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A viscount ( /ˈvknt/ ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ) VY-kownt, for male [1] ) or viscountess ( /ˈvkntɪs/ , for female [2] ) is a title used in certain European countries for a noble of varying status.


In many countries a viscount, and its historical equivalents, was a non-hereditary, administrative or judicial position,[ when? ] and did not develop into a hereditary title until much later.[ when? ] [3] In the case of French viscounts, it is customary to leave the title untranslated as vicomte [vi.kɔ̃t] .


The word viscount comes from Old French visconte (Modern French: vicomte), itself from Medieval Latin vicecomitem, accusative of vicecomes, from Late Latin vice- "deputy" + Latin comes (originally "companion"; later Roman imperial courtier or trusted appointee, ultimately count). [4]


During the Carolingian Empire, the kings appointed counts to administer provinces and other smaller regions, as governors and military commanders. Viscounts were appointed to assist the counts in their running of the province, and often took on judicial responsibility. [3] The kings strictly prevented the offices of their counts and viscounts from becoming hereditary, in order to consolidate their position and limit chance of rebellion. [3]

The title was in use in Normandy by at least the early 11th century. [5] Similar to the Carolingian use of the title, the Norman viscounts were local administrators, working on behalf of the Duke. [6] Their role was to administer justice and to collect taxes and revenues, often being castellan of the local castle. Under the Normans, the position developed into a hereditary one, an example of such being the viscounts in Bessin. [6] The viscount was eventually replaced by bailiffs, and provosts. [6]

As a rank in British peerage, it was first recorded in 1440, when John Beaumont was created Viscount Beaumont by King Henry VI. [7] The word viscount corresponds in the UK to the Anglo-Saxon shire reeve (root of the non-nobiliary, royal-appointed office of sheriff). Thus early viscounts were originally normally given their titles by the monarch, not hereditarily; but soon they too tended to establish hereditary principalities in the wider sense. They were a relatively late introduction to the British peerage, and on the evening of the Coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838, the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne explained to her why (from her journals):

I spoke to Ld M. about the numbers of Peers present at the Coronation, & he said it was quite unprecedented. I observed that there were very few Viscounts, to which he replied "There are very few Viscounts," that they were an old sort of title & not really English; that they came from Vice-Comites; that Dukes & Barons were the only real English titles;—that Marquises were likewise not English, & that people were mere made Marquises, when it was not wished that they should be made Dukes. [8]

Early modern and contemporary usage


In Belgium a few families are recognised as Viscounts:

United Kingdom

A viscount is the fourth rank in the British peerage system, standing directly below an earl and above a baron (Lord of Parliament in Scotland). There are approximately 270 viscountcies currently extant in the peerages of the British Isles, though most are secondary titles. [9]

In British practice, the title of a viscount may be either a place name, a surname, or a combination thereof: examples include the Viscount Falmouth, the Viscount Hardinge and the Viscount Colville of Culross, respectively. An exception exists for Viscounts in the peerage of Scotland, who were traditionally styled "The Viscount of [X]", such as the Viscount of Arbuthnott. In practice, however, very few maintain this style, instead using the more common version "The Viscount [X]" in general parlance, for example Viscount of Falkland who is referred to as Viscount Falkland.

A British viscount is addressed in speech as Lord [X], while his wife is Lady [X], and he is formally styled "The Right Honourable The Viscount [X]". The children of a viscount are known as The Honourable [Forename] [Surname], with the exception of a Scottish viscount, whose eldest child may be styled as "The Honourable Master of [X]". [10]


The title of viscount (Irish : bíocunta) was introduced to the Peerage of Ireland in 1478 with the creation of the title of Viscount Gormanston, the premier viscountcy of Britain and Ireland, held today by Nicholas Preston, 17th Viscount Gormanston. Other early Irish viscountcies were Viscount Baltinglass (1541), Viscount Clontarf (1541), Viscount Mountgarret (1550) and Viscount Decies (1569).

Use as a courtesy title

A specifically British custom is the use of viscount as a courtesy title for the heir of an earl or marquess. The peer's heir apparent will sometimes be referred to as a viscount, if the second most senior title held by the head of the family is a viscountcy. For example, the eldest son of the Earl Howe is Viscount Curzon, because this is the second most senior title held by the Earl. [11]

However, the son of a marquess or an earl can be referred to as a viscount when the title of viscount is not the second most senior if those above it share their name with the substantive title. For example, the second most senior title of the Marquess of Salisbury is the Earl of Salisbury, so his heir uses the lower title of Viscount Cranborne.

