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earls

earls. Though earl is the oldest peerage title, it has been overtaken by duke and marquis, to which it now ranks third. In early Saxon England it was merely the general name for noble. Administrative responsibility in shires belonged to ealdormen, particularly charged with leading the shire levies into battle. But the name earl gradually merged with the Danish jarl and, after the reign of Alfred, earls took over the responsibilities of ealdormen. But since they had responsibility for several shires or provinces, shire administration passed increasingly to the shire reeve. After the Conquest, earldoms tended to become hereditary and, as a consequence, their governmental responsibilities also fell to the sheriff. March earldoms, like Chester and Shrewsbury, retained considerable palatine powers. In the course of time the connection with a specific county, where the earl had his main estates, grew weaker: the earls of Derby were for centuries strong in Lancashire while the earls of Devonshire were strong in Derbyshire. In the reign of Henry I there were only eight earldoms, but Stephen and Matilda, in their rivalry, created many of their supporters earls. Since the titles of dukes and marquises were restricted, earldoms became, in practice, the senior title. The children of earls are in a curious intermediate position, however. The eldest son normally takes as his courtesy title the family viscountcy. Daughters are treated as duke's daughters and are known as Lady Susan ——; but younger sons are merely known as the Hon. Anthony ——.

J. A. Cannon

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