keyhole, until one of his senior brethren thinks proper to retire to another and a better world, or from his See. Not that bishops often do the latter until they are obliged.
The Bishop of Sodor and Man is just a shade better off than the last bishop. He may take a seat in the peers, but is not allowed to vote; which seems to us something like being asked to dinner but not allowed to eat.
After the English Bishops (oh, Hibernia weep!) follow the Irish varieties of the dignity--and then we come to the Barons, which is the lowest order of the peerage--the first rung of the lordly ladder on the top of which sits the Sovereign.
Who has not heard of the Barons of old? how they made war upon one another, hurled their enemies to the lowest pit beneath the moat, how they performed feats of dentistry on the guileless children of Israel, and how they had a habit of striding
About their halls, among
their dogs alone,
Their beards a foot before
them, and their hair
A foot behind.
In fact Barons of the early pattern were about as uncomfortable and unpleasant a race of people as it is well possible to imagine. Well, we have them among us now, only modified and civilised, and really, if it were not for the look of the thing, the author would not at all mind being a Baron himself, with £50,000 a year, and a seat in the House of Lords. But this is idle.
Barons are a very old institution, and have existed in England for any quantity of centuries the reader may like to imagine. Before the Normans came over the Saxons called them Thanes, but the conquerors altered the name to Baron, and it has stuck to them ever since. Up to the time of Charles II. Barons had no coronets, but that sovereign on his Restoration, perhaps to show his gratitude at once more finding himself in a royal berth again, where the wages were high and the work light, granted them the privilege of wearing coronets, which they have done ever since--excepting, of course, at bed time.
Then follow Viscounts' eldest sons, Earls' younger sons, Barons' eldest sons, Knights of the Garter, Privy Counsellors, Judges, and such like, small deer, Viscounts' younger sons, Barons' younger sons, and we come at last to Baronets, for whose existence James I. is answerable. He, with an eye to the main chance so natural among his canny countrymen, made every one a baronet who had an estate of £1,000 a year, and could undertake to maintain thirty soldiers for three years in the province of Ulster, and remit the first year's pay to the royal treasury. Artful Jimmy! Cash down was his motto, and not a bad one either on general principles; moreover he ordained that in order to distinguish their arms from those of Other people who had not £1,000 a year, they were to bear on the paternal coat of arms a red hand, the badge of Ulster. We have seen two red hands coming out of the arms of an Ulster on a cold day; but away with frivolity. James made rather a good
thing of the baronet business, and we are only surprised that no impecunious monarch has followed his example with a similar titular trick. We are certain there's a great deal of loose cash to be picked up now-a-days, among the nouveaux riches.
But to our precedence. Following the Baronets come Knights of the various orders--this, however, does not include the summer nights, which the lover, invoking his pretty Jane, said were "coming, love; " after them the eldest sons of the younger sons of Peers, the eldest sons of Baronets and Knights, and then, we have nearly got to the end of the story, Esquires.
Esquires were formerly apprentices to the Profession of arms--hoping to become, and very often becoming, full-blown Knights--that is to say if nobody knocked them on the head beforehand. Previously to being an esquire the noble youth commenced as a page--and, although of a higher rank in life, we have not the slightest doubt he was just as troublesome as are our modern and domestic pages--the only difference being that he had a soul above buttons.
Esquires had to make themselves generally useful to their lords, and they seem to have combined in their pursuits the duties of stud grooms (esquires of the stable), of housemaids (esquires of the chamber), of footmen (carving esquires), and of outdoor attendants(esquires for the body).
Now-a-days, anybody who likes may call himself esquire whether he has any right to do so or not. As a rule those who do have not.
Lastly we have "Gentlemen," which embraces every one who has a right to write himself "Armiger," and wear a coat-of-arms.
As anybody can, now-a-days, wear any sort of coat he likes, provided he can pay or get credit for it, this term "Gentleman" would seem to embrace all the rest of the world not previously enumerated.
Having thus laid down the law of precedence, there will be no excuse for any of our readers going to the rear when they ought to go to the front, or, what we think is far more likely, reversing that process.
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