Sometimes the son of a peer can be referred to as a viscount even when he could use a more senior courtesy title which differs in name from the substantive title. Family tradition plays a role in this. For example, the eldest son of the Marquess of Londonderry is Viscount Castlereagh, even though the Marquess is also the Earl Vane.

On occasion, the title of viscount may be the courtesy title used for the grandson of a duke, provided that he is the eldest son of the duke's eldest son. This is because the eldest son of the duke will be given the second highest title of his father (marquess or earl), and so the third-highest is left for his eldest son. It is possible for the great-grandson of a duke to hold the courtesy title of viscount if the duke's eldest son has the courtesy title marquess and his eldest son, in turn, uses the title of earl.


Coronet of a British viscount. Coronet of a British Viscount.svg
Coronet of a British viscount.
Coronet of the 6th Viscount Clifden. Coronet of a British Viscount.jpg
Coronet of the 6th Viscount Clifden.

A viscount's coronet of rank bears 16 silver balls around the rim. Like all heraldic coronets, it is mostly worn at the coronation of a sovereign, but a viscount has the right to bear his coronet of rank on his coat of arms, above the shield. In this guise, the coronet is shown face-on, featuring 9 silver balls. [12]


The island of Jersey still retains an officer whose function is purely to administer orders of the island's judiciary, and whose position remains non-hereditary. The role of the Viscount of Jersey (French: Vicomte de Jersey) involves managing fines, bail monies, seizures, confiscations, evictions, service of process, arrests for non-appearance in court and other enforcement procedures, as well acting as coroner for sudden or unexpected deaths and managing jury selection. [13]


In France until the end of the Second French Empire, the title of vicomte was below comte and above baron in precedence. [14]


In the former kingdom of Portugal a visconde ranks above a barão (baron) and below a conde (count). The first Portuguese viscountcy, that of D. Leonel de Lima, visconde de Vila Nova de Cerveira, dates from the reign of Afonso V. A flood of viscountcies, some 86 new titles, were awarded in Portugal between 1848 and 1880.


The Spanish title of vizconde is ranked between the title conde (count/earl) and the relatively rare title of barón.

In Spain, nobles are classified as either Grandee of Spain (Grandes de España), as titled nobles, or as untitled nobles. A grandee of any rank outranks a non-grandee, even if that non-grandee's title is of a higher degree, thus, a viscount-grandee enjoys higher precedence than a marquis who is not a grandee.

In the kingdom of Spain the title was awarded from the reign of Felipe IV (1621–65; Habsburg dynasty) until 1846.

Equivalent titles

Germanic counterparts

There are non-etymological equivalents to the title of viscount (i.e., 'vice-count') in several languages, including German.

However, in such case titles of the etymological Burgrave family (not in countries with a viscount-form, such as Italian burgravio alongside visconte) bearers of the title could establish themselves at the same gap, thus at generally the same level. Consequently, a Freiherr (or Baron) ranks not immediately below a Graf, but below a Burggraf.

Thus in Dutch, Burggraaf is the rank above Baron, below Graaf (i.e., Count) in the kingdoms of the Netherlands and of Belgium (by Belgian law, its equivalents in the other official languages are Burggraf in German and vicomte in French). In Welsh the title is rendered as Isiarll .

Non-Western counterparts

Like other major Western noble titles, viscount is sometimes used to render certain titles in non-western languages with their own traditions. Even though they are considered 'equivalent' in relative rank, they are as a rule historically unrelated and thus hard to compare.

