The second most senior rank in the peerage, beneath duke, is marquess. The marquess stands above the ranks of earl, viscount and baron. The dignity of a marquess is referred to as a marquessate.
Marchio was a Norman term of reference to earls or barons guarding the Welsh and Scottish Marches, or border territories. Similarly in Germany the Count (or Graf) became known as Markgraf, anglicised to Margrave.
The title was introduced to England by King Richard II, brother-in-law of the Margrave of Brandenburg, the honour being conferred upon Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who became Marquess of Dublin in 1385. The title was conferred by letters patent under the Great Seal, which represents the Sovereign’s authority.
The fact that the new title of marquess was given precedence over earls caused great offence to the latter, and de Vere’s patent was revoked in 1386.
The title of marquess remained unpopular in England. John Beaufort was the eldest of the legitimated sons of John of Gaunt. When his title, Marquess of Dorset, was attainted (forfeited) and the House of Commons appealed to King Henry IV for its restoration in 1402, Beaufort begged the king not to restore this particular title ‘as the name of marquess is a strange name in this realm’.
At present there are 34 marquesses (not including courtesy marquesses). The premier marquess of England is the Marquess of Winchester (created 1551), who lives in South Africa. The premier marquess in Scotland is the Marquess of Huntly (created 1599). Since 1989 only one marquessate has become extinct, Ormonde, in 1997.