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Aristocracy

So You Think You Want to Be a Nobleman?

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Peers and Peeresses Assemble in Anteroom before the Coronation of King George V

Contrary to common belief, it wasn’t easy or painless to be elevated to the peerage. In fact, there were many hidden costs associated with the King and Prime Minister bestowing a title on a man of means or reputation. A journalist in The Lady’s Realm details these costs!

The Procedure

  1. The King notifies the Secretary of State for the Home Department of his intention to raise Mr. Smith to the peerage
  2. The Home Secretary shares the King’s command with the Clerk of the Crown, who prepares the warrant for the new peerage with His Majesty’s signature
  3. The warrant is signed by His Majesty and the Home Secretary, and is then sent to the Lord Chancellor, who also signs the document
  4. The Letters Patent of the Peerage is prepared by the Stationery Office

The Costs

  • The Letters Patent: £5 (~£550 in 2017)
  • Barony: £360 17s (~£39,000)
  • Viscountcy: £467 4s 6d (~£50,000)
  • Earldom: £574 12s (~£62,000)
  • Marquessate: £691 12s (~£75,000)
  • Dukedom: £809 12s (~£88,000)
  • Special limitation in special remainder (if new peer has no sons and wants title to be passed through female line): varies by each remainder and the title–Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts paid over £1750 for his earldom to allow his title to be passed through his daughters)
  • Robe, designed for each step of the peerage, necessary when introduced to the House of Lords: £40-50
  • Coronet, designed for each step of the peerage: up to £450
  • Three-cornered beaver hat, worn during introduction to House of Lords: £10-15

(current values compared to 1910 calculated using Stephen Morley’s calculator)

Lady Angela Forbes on her Debut in Society

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Lady Angela Forbes

Lady Angela Forbes was born Lady Angela Selina Bianca St Clair-Erskine (1876–1950) to the rakish 4th Earl of Rosslyn and his wife, the former Mrs. Charles Maynard. From her mother’s first marriage, she was half-sister of Daisy, Countess of Warwick. At adulthood, she was nearly 6 feet tall and devoted her life to hunting and shooting. She married James Forbes in 1896, and they divorced in 1907. By 1912, she was known as the longtime mistress of Lord Elcho, which granted her entree into The Souls. This excerpt is from her memoirs, Memories and Base Details (1921)


I SUPPOSE my coming out really dates from a cotillon given by Lady Kilmorey at the “Savoy,” although in those days coming out meant curtseying to the Queen, and before that event one was definitely and irrevocably in the schoolroom. My debut might have been hastened had I agreed to finishing my education in Germany; but having escaped from German governesses I had no desire to see their country or eat their food. At the last moment, though the cab to take me to the station was actually at the door, I jibbed, finally and firmly; so my boxes were unloaded and as an alternative I was kept for another six months in the schoolroom in Scotland.

But to return to the cotillon. Blanchie (her half-sister, Lady Algernon Gordon- Lennox née Blanche Maynard)  took me. It was quite small and a ” married woman’s ” ball, which meant that very few girls were asked. Gerald Paget led it I can’t remember who with, but I can distinctly recollect one figure, a Noah’s Ark with pairs of all the animals that Noah had ever seen and more besides! The man had to find the woman with the corresponding animal; an enormous number of animals came my way and I was introduced to so many people that evening that my brain positively reeled.

The Drawing-room was a week later. I had a lovely white frock made by Mrs. Mason. She was “it” in the dressmaker line; all her models came direct from Jean Worth, and everyone who had any pretension to dressing well in those days bought their frocks from her. She was a most perfect old lady and might have been a duchess instead of a dressmaker. She lived in Old Burlington Street and always wore a black cashmere or taffeta frock herself, with a folded white fichu. She it was who revived the ” picture gown,” and she took her models for these from Romney and Gainsborough. Her prices were supposed to be exorbitant, but compared to those of to-day they were almost insignificant!

I was terrified of tumbling over my train, and I didn’t like the feathers in my hair at all. We had the entree, so there was none of that waiting about incidental to most Drawing-rooms. I had been carefully instructed to kiss the Queen’s hand, and that she would kiss my cheek, but when it came to the point I quite forgot all my instructions and I kissed her on both cheeks. I realized too late what I had done, and felt distinctly foolish, but the Queen didn’t seem to mind a bit. The Prince of Wales, who saw my dilemma, of course chaffed me about it, which added to my discomfiture; but I went on bobbing to the other Royalties until I suddenly found my train flung over my arm by a gentleman-in-waiting, and I was out of the room. It was all over so quickly that it seemed a fearful waste of time to have dressed up for those few minutes. After that I was properly launched into the vortex of the London season, and the days were filled up with the usual entertainments and other events which were crowded in between Easter and Goodwood.

La Belle Époque Paris and Its Society

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Personnages by Jean BéraudFrance may have been a Republic, but the glories of its aristocracy lived on. Granted, the upheaval of the last one hundred years resulted in a fragmented upper class, and the last vestiges of their political power died with the Boulanger scandal; nevertheless, its members remained incredibly exclusive, envied, and emulated.

To be an accepted member of le gratin, or upper crust, one was required to have “an up-to-date jacket and a fairly old title.” These qualifications were further stratified into the old aristocracy and the fast and smart Tout Paris, of which the former was then broken down into Legitimists and Orléanists, Bonapartists and Empire aristocracy descended from the twenty-four families Napoleon ennobled, the even more exclusive Catholic society, and the Good Protestant Society, known as the “BPS”. Below them were the wealthy industrialists from the provinces (silk barons from Lyons, shipping magnates, etc), well-bred members of the Bourse, and a few titled Jewish families (i.e. Rothschilds).

In Paris, the purest gratin lived in Faubourg Saint-Germain, where black-clad dowagers looked down upon frivolity and rarely opened its doors to outsiders. The smarter set, the aforementioned Tout Paris, lived in elegant mansions along the Champs-Élysées or equally elegant apartments above Baron Haussmann’s boulevards. Tout Paris encompassed the smart, the wealthy, the best-dressed, and the well-born, and filled the social pages of Paris’s newspapers. Most were ardent Anglophiles who aped the Prince of Wales’s sartorial tastes and appetite for women, food, entertainment, and gambling. As in England, society revolved around the club, sporting events, and house parties, but unlike in England, club life—the most exclusive being the Jockey, the Agricole, the Travellers’, and the Royale—was social and exciting, with exhibits, balls and concerts that women could attend.

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