Viscount

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Count & Countess

Baronet & Baronetess

A viscount (pronounced /ˈvaɪkaʊnt/ vye-count) is a member of the European nobility whose comital title ranks usually, as in the British peerage, above a baron, below an earl (in Britain) or a count (the earl's continental equivalent).

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Etymology

The word viscount, known to be used in English since 1387, comes from Old French visconte (modern French: vicomte), itself from Medieval Latin vicecomitem, accusative of vicecomes, from Late Latin vice- "deputy" + Latin comes (originally "companion; later Roman imperial courtier or trusted appointee, ultimately count).

As a rank in British peerage, it was first recorded in 1440, when John Beaumont was created Viscount Beaumont by King Henry VI. The word viscount corresponds in Britain to the Anglo-Saxon shire reeve (root of the non-nobiliary, royal-appointed office of sheriff). Thus early viscounts were originally normally given their titles by the monarch, not hereditary; but soon they too tended to establish hereditary principalities lato sensu (in the wider sense).

Viscounts in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth

A viscount is said to hold a "viscountship" or "viscounty", or (more as the area of his jurisdiction) a "viscountcy". The female equivalent of a viscount is a viscountess. There are approximately 270 viscountships currently extant in the peerages of the British Isles.

  • In British practice, the title of a viscount may be either a place name, or a surname, or sometimes, a combination thereof. In any event, the style of a viscount is "The Viscount [X]", or "The Viscount [X] of [Y]". He is addressed as "My Lord". Examples include The Viscount Falmouth (place name); The Viscount Hardinge (surname); The Viscount Gage of Castle Island (surname of place name); and The Viscount Combermere of Bhurtpore (placename of placename). An exception exists for Viscounts in the peerage of Scotland, who were traditionally styled "The Viscount of [X]", as in: The Viscount of Arbuthnott (surname)—very few maintain this style, instead using the more common version "The Viscount [X]".

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