The Japanese cognate shishaku (shi) (Japanese : 子爵) was the fourth of the five peerage ranks established in the Meiji period (1868–1911). The Japanese system of nobility, kazoku , which existed between 1884 and 1947, was based heavily on the British peerage. At the creation of the system, viscounts were the most numerous of all the ranks, with 324 being created compared to 11 non-imperial princes or dukes, 24 marquesses, 76 counts and 74 barons, for a total of 509 peers. [15]

Other equivalent titles existed, such as:

In fiction

Viscounts and viscountesses appear in fiction, notably in Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series where Anthony, Viscount Bridgerton is the eldest son and head of the eponymous family. He is also the focus of the second novel of the series, the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Viscount Who Loved Me , published in 2000. [16] The viscount is portrayed by Jonathan Bailey in the Netflix television adaptation Bridgerton released in 2020. [17] [18]

See also

Related Research Articles

A marquess is a nobleman of high hereditary rank in various European peerages and in those of some of their former colonies. The German language equivalent is Markgraf (Margrave). A woman with the rank of a marquess or the wife of a marquess is a marchioness or marquise. These titles are also used to translate equivalent Asian styles, as in Imperial China and Imperial Japan.

The peerage in the United Kingdom is a legal system comprising both hereditary and lifetime titles, composed of various noble ranks, and forming a constituent part of the British honours system. The term peerage can be used both collectively to refer to the entire body of nobles, and individually to refer to a specific title. British peerage title holders are termed peers of the Realm. The peerage's fundamental roles are ones of government, peers being eligible to a seat in the House of Lords, and of meritocracy, the receiving of any peerage being the highest of British honours. In the UK, five peerages or peerage divisions co-exist, namely:

Baron Title of nobility in Europe

Baron is a rank of nobility or title of honour, often hereditary, in various European countries, either current or historical. The female equivalent is baroness. Typically, the title denotes an aristocrat who ranks higher than a lord or knight, but lower than a viscount or count. Often, barons hold their fief — their lands and income — directly from the monarch. Barons are less often the vassals of other nobles. In many kingdoms, they were entitled to wear a smaller form of a crown called a coronet.

A courtesy title is a form of address in systems of nobility used for children, former wives and other close relatives of a peer, as well as certain officials such as some judges and members of the Scottish gentry. These styles are used "by courtesy" in the sense that persons referred to by these titles do not themselves hold substantive titles. There are several different kinds of courtesy titles in the British peerage system.

Count Nobility title in European countries

Count is a historical title of nobility in certain European countries, varying in relative status, generally of middling rank in the hierarchy of nobility. The etymologically related English term "county" denoted the land owned by a count.

Duke of Beaufort Title in the Peerage of England

Duke of Beaufort, a title in the Peerage of England, was created by Charles II in 1682 for Henry Somerset, 3rd Marquess of Worcester, a descendant of Charles Somerset, 1st Earl of Worcester, legitimised son of Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset, a Lancastrian leader in the Wars of the Roses. The name Beaufort refers to a castle in Champagne, France. It is the only current dukedom to take its name from a place outside the British Isles.

The Peerage of England comprises all peerages created in the Kingdom of England before the Act of Union in 1707. In that year, the Peerages of England and Scotland were replaced by one Peerage of Great Britain. There are five Peerages in the United Kingdom in total.

The Peerage of the United Kingdom is one the five Peerages in the United Kingdom. It comprises most peerages created in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland after the Acts of Union in 1801, when it replaced the Peerage of Great Britain. New peers continued to be created in the Peerage of Ireland until 1898.

Viscount Cobham Viscountcy in the Peerage of Great Britain

Viscount Cobham is a title in the Peerage of Great Britain that was created in 1718. Owing to its special remainder, the title has passed through several families. Since 1889, it has been held by members of the Lyttelton family.

Marquess of Cholmondeley Title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom

Marquess of Cholmondeley is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created in 1815 for George Cholmondeley, 4th Earl of Cholmondeley.

Duke of Leeds Dukedom in the Peerage of England

Duke of Leeds was a title in the Peerage of England. It was created in 1694 for the prominent statesman Thomas Osborne, 1st Marquess of Carmarthen due to his having been one of the Immortal Seven in the Revolution of 1688. He had already succeeded as 2nd Baronet, of Kiveton (1647) and been created Viscount Osborne, of Dunblane (1673), Baron Osborne, of Kiveton in the County of York and Viscount Latimer, of Danby in the County of York, Earl of Danby, in the County of York (1674), and Marquess of Carmarthen (1689). All these titles were in the Peerage of England, except for the viscountcy of Osborne, which was in the Peerage of Scotland. He resigned the latter title in favour of his son in 1673. The Earldom of Danby was a revival of the title held by his great-uncle, Henry Danvers, 1st Earl of Danby.

