As I write this column, the person who has been the holder of more nobility titles than anyone in the world has died today. At 88, she was also one of Europe’s wealthiest aristocrats.
Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva was born in 1926, in the Liria Palace, Madrid, only daughter of the 17th Duke Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart y Falco and Maria del Rosario de Silva y Gurtubay.
Known as the Duchess of Alba, she had 40 other titles. 14 times a Spanish grandee, five times a duchess, once a countess-duchess, 18 times a marchioness, 18 times a countess and once a viscountess, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Which started me wondering about the meanings of some of the noble titles we use in our crossword clues and what they originally meant. Here are just a few:
Starting at the top, an Emperor or Empress rules over an empire, made up of several countries. It comes from the Latin imperãtor ‘commander-in-chief’, from imperãre ‘to command’. In other languages, Emperor is Caesar (Roman), Kaiser (German) and Tsar (Russian).
Interesting to note that in Rome there was no title for an empress regnant, as a woman could not rule in her own right. The same in Germany, a Kaiserin was merely the wife of a Kaiser. Only Britain and Russia had an Empress or a Tsarina.
The next in rank is King, which comes from the Germanic kuningaz which roughly means ‘son of the people’. Queen comes from the Old Saxon quãn ‘wife’, despite the fact that a queen can rule in her own right.
Prince and Princess come from the Latin princeps, ‘first man, ruler’ and Duke and Duchess come from the Latin dux ‘leader’ – once used for the ruler of a duchy.
A Marquess or Marchioness was once ruler of a march, an area of land on the border of two countries, though the title is not frequently used now.
Count, ruler of a county, is more commonly called an Earl in Britain. Earl comes from the Scandinavian jarl ‘chieftain’.
Baron is from Latin baro ‘man’.
Baroness Orczy, author of The Scarlet Pimpernel, had this to say about titles: “Money and titles may be hereditary, but brains are not.”