Chapter I: Of Degrees Of People In The Commonwealth Of Elizabethan England

We in England, divide our people commonly into four sorts, as gentlemen, citizens or burgesses, yeomen, and artificers or labourers. Of gentlemen the first and chief (next the king) be the prince, dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons; and these are called gentlemen of the greater sort, or (as our common usage of speech is) lords and noblemen: and next unto them be knights, esquires, and, last of all, they that are simply called gentlemen. So that in effect our gentlemen are divided into their conditions, whereof in this chapter I will make particular rehearsal.

The title of prince doth peculiarly belong with us to the king's eldest son, who is called Prince of Wales, and is the heir-apparent to the crown; as in France the king's eldest son hath the title of Dauphin, and is named peculiarly Monsieur. So that the prince is so termed of the Latin word Princeps, since he is (as I may call him) the chief or principal next the king. The king's younger sons be but gentlemen by birth (till they have received creation or donation from their father of higher estate, as to be either viscounts, earls, or dukes) and called after their names, as Lord Henry, or Lord Edward, with the addition of the word Grace, properly assigned to the king and prince, and now also by custom conveyed to dukes, archbishops, and (as some say) to marquesses and their wives.. . .

Unto this place I also refer our bishops, who are accounted honourable, called lords, and hold the same room in the Parliament house with the barons, albeit for honour sake the right hand of the prince is given unto them, and whose countenances in time past were much more glorious than at this present it is, because those lusty prelates sought after earthly estimation and authority with far more diligence than after the lost sheep of Christ, of which they had small regard, as men being otherwise occupied and void of leisure to attend upon the same. Howbeit in these days their estate remaineth no less reverend than before, and the more virtuous they are that be of this calling the better are they esteemed with high and low. They retain also the ancient name ("lord") still, although it be not a little impugned by such as love either to hear of change of all things or can abide no superiors. For notwithstanding it be true that in respect of function the office of the eldershipis equally distributed between the bishop and the minister, yet for civil government's sake the first have more authority given unto them by kings and princes, to the end that the rest may thereby be with more ease retained within a limited compass of uniformity than otherwise they would be if each one were suffered to walk in his own course. This also is more to be marvelled at, that very many call for an alteration of their estate, crying to have the word "lord" abolished, their civil authority taken from them, and the present condition of the church in other things reformed; whereas, to say truly, few of them do agree upon form of discipline and government of the church succeedent, wherein they resemble the Capuans (of whom Livy doth speak) in the slaughter of their senate. Neither is it possible to frame a whole monarchy after the pattern of one town or city, or to stir up such an exquisite face of the church as we imagine or desire, sith our corruption is such that it will never yield to so great perfection; for that which is not able to be performed in a private house will be much less be brought to pass in a commonwealth and kingdom, before such a prince be found as Xenophon describeth, or such an orator as Tully hath devised.. . .

Dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons either be created of the prince or come to that honour by being the eldest sons or highest in succession to their parents. For the eldest ton of a duke during his father's life is an earl, the eldest son of an earl is a baron, or sometimes a viscount, according as the creation is. The creation I call the original donation and condition of the honour given by the prince for good service done by the first ancestor, with some advancement, which, with the title of that honour, is always given to him and his heirs males only. The rest of the sons of the nobility by the rigour of the law be but esquires; yet in common speech all dukes' and marquesses' sons and earls' eldest sons be called lords, the which name commonly doth agree to none of lower degree than barons, yet by law and use these be not esteemed barons.

The barony or degree of lords doth answer to the degree of senators of Rome (as I said) and the title of nobility (as we used to call it in England) to the Roman Patricii. Also in England no man is commonly created baron except he may dispend of yearly revenses a thousand pounds, or so much as may fully maintain and bear out his countenance and port. But viscounts, earls, marquesses, and dukes exceed them according to the proportion of their degree and honour. But though by chance he or his son have less, yet he keepeth this degree: but if the decay be excessive, and not able to maintain the honour (as Senatores Romani were amoti a senatu), so sometimes they are not admitted to the upper house in the parliament, although they keep the name of "lord" still, which cannot be taken from them upon any such occasion.

The most of these names have descended from the French invention, in whose histories we shall read of them eight hundred years past.. . .