How Nobles Could Be Stripped Of Their Titles

May 20, 2022 | Aristocracy, Noble Titles, Royal Titles

Many people wonder how it’s possible to become an aristocrat or to attain a noble title. Yet, there’s an aspect of being a member of the aristocracy that is rarely discussed – the fact that nobles can be stripped of their titles. 

It’s a little-known phenomenon that possession of a noble title is no guarantee of lifelong status or the assurance that generations to follow will inherit the rank and privilege. 

Here are just a few of the ways that members of the aristocracy could lose their title, status and social standing. 

Falling From Royal Favour 

The kings and queens of the ages were renowned for their benevolence with their devoted subjects, ennobling them with aristocratic ranks and titles, as well as gifting them land, property, or lucrative trade rights. Being a royal favourite could be a ticket to noble status that could last for generations. 

Yet, these same kings and queens were also known for their changing whims and fickleness with their favourites. Being a royal favourite may have seemed like an enviable privilege, but it could be a highly precarious position. Living so closely with such a powerful figure increased the chances of saying or doing something objectionable – especially around a monarch who had been raised to believe their every whim and fancy should be indulged without question. 

The kings and queens that wielded the power to grant noble titles also held the power to take such titles away. It was not unheard of for nobles to fall from royal grace and be stripped of their rights and privileges and even their noble title

Elizabeth, Lady Raleigh (née Throckmorton; 16 April 1565 – c. 1647) was an English courtier, a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Her secret marriage to Sir Walter Raleigh precipitated a long period of royal disfavour for both her and her husband.

Elizabeth, Lady Raleigh (née Throckmorton; 16 April 1565 – c. 1647) was an English courtier, a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Her secret marriage to Sir Walter Raleigh precipitated a long period of royal disfavour for both her and her husband. William Segar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Even those nobles who managed to stay on the right side of a certain sovereign were not immune to changes in their fortunes. The heyday of the aristocracy, the centuries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, were uncertain times and monarchies were subject to much more unpredictable changes than we expect to see today. 

Wars, invasions, revolutions and dark dealings – these could all result in a change of king or queen. As these monarchies changed hands, it would have been common for the new power on the throne to distribute royal favours according to their preferred courtiers and favourites. 

This could mean that rights, privileges and noble titles that had been granted under the previous sovereign were now revoked and gifted to a new royal favourite. On occasion, these changes were driven by political motives – kings and queens could often be strategic in honouring wealthy nobles whose support they hoped to elicit. Other times though, it could simply be a case of a new broom sweeping clean, a little like a change of government sees a new cabinet of more supportive ministers. 

Regardless of the monarch’s motives, however, the unpredictable nature of ruling sovereigns could spell the end of a noble family’s claim to their rank, status or title. 

Proof Of Illegitimacy

The entire system of aristocracy evolved around the strong belief in the superior nature of ‘blue blood’ ie the true noble lineage passed down through the generations from parent to child. 

Yet it’s also true that the nobility was subject to the same desires and weaknesses as humans everywhere, and so there were occasions of children being raised as nobles, when in fact their true birth origin was open to question. 

Sometimes the illegitimacy of these offspring was a closely guarded secret, with the child raised under the pretense that they were the genuine heirs to the noble rank. 

Other times, the true nature of the child’s parentage was uncertain, and so the child was assumed to belong to the noble family.

And there were even times when the child’s illegitimate background was openly acknowledged by the entire social circle, accepted by the noble classes renowned for their ability to turn a blind eye to such details, when relevant. 

And yet regardless of how a child was raised within the noble family, if their parentage was subject to question, there may come a time when their legal and authentic claim to an inherited noble title can be disputed. 

If an aspiring competitor for the title discovered the illegitimacy of the current holder, there was always the possibility that they would take steps to strip the imposter of their title and assert themselves in their rightful place. 

The details, legalities and practicality of such a method would be subject to many conditions. Yet the power and influence of noble titles are such that they are highly coveted by others, including relatives that may believe they have a more legitimate claim to the role. 

The history of the aristocracy is rife with stories of questionable births and the displaced relatives who take steps to redirect the noble lineage along more pure-bred lines. 

Unsuitable Occupation

Throughout the ages, the aristocracy has been famed for its strict rules on what was deemed appropriate or acceptable within its social structures. Often the most severe judgments would be the unspoken social agreements that members fell foul of at their peril. 

There were also official dictates, however, that members of the aristocracy had to adhere to, or face a reduction in rank or even the removal of their noble title. 

For example, as the French nobility evolved over the centuries, there were periods when it was considered illegal for a nobleman to work in some menial occupations. The aristocracy was deemed to be above such prosaic practices, and so any nobleman who resorted to manual labour was considered to be in breach of the aristocratic code of conduct. 

This felony was so vehemently opposed that any noble who insisted on working in an unsuitable occupation could be stripped of their aristocratic status and have their title revoked. 

This punishment could even be a permanent penalty, though often the nobleman in question would be granted a return to status when they ceased the labour or occupation that was deemed to be so damaging to the calibre of the aristocracy. 

The lives of the nobility are, in many ways, enviable lives of glamour, wealth and privilege. Yet, for some nobles, their status was by no means certain, and their position in society could be a precarious one. Particularly during the tumultuous times of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, becoming a noble, or being born into the aristocracy, was no guarantee that they would enjoy their noble status for life.

If learning about how nobles might be stripped of their titles has made you interested in acquiring your own prestigious Noble Title get in touch using the enquiry form in the sidebar or you can contact our Geneva office directly between 10.00-19.00, Monday to Friday on +41 225 181 360.

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