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In the United Kingdom there are five ranks of the peerage:
- Baron is the lowest. In Scotland this is called a Lord, short for Lord in Parliament.
- Earl - this is an old Saxon word. In Continental Europe this rank is called 'count', the lord in charge of a county. An earl's wife is called a countess
- Marquess - A special rank higher than an earl because a marquess's land was in the Marches, the border areas that must be defended. A marquess's wife is called a marchioness. There were not many marquesses in Scotland, and they usually spelled the title 'marquis' like the French
- Duke - the highest rank.
Informally Barons, Viscounts, Earls and Marquesses are called lords, and instead of their name when speaking to them, the term 'my lord' is used. A Duke is never called a lord. 'Your grace' is used for a Duke.
Since 2004 a list of peers has been kept by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. This list, called the Roll of Peerage had to be kept to prove who was a peer. The list of members of the House of Lords used to be the same until the hereditary peers were excluded. Official documents can only call someone a peer if their name is on the Peerage Roll.
Sorting out which peer should precede (come in front of) in a procession or other event depends on three different things:
- The rank. All dukes come before all marquesses, then earls, then viscounts and finally barons.
- Country the peerage was created in. All Dukes first created by the King of England come before those created by the King of Scotland. After this come Dukes of Great Britain whose titles were created between 1707 and 1801 (during the existence of the United Kingdom of Great Britain). In 1801, the kingdom of Ireland joined with Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, so Dukes of Ireland come next, followed by Dukes of the United Kingdom. The other types of peer follow in the same order.
- Great Britain
- United Kingdom
- Finally the order is decided on the year the title was created.
- The dukes of Gloucester, Kent, Edinburgh, York, Cambridge, and Sussex are the most junior dukes, but because they are princes they rank ahead of all other dukes. In 1952 the Queen ordered that her husband, the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, would be second only to her. The Duke of Edinburgh is now Elizabeth II's son, Charles, Prince of Wales.
- The Duke of Abercorn. When the Irish Marquess of Abercorn was "promoted" in 1868 the duke was listed as a duke of the kingdom of Ireland, but was given precedence as if it was a peerage in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. Irish peers cannot attend the House of Lords.
- G. R. Bellew, Garter King of Arms (30 September 1952). "The London Gazette". HMSO. http://www.gazettes-online.co.uk/archiveViewFrameSetup.asp?webType=0&PageDuplicate=x0%20%20%20%20%20%20&issueNumber=39657&pageNumber=0&SearchFor=Duke%20of%20Edinburgh&selMedalType=&selHonourType=. "The QUEEN has been graciously pleased by Warrant bearing date the 18th instant to declare and ordain that His Royal Highness Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Commander in the Royal Navy, shall henceforth upon all occasions and in all Meetings except where otherwise provided by Act of Parliament have, hold and enjoy Place, Pre-eminence and Precedence next to Her Majesty."
- Peerage Roll 2004 Peerage Roll lists the Marquessate as a UK peerage and notes that the peer is usually called by a higher title. This is usual with Irish peers