A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder

It’s June! That means it’s time for another Countess of Harleigh mystery!

And she’s getting married! Yay! Hey. Wait a minute…how can Frances be the Countess of Harleigh if she’s marrying George Hazelton, who is definitely not the Earl of Harleigh.

Can she keep her title?

Should she keep her title? To find out, I had to do a little investigating into British titles.

Only one person at a time holds a hereditary title. There are cases where the titleholder is a woman, but since it’s usually a man, that’s how I’ll present this. In fact, I’ll use the fictious Wynn family who hold the title, Earl of Harleigh, as an example.

When Reggie’s father was alive, he was the Earl of Harleigh. His eldest son, Reggie, would have taken any lesser title attached to the family, unless there wasn’t one. In this case there wasn’t one, so while his father lived, Reggie would be addressed as Lord Reginald Wynn. Never Lord Wynn. His wife, Frances would have been Lady Reginald Wynn. Less formally, she might have been Lady Reggie. Never Lady Wynn. Never Lady Frances.

When Reggie’s father died, Reggie became The Right Honorable, The Earl of Harleigh, or Lord Harleigh. It was a hereditary title, and he was stuck with it. But for Frances it would still be a courtesy title. After Reggie died, she became Frances, Countess of Harleigh. That’s even true if they had divorced. But what happens when she remarries? Hmmm? Frances and George do get married. And these are the Countess of Harleigh mysteries, aren’t they? Should I really be drawing your attention to this?

I consulted my usual guide, Titles and Forms of Address, about this issue. There I learned that upon remarriage a widow forfeits any right to her previous courtesy title. That’s the rule. However, in practice, at least in Frances’ day, widows and divorcees frequently continued to use their titles after remarriage. Even though there is no legal justification for this, the courts have backed down and given no ruling when an ex-husband has brought a suit against an ex-wife for retaining her former title. Even Catherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, continued to be known as Queen Catherine after her marriage to Lord Seymour of Sudeley.

So, strange as it sounds, the answer seems to be, if Frances wants to remain Frances, Countess of Harleigh, she can. You’ll see, in A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder, she hasn’t decided yet. Her mother has certainly encouraged her to keep it. Frances did spend nine years earning it. But on the other hand, she loves being Mrs. Hazelton. What do you think? Should Frances keep her title or style herself as Mrs. Hazelton? And if she becomes Mrs. Hazelton, should the series still be The Countess of Harleigh mysteries?

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