Isn't the UK a wonderful country? You can be born a lowly serf without two brass farthings to rub together, learn to play a guitar, and by the time you are ready to retire you get an invitation to Buckingham Palace to receive a gong from the Queen. After that it's easy street for you; invitations to open village fetes, a seat on the board of major corporations; serfs