A marquess is the second-highest rank of the peerage, after duke and above earl. The title is also written marquis. Current usage is to prefer the -ess spelling, except for old Scottish ones. It is pronounced MAR-kwis in either case. The wife of a marquess (or, rarely if ever, a woman who inherits a marquessate in her own right) is a marchioness, MAR-sh'n-ess or mar-sh'n-ESS.

The -is spelling corresponds to French marquis, the -ess to Spanish marqués, Portuguese marquês; the Italian is marchese. In Germanic countries the equivalent title is margrave, from Dutch markgraaf, German Markgraf. This combines mark with the Germanic title Graf meaning earl or count.

The first element exists in English as mark and march, both meaning a border region. (The more familiar meanings of these two words are unrelated.) The Welsh Marches were ruled by Marcher Lords; Tolkien had his Riddermark; and we can say one country marches with or on another, meaning it borders it. Also related is Latin margo, from which comes margin. Medieval Latin borrowed the Germanic root and developed two words marchensis and marchio; the latter gives the feminine marchioness.

A marquee tent is so called because it was of a size and opulence suitable for a marquise, a French marchioness. The -s ending of marquees was then misinterpreted as plural and dropped off. Letters of marque are so called because they authorised naval action outside the mark (boundary) of the nation.


The title of marquess was late to appear in Britain. Robert de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, was created Marquess of Dublin in 1385 but this was rescinded the following year when he was promoted to Duke of Ireland. Next was John Beaufort, the Earl of Somerset, who between 1397 and 1399 was elevated to Marquess of Dorset and Somerset. He was disgraced, the Commons sought to have him reinstated, but he didn't like this strange title anyway. Only with his son did a marquessate become permanent in English life, when he was created Marquess of Dorset in 1443.

The oldest one still existing is that of Winchester, created 1551, and the Marquess of Winchester is therefore Premier Marquess of England. The Premier Marquis of Scotland is Huntly, 1599, and that of Ireland is Kildare, which is held by the Duke of Leinster. The only other pre-Union English marquessate is Tweeddale, 1694; and the only other ones in Scotland are Queensberry 1682 and Lothian 1701. There are currently 34 marquesses altogether, of whom 6 are Irish peers, but the great majority of all these were created ten years either side of 1800.

By the way, I don't know where the spelling Queensbury comes from or what validity it has, but the title is officially Queensberry. There is a dukedom and a marquessate of that name, both descending in the Douglas family, but apparently with different remainders, because sometimes they have been held by the same person and at other times the marquessate goes to someone else. Today there is a Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry and a Marquess of Queensberry. As it's a pre-Union Scottish title he ought to be Marquis, not -ess, but he's in Who's Who as an -ess, so that's his choice.

Style and precedence

The eldest son of a marquess is by courtesy styled by his father's second title. This should preferably be one of the next rank down, Earl, but if his father doesn't hold an earldom the son is known by whatever lesser title is available, though ranks as an earl in precedence. Other children of a marquess are styled Lord or Lady with both forename and surname, e.g. the Marquess of Winchester's eldest son is called Earl of Wiltshire and his other children might be Lord John Paulet or Lady Anne Paulet.

A marquess is almost always of somewhere, though there are several that omit the of. In either case they are usually referred to as Lord, not as Marquess, without the of: e.g. the Marquess of Winchester is normally called Lord Winchester.

The formal manner of address to a marquess is "My Lord", and an envelope would be addressed to "The Most Honourable the Marquess of...", and the letter headed "My Lord", and this is what you would expect in a novel set in the past; but today the formal styles are less used. You would socially write "The Marquess of..." and "Dear Lord Winchester", and address him as "Lord Winchester".

The younger son of a duke is normally styled with a courtesy title of his father's second title, which is likely to be a marquessate. So the Duke of Bedford's son is styled Marquess of Tavistock, but not the Marquess of Tavistock, because his father is that. The "Most Honourable" only applies to actual marquesses, not eldest sons using courtesy titles.


A marquess's robe has four bars of ermine on the right and three on the left. Peers have two kinds of robe, a Coronation robe of crimson velvet lined with miniver, and a Parliamentary robe (for those now-gone days when they all sat in the House of Lords) of scarlet lined with taffeta.

A marquess's coronet is a golden circlet with four strawberry leaves around it (pointing up from it), alternating with four silver balls (called pearls) on points. The coronet itself is chased as if in the form of jewels (like a royal crown) but is not actually jewelled. It has a purple cap (lined ermine) in real life and a crimson one in heraldic representation. It has a gold tassel on top. The alternation of strawberry leaves and pearls is what distinguishes a marquess's coronet from those of other ranks.

W.W. Skeat, A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, Oxford 1882
A.C. Fox-Davies, A Complete Guide to Heraldry, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1909
Whitaker's Almanac
Encyclopaedia Britannica

Mar"quess (?), n. [Cf. Sp. marques. See Marquis.]

A marquis.

Lady marquess, a marchioness. [Obs.]



© Webster 1913.

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