Gwen & Kate's Library

Two sisters' reviews of Young Adult and Middle Grade books, inspired by their lovely library.

Gwen’s Resources: Royalty Explained

When reading fantasy and historical fiction books set in various time periods and locations, stories (especially fairy tales) often revolve around royalty. So next time you are reading one of these books, here is a general list to refer to for reference. The concept of royalty is finally explained, including the origins of this system, definitions of royal terms, the difference between royal cultures, order of titles and more! The hierarchy of titles I have organized is mainly based off the British system, but is generalized to work for many fantasy worlds and other European nations as well.

Origins & Explanations:

The concept of royalty originated with the Medieval feudal system. Under feudalism, a few wealthy land owners became high-ranking lords, and through a show of military or political force, one of them was crowned king. This king would then name vassals, lower-ranking nobles, who would be in charge of areas of land and providing the king with military aid. Under the vassal there might be many lower-ranking vassals, so they were given specific titles to demonstrate their power in the line.

feudalism |ˈfyo͞odlˌizəm| noun

the dominant social system in medieval Europe, in which the nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants (villeins or serfs) were obliged to live on their lord’s land and give him homage, labor, and a share of the produce, notionally in exchange for military protection.

Systems of royalty are different in different cultures. In general, because Europe was the only place to have a feudal system, it developed the only true monarchies. Other cultures however had their own similar systems, such as the Japanese imperial system. In the Middle East, religion and politics were more connected, so the equivalent of a king, the caliph, had power over the land, people, and religion.

The difference between royalty, nobility, and gentry is simple. The royalty includes the king, queen, prince, princess, and anyone in the royal family, often the duke and duchess as well. The nobility is anyone with a title, essentially lords with the title of duke or something lesser. And the gentry are the class below nobility, without a hereditary or honorary title.

royalty |ˈroiəltē| noun

people of royal blood or status: diplomats, heads of state, and royalty shared tables at the banquet.

• a member of a royal family: she swept by as if she were royalty.

the status or power of a king or queen: the brilliance of her clothes, her jewels, all revealed her royalty.

nobility |nōˈbilitē| noun (usu. the nobility)

the group of people belonging to the noble class in a country, esp. those with a hereditary or honorary title: a member of the English nobility.

gentry |ˈjentrē| noun (often the gentry)

people of good social position, specifically (in the UK) the class of people next below the nobility in position and birth: a member of the landed gentry.

• [ with adj. ] people of a specified class or group: a New Orleans family of Creole gentry.

There is little difference between the term sovereign and monarch, but a peer and a regent are entirely different. A regent is essentially a substitute ruler, which is often needed if the true ruler is too young to officially rule on their own, as is seen in many books and historical circumstances. A peer is a member of the British or Irish nobility, not a king or queen, but a lower ranking lord.  

sovereign |ˈsäv(ə)rən| noun

a supreme ruler, esp. a monarch.

monarch |ˈmänərk, ˈmänˌärk| noun

a sovereign head of state, esp. a king, queen, or emperor.

regent |ˈrējənt| noun

a person appointed to administer a country because the monarch is a minor or is absent or incapacitated.

peer|pi(ə)r| noun

a member of the nobility in Britain or Ireland, comprising the ranks of duke, marquess, earl, viscount, and baron.

Hierarchy of Titles: 

Emperor, Empress 

Referred to as “Your Imperial Majesty”

Realm: Empire

Used mainly in Medieval times for the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, but also in the Russian Empire, Byzantine Empire, Spanish Empire, and many in Asia as well. The only emperor currently reigning is the Emperor of Japan. Empress Matilda is the only British monarch commonly referred to as an empress, but got her title through her marriage to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor.

King, Queen 

Referred to as “Your Majesty”

Realm: Kingdom

The current kingdoms today are Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Spain and United Kingdom.

Viceroy, Vicereine 

Realm: Viceroyalty

Was historically used in the Spanish, British, and Russian Empires.

Archduke, Archduchess

Realm: Archduchy

Archduke was a title used only in the Habsburg dynasty in Austria.

Grand Duke, Grand Duchess 

Referred to as “Your Highness” or “Royal Highness”

Realm: Grand Duchy

Historically, there was a grand duchy of Moscow, Finland and Tuscany, but today Luxembourg is the only one.

Prince, Princess

Referred to as “Your Highness”

Realm: Principality

Usually princes didn’t rule over anything, as it was reserved as an honorary title for the children of the King and Queen, but there were principalities of Albania and Serbia in the past. “Prince” is often used as a generic title for any monarch. Crown Prince/Princess is often used for the heir to the throne.

Duke, Duchess

Referred to as “My Lord Duke/Duchess” or “Your Grace”

Realm: Duchy

In feudal monarchies, the duke was the highest-ranking peer below the king. Usually a duke or duchess is related to the king or queen.

Marquis/Marquess, Marchioness/Marquise

Referred to as “My Lord/Lady” or “Your Lordship/Ladyship”

Realm: March/Mark

A march was usually on the border of a country, and was therefore in charge of defending it, so had more men-at-arms than other nobles.

Earl/Count, Countess

Referred to as “My Lord/Lady” or “Your Lordship/Ladyship”

Realm: County/Countship/Earldom

The title of count was most often used in the Holy Roman Empire, and earl was used in Anglo-Saxon and medieval Britain.

Viscount, Viscountess

Referred to as “My Lord/Lady” or “Your Lordship/Ladyship”

Realm: Viscounty/Viscountship/Viscountcy

Pronounced ˈvīˌkount.

Baron, Baroness

Referred to as “My Lord/Lady” or “Your Lordship/Ladyship”

Realm: Barony

Three Types of Peerage (in the UK): 

Hereditary – Hereditary titles can be inherited and therefore stay with the family for many generations. In some cultures, women are excluded from the line of succession of this title, and often only the eldest legitimate son receives the honor.

Life – A life peer is a peer whose title cannot be inherited. This title is usually that of baron or baroness.

Representative – A representative peer is one elected by the Peerage of Scotland and the Peerage of Ireland to sit in the British House of Lords.

Family Trees:

A list of family trees, ranging from fantasy to political to royal families all over the world.

A large family tree of the Viking-Norman descent of the British royal family.

Recommended Books: 

British Royalty: Gilt by Katherine Longshore, Assassin (The Lady Grace Mysteries) by Grace Cavendish, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

Egyptian Royalty: Sphinx’s Princess by Esther Friesner

Asian Royalty: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Fantasy Royalty: The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Dystopian Royalty: The Selection by Kiera Cass



New Oxford American Dictionary


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This entry was posted on February 10, 2014 by in Author: Gwen, Book List, Resource and tagged .
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