The Order of Society
Though Jane Austen's characters are seldom above the level of the landed gentry, so many questions tend to arsise about the order of Lords and Ladies that I thought a page such as this might help.
(Portrait of Henrietta Vernon (Lady Grosvenor, wife of Richard, first Earl Grosvenor), 1766-67, oil on canvas, Collection of His Grace, The Duke of Westminster.)
Addressed as Duke or Duchess if one were a member of the nobility or gentry and addressed as "Your Grace" for everyone else. Dukes commonly held more than one title. The first son of the family generally took one of the lesser titles. This was not actually a peergae, he wouldn't inherit that until his father died. This was known as a "courtesy title." For example, if the Duke of Northumberland also held the title of Viscount St. Simon, his firstborn son would be known as Viscount St. Simon and would, as a Viscount, be called "Lord St. Simon." Younger sons and all daughters had the titles "Lord" and "Lady" in front of their first names. Since titles had nothing to do with the actual family surname, the younger children often sounded like they belonged to an entirely different family.A family dinner might consist of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, their son, Lord St. Simon, and their children, Lord James Smith, and Lady Anne Smith.
Also addressed by their titles. The Marquess and Marchioness of Exeter were known as Lord and Lady Exeter. They might also have a lesser title for the firstborn son and the rest of the children were styled in the same manner as in a Ducal family.
Addressed as were Marquesses and Marchionesses with Lord and Lady. However, only the eldest son of an Earl was called "Lord." Though his siters were Ladies, his younger brothers were known as Honorables (e.g."The Honorable John Smith."
Also addressed as Lord and Lady. Their children, both male and female, were known as "The Honorable."
The same as Viscounts and Viscountesses and their children.
NOT the Peerage, despite Mr. Elliot's airs
The man with a Baronetcy is given the title "Sir" accompanied by his first name; the woman takes the title "Lady" and her last name. As in Persuasion's Sir Walter and Lady Elliot
Addressed as is a Baronet
The Landed Gentry: a vague term meaning members of "good" family who did not hold titles. Most families in this group did hold quite a bit of land (e.g. the Dashwoods).
And the last group: Yeaoman Farmers (such as Robert Martin) and then everybody else.
Confused yet? Don't forget that Knighthoods were granted for the life of the recipient only and did not pass on to his children. Order of precedence even among Dukes and Marquesses depended largely on how long one's family had held the title since the older the title, the greater was one's standing. And families who had once been titled but whose lines had taken a turn for the female were still very much respected as members of the nobility. (Witness the respect paid to Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.) And if you still aren't confused, try this: an untitled female who married the younger son of a peer, took her husband's courtesy title. If for example, Miss Jane Adams married Lord Peter Smith, she became Lady Peter Smith. However, in a rare show of preference, if a titled young lady married an untitled man, she retained her title and he did not share it, though she did switch to his surname. For instance, if Lady Margaret Flippant married Mr. Joseph Sober, they became Mr. Joseph and Lady Margaret Sober.
One last thing-
Dowager: Pool says of this designation, "This was neither a courtesy title nor legal title but simply designated the widow of the titled male implied by the title, e.g the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple" (42).
For further information, check out the list of Works Cited and Related Sites.