January 19th, 2020


Titles are indicators of function. If a person has "Doctor" in front of their name it tells the world they have expertise in some particular area- most commonly medicine. And if a person has "Captain" in front of their name it indicates that they can probably be entrusted with the care of a ship or an aeroplane.

Titles also confer a certain status. This makes sense within the sphere in which the person's expertise is exercised. For the sake of the smooth running of the organisation to which they belong it makes sense for the private soldier to defer to the sergeant- but if they meet down the pub after retiring from the service there's no reason for that deference to continue. It needs to be added that titles are only the roughest guide to a person's competence- and the world is full of title-holders who are not really up to the job.

A royal personage exercises a particular function within a polity. In the past that function was clearer than it is today- but it's still understood that a person with HRH in front of their name should be available to do certain jobs. If that person withdraws their labour there's no earthly reason why they should continue to use the title. The world has long agreed that there's a certain pathos to persons who cling to titles and status they're no longer working to sustain...

Titles 2

I've been reading about Egypt at the time of the first dynasty (in Joan Grant's Winged Pharoah- wonderful book, read it, read it, read it!) at which time titles meant exactly what they said. They were job descriptions. If you were Vizier of Whereveritwas it meant you resided in that place and managed its affairs and if you bungled the job you could be removed from office. No title was honorary, no title- except perhaps that of Pharoaoh- was hereditary (and even then the job had to be trained for and worked at). The idea that someone could call themselves Vizier of Whereeveritwas and reside in the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of Monte Carlo would have been considered absurd.

Modern titles are a mixture of the functional and the preposterous. The Archbishop of York does in fact have ultimate responsibility for the running of the Diocese of York- and a palace in that city, but the Duke of Devonshire has his ancestral seat in Derbyshire. The titles the Queen hands out to her nearest and dearest are particularly absurd- by which I mean non-functional. The Duke of Edinburgh has no particular connection with Edinburgh- and no responsibilities towards it- and the Duke of Cambridge didn't even go to Cambridge University. To his credit the current Prince of Wales has always taken his geographical responsibilities seriously, owns property in the Principality and, I believe, speaks a few words of the language.

According to the latest information the Duke and Duchess of Sussex- who so far as I know have no property in Lewes or Chichester (or even Arundel- which is owned by the Duke of Norfolk) are about to take up residence in Canada.