Earl and Countess
This is the third grade in the peerage. His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex is a member of the royal family and should be addressed as such (The Earl of Wessex).
It should be noted that although most peers of this rank are Earls 'of' Somewhere, there is a significant number that are not. The following titles are prefixed by 'Earl' not 'Earl of': Alexander of Tunis, Annesley, Attlee, Baldwin of Bewdley, Bathurst, Beatty, Belmore, Cadogan, Cairns, Castle Stewart, Cathcart, Cawdor, Cowley, De La Warr, Ferrers, Fortescue, Granville, Grey, Haig, Howe, Jellicoe, Kitchener of Khartoum, Lloyd George of Dwyfor, Mountbatten of Burma, Nelson, Peel, Russell, St Aldwyn, Spencer, Temple of Stowe, Waldegrave and Winterton.
In conversation, an earl is referred to as Lord (Bessborough) rather than the Earl of (Bessborough).
Ecclesiastical, ambassadorial and armed forces ranks precede an earl's rank in correspondence. For example, Major-General the Earl of (Bessborough)'.
When an earl is also a privy counsellor or has received a knighthood he has the appropriate post-nominal letters.
A number of earldoms can be inherited in the female line and a countess in her own right would be addressed as for the wife of an earl. Her husband derives no title or style from his wife.
The wife of an earl is a countess and is known as Lady (Bessborough). Use of the title countess in speech is socially incorrect unless it needs to be specifically mentioned, for example in a formal introduction. The sole exception to this is HRH the Countess of Wessex who is always referred to as Countess.
In official documents the style of The Right Honourable should still be used for both an earl and countess.
How to address an Earl and Countess
The recommended (social) style of address is as follows:
|Beginning of letter||Dear Lord/Lady Bessborough|
|End of letter||Yours sincerely|
|Envelope||The Earl/Countess of Bessborough|
|Verbal communication||Lord/Lady Bessborough|
|Invitation* & joint form of address||The Lord and Lady Bessborough|
|Description in conversation||Lord/Lady Bessborough|
|List of Directors or Patrons||The Earl/Countess of Bessborough|
|Place card||The Earl/Countess of Bessborough|
|Legal document||The Right Honourable Myles Earl of Bessborough, The Right Honourable Alison Countess of Bessborough|
*Note that, traditionally, invitations to a married couple, when sent to their home address, are addressed to the wife alone, with both names being inscribed on the invitation card. It has become increasingly acceptable, however, to address the envelope with both names.
Earl by Courtesy
Although the bearer of the title earl by courtesy enjoys none of the privileges of a peer, he is addressed as such with the following exceptions:
- an earl by courtesy is never accorded the formal style of 'The Right Honourable' unless he also happens to be a privy counsellor
- an earl by courtesy is not addressed as 'The' in correspondence. This is restricted to actual peers.
Normally a peer by courtesy is called 'Lord ……', but if there is a special reason for an earl by courtesy to be referred to by his precise courtesy title, he is called verbally 'the Earl of Arundel' this being the usual colloquial form of reference.
The wife of an earl by courtesy take the title of countess but, like her husband, there are some distinctions in how she should be addressed:
- she is never accorded the formal style of 'The Right Honourable'
- she is not given the prefix 'The' in correspondence. The same rules apply to the widow of a peer by courtesy.