Up From the Mud
According to The Custom, all of the Six Kingdoms share and recognize a system of titles; due to their proximity to the Kingdoms, many city-states maintain analogous titles. This rank system shapes the life of every individual raised with the Custom, form the lowest peasant to kings themselves.
One of the most important aspects to the peerage system is the right to petition: in order to properly request audience with any noble, one must hold sufficient rank, or be vouched for by someone who does. To petition a King, once must be at least an Earl (though few monarchs waste their personal time with anyone lower in rank than a Duce, preferring to route mere Earls to their seneschals). Urducén and Ducén each have their own rules, though for them to deign to speak to a Baron or lower is something infrequently beheld at best. An Earl is the lowest title that a member of the petty nobility can hope to address directly.
There are exceptions to the right to petition, as noted below.
Most noble titles are inheritable, passing from one title holder to a named legitimate heir. Some have been held for scores of generations in the same direct lineage, while other noble lines have suffered extinction of one branch or have lost lands through marriage contracts. Though most titles tend to be masculinized in nature (Earl, Count, Duce, King), the title itself can pass through women as well; if a noble names a daughter as heiress (in some places, this is common if the eldest is a daughter, in others, if the family has borne only daughters), the title will follow to the heiress’ husband. Often, out of respect for the heiress’ lineage, the husband will alter his own family name on marriage, incorporating a syllable or sound from his wife’s maiden name (the House Tiplis, for example, is linearly descended from the Tipporan, who married an heiress from the older House Fidlis, holders of the kingdom of Balos for all of recorded history, in effect “founding” the Tiplis).
In roughly descending order of rank, these title define the Solevesi peerage system. Many titles have both gendered names (example: King and Queen), but also include an older, gender-neutral term, which is used both by scholars, who like to save on ink when writing on the subject of courtly etiquette, and in formal language, where it is considered impolite to refer to a person by a gendered name or title unless you are a relative, a very close friend or you mean to express a direct carnal interest in the subject of your address.
King/Queen (Monache): the hereditary ruler of a proper kingdom. The title of Queen belongs to the wife of a King, and though they are equal in title, queens have only rarely ruled on their own, while a great many Queens Regent have wielded considerable power by proxy for their eldest children.
Prince/Princess (Morz): an immediate descendant of a Monache. Formally higher in rank than any of the lesser nobility, but unofficially trusted with less actual authority than an Urduce.
Emir, equivalent in rank to a Morz, this title is awarded to someone not in direct line of succession. The most powerful hereditary city-state rulers maintain this title.
Urduce/Urducese (Urduc): the highest title that still maintains fealty to a greater lord, Urducén rule over entire countries within a kingdom. Most Urducén are first-cousins to their monarch; and the King will often hold a country as his own in addition to the title of Monache.
Duce/Duchese (Duc): holding title either over a subsection of a country or a free-standing duchy in the kingdom,
Earl/Countese (El): an Earl rules over between nine and twelve hundreds (lands which might support a hundred peasant families), commonly called a county.
Graf (Langraf, Margraf): a title awarded in exchange for military service in the defense of a stretch of land. The exact title reflects the type of service: Margravén have defended or pacified an area on the border or outskirts of a kingdom, while Langravén receive their titles bringing peace to an area within a kingdom. While the rank of a Graf is equal to that of a Earl, they owe fealty directly to the throne, rather than to a Duce. This is because the title itself is often seen as an affront to the higher rank; a king would not have to award a Landgravate if the reigning noble were able to control their lands, nor a Margravate if a borderlands noble could hold the line against a foreign incursion. Conversely, while created Gravén are greatly respected for their military achievements, those who inherit the title without further proving their worth are less honored in each generation; few Gravates last more than a few generations without either ascending to their own as baronies or being absorbed into a neighboring land grant. Because of their unique circumstances, even a King will often grant audience to a Graf.
Baron: a hereditary landholder owing fealty to an Earl or Graf and ruling over one to five hundreds, granted at the discretion of the Earl in recognition of service. An Earl will often create a Barony out of lands he holds rights to but which are troublesome or far removed from his own stronghold; as a result, Barons often are held in contempt by their subject peasants.
Veserl: title awarded by an Earl or Graf to denote one who helps administer the county, covering administrative and judicial matters. A Veserl is equivalent in title to a Baron, but holds jurisdiction over an aspect of the Earl’s affairs rather than a plot of land. Veserly is not hereditary in fact, but it is not uncommon for the son or daughter of once Veserl to follow in the parent’s footsteps.
Ladze: an honorific awarded for exceptional loyalty, conferring a measure of privilege among a given hundred, though without literal title to the land. Ladzery is the highest rank of petty nobility, though not awarded lightly, as it is a hereditary title. Often, this title is granted to commoners who bring a key constituency into the influence of their Earl or Graf. Local militia leaders, guild chairmen or the leaders of Free Orders are the most likely candidates to be created Ladzén. Though they aren’t widely loved today, prior to the Crofters’ War, many Coiner Princes first held this title. There is some disdain between the “City Ladzén,” those who earn their title and very quickly move toward an urban center to be nearer to court (and thus are seen as social climbers), and “Country Ladzén,” who remain on the lands they ostensibly have honors on (and thus are seen as pompous both by the common folk and by their city peers).
Knight: an individual who has distinguished themselves through valor in battle and conduct in court. “Knight” is formally a gender-neutral term, though in point of fact, the vast majority with the opportunity to earn knighthood have been men. Few if any knights rise above this rank. This title is unique in that it may be granted by any individual holding a title greater than that of a Knight; in practice, however, most lords will honor a field-knighthood performed by any of their own sworn knights. Thus, among many groups of knights, the title itself is less important than the reputation of the noble who performed the knighting and/or those who have sworn an individual knight into their service. This knightly pedigree is also the key to a great many doors within the peerage system; a knight may, in theory, petition even the greatest of ranks for an audience, and may even have their wish honored, based on the knight’s own history. It is rare for a knight to abuse this privilege, as they are just as easily disposed as knighted in the first place, but a great many lesser lords send knights as messengers for just this reason.
Gentry: the lowest title to be even considered a part of the peerage system, a member of the Gentry is most often simply a very prosperous farmer patriarch; one who tithes well in addition to his land rent, can conduct himself well among his social betters and manages to engineer the kind of circumstances necessary to encounter said betters in the first place is already halfway to becoming a member of the gentry.