Friday, January 17, 2020

On the Pursuit of Noble Titles

More Thoughts on Noble Titles

In an essay titled “Courting Dishonor” in The New Criterion January 2020 issue, author Simon Heffer writes:
“Some people angle desperately for letters to put after their name, or even better, a title before it . . .”

I've spent lots of time thinking about how to get a noble title or into the society of the rich & powerful, at least for my PCs. I've written about it here, here, here, here , and here.

The New Criterion essay made me think about a way of getting a Noble title that I had not considered before. The PC who finds that he has a lot of cash (up into the MCr range) can just BUY a title. Go to the sovereign of some world with a Pr trade code and offer a wad of cash. In exchange you get the right to style one's self Baron of Somewhere or other.

In England, a Baronetcy had no political authority vested in it. It was a title paid for with cash, which means only the wealthy could get it. A Baronet could brag of having a title (like a certain Percy Blakeney, Bart.) which he could pass on. Whatever other benefits accrued were social not material. The king, on the other hand, got a big cash infusion.

Ian Fleming's novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service involved a villainous character trying to get a patent of nobility. The claim was spurious, but the villain thought he could do it through bribery and deception. I don't recall what further villainy he intended to do from there. Though the PCs wouldn't think of using a title as a pretext for crime. Right?

How far would you go to get this estate?

I have written a bit about the idea of social promotion but always from the perspective as SOC promotions coming as the result of real effort – as a reward for success.

It is possible that a titled person that the PCs interact with is a political title holder. That is, they have a title because of material or military support given to the current local leader. The title serves to secure that guy's loyalty, either by the offer of the title or the threat of taking it away.

Does it make a difference? Even if they aren't a hereditary noble (the Savior-Faire set) they must have some amount of power & influence. 

But I have come to realize that titles do not correlate to the amount of money the Noble has. Penniless Earls and Dukes are possible. Sometimes the only power gaining a title confers is the social status. There may not be land entailed, or the land is worthless. In space that might be an airless asteroid with a name but few resources. It might be a stretch of undeveloped land on the outskirts of the settled part of the planet. Further, there is no rule that Titles of Nobility must be an hereditary thing. Your kids may be out of luck.

Sometimes titles are given out for frivolous reasons. Consider the Knighthood of various British pop singers. In an episode of my favorite Brit-TV show, As Time Goes By, a minor character is up for an OBE for “Services to Dentistry”. Yes, he is offered a Knighthood for being a dentist. The character ends up declining it by accident; he's a nincompoop.

In the film The Prisoner of Zenda, the secondary antagonist Rupert of Hentzau schemes to gain higher social status. He offers the hero a deal. Rupert asks the king to give him the titles & estates that belong to the primary antagonist, the king's bastard brother. In return, Rupert will betray said brother and secure the king on his throne.

This is the kind of political infighting that Travellers can get pulled into. In the novel, the king's brother has a retinue of fighters, known as The Six. Rupert of Hentzau is their leader. They are hired guns. This is the sort of job Travellers might take.

Why do things like the British Honors List exist? To dispense patronage. It is a way of binding powerful people to the ruler/monarch. Even outside of monarchical governments, patronage can exist to ensure political reliability. The New Criterion essay mentions that Queen Victoria once elevated a Marquess to a Duke after she learned that he was richer than she was. She wanted him on her side.
Your Majesty, I'm richer than you.

Some titles attach to offices within the government, and some of those offices come with sinecures. A PC who acquires a sinecure gets in essence a long-term or permanent patron. The figure who granted the title can assign the PC whatever duties the patron needs. Some players may enjoy that, but Traveller leans towards the freelance operator model.

There can be other honorifics that don't provide any physical benefits. A PC could receive an Order of Merit type thing, “Friends of the Sovereign”. You get to know other folks in the Order, and get into exclusive events, but it does not make you a Noble. Country Clubs are the same concept, but private rather than governmental or public.

In summary, I realized that I need to expand my vision of what a Noble title might mean. It can be more than (and less than) a hereditary membership in the noblesse oblige class of the fabulously wealthy. Also, this broader understanding can help explain those PCs who started off as Commoners and ended up with titles.

In my recently-concluded campaign in the Church and Empire setting, my son played a Naval officer of the Talaveran Empire. He started off at SOC-A. Then he hit just about every +1SOC skill slot and muster out benefit he could, and ended up with a Social Standing of 16. Yes, you read that right.

I decided to interpret his meteoric rise this way: he gained a few promotions for military merit (Legion of Honor, Order of St. Michael & St George) and later met & got himself engaged to the Crown Princess of the Empire. So his new rank was Consort to the Princess. Also the King's son-in-law. Here is his full list of honors & titles:

Jackson Grace, Lord of Jacale (Bishor)

Knight of the Order of Serenity Valley
Knight Commander of the Order of the Iron Mountain
Knight Commander of the Order of the Imperial Legion
Knight Commander of the Order of the Star
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Iridium Throne
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael & St George

Baron Grace of Oviedo (Bishor)[2nd barony]
His Eminence the Marquis of Zaragosa
His Grace, Count Cantabria (Bishor)
His Grace, Duke Jacale of Santiago de Compostela (Talavera)
His Grace, the Prince Consort to her Royal Highness, the Crown Princess Fionella

What would your PCs be willing to do if they knew that a Knighthood or a Baron(etc)y would be the reward? How much would your PCs be willing to pay to get it?

Castle courtesy of Pixabay
Duke of Westminster from Wikimedia Commons


  1. I enjoy coming up with titles for my PC-generated NPCs.

  2. Depends on the character. I've got the Captain who wants to be a noble, the First Officer who is rather indifferent to the whole thing (Mustang), and the Engineer is a minor noble (secondary child) who wants nothing to do with the politicking involved with it. All of them would take a title if offered, but for different reasons. One for desire, another from duty to family, and a third as a just reward.