Spanish nobility Privileged social class in Spain

Spanish nobles are persons who possess the legal status of hereditary nobility according to the laws and traditions of the Spanish monarchy and those who hold personal nobility as bestowed by one of the three highest orders of knighthood of the Kingdom, namely the Order of the Golden Fleece, the Order of Charles III and the Order of Isabella the Catholic. A system of titles and honours of Spain and of the former kingdoms that constitute it make up the Spanish nobility. Some nobles possess various titles that may be inherited, but the creation and recognition of titles is legally a prerogative of the King of Spain.

Coronet Small crown consisting of ornaments fixed on a metal ring

A coronet is a small crown consisting of ornaments fixed on a metal ring. By one definition, a coronet differs from other kinds of crowns in that a coronet never has arches, and from a tiara in that a coronet completely encircles the head, while a tiara does not. By a slightly different definition, a crown is worn by an emperor, empress, king or queen; a coronet by a nobleman or lady. See also diadem.

The Baronetcy of Temple, of Stowe, in the Baronetage of England, was created on 24 September 1611 for Thomas Temple, eldest son of John Temple of Stowe, Buckinghamshire. His great-grandson Sir Richard, 4th Baronet, was created Baron Cobham on 19 October 1714, and Viscount Cobham and Baron Cobham on 23 May 1718, the latter with a special remainder, failing his male issue to his sisters and their heirs male. Upon his death on 13 September 1749, the barony of 1714 became extinct, the viscountcy and barony of 1718 passed to his elder sister, and the baronetcy passed to his second cousin once removed William Temple, of Nash House, who became 5th Baronet. On the death of Sir William's nephew Sir Richard Temple, 7th Baronet, on 15 November 1786, the baronetcy became dormant.

Grandee Aristocratic title conferred on Spanish nobility

Grandee is an official aristocratic title conferred on some Spanish nobility. Holders of this dignity enjoyed similar privileges to those of the peerage of France during the Ancien Régime, though in neither country did they have the significant constitutional political role the House of Lords gave to the Peerage of England and later Peerage of the United Kingdom. A "Grandee of Spain" would have nonetheless enjoyed greater "social" privileges than those of other similar European dignities.

Hereditary titles, in a general sense, are nobility titles, positions or styles that are hereditary and thus tend or are bound to remain in particular families.

A writ in acceleration, commonly called a writ of acceleration, is a type of writ of summons that enabled the eldest son and heir apparent of a peer with more than one peerage to attend the British or Irish House of Lords, using one of his father's subsidiary titles, during his father's lifetime. This procedure could be used to bring younger men into the Lords and increase the number of capable members in a house that drew on a very small pool of talent.

The British nobility is made up of the peerage and the landed gentry. The nobility of its four constituent home nations has played a major role in shaping the history of the country, although now they retain only the rights to stand for election to the House of Lords, dining rights there, position in the formal order of precedence, the right to certain titles, and the right to an audience with the monarch. More than a third of British land is in the hands of aristocrats and traditional landed gentry.

Marquesses in the United Kingdom Rank of nobility in the peerages of the United Kingdom

Marquess is a rank of nobility in the peerages of the United Kingdom.

Duke, in the United Kingdom, is the highest-ranking hereditary title in all four peerages of the British Isles. A duke thus outranks all other holders of titles of nobility.


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  2. Viscountess. Collins Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved 22 September 2014.
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  11. "Courtesy Titles". Debretts. n.d. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  12. "Ceremonial Robes". Debretts. n.d. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  13. "Functions of the Viscount's Department". States of Jersey. n.d. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  14. Saillens, Émile (1918). Facts about France: Brief Answers to Recurring Questions. Paris: Librairie Hachette. p. 166. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  15. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, p. 391.
  16. March 27, Maureen Lee Lenker Updated; EDT, 2022 at 01:26 AM. "How 'Bridgerton' season 2 differs from the novel 'The Viscount Who Loved Me'". Retrieved 6 June 2022.
  17. "Season 2 has officially cemented its place as the #1 English TV series on Netflix. One month after its premiere on Netflix, the secrets of Lady Whistledown have amassed a whopping 656.16M hours viewed". About Netflix. Retrieved 26 April 2022.
  18. Maas, Jennifer (19 April 2022). "Bridgerton Season 2 Overtakes Season 1 in Netflix's All-Time TV Rankings". Variety. Retrieved 19 April 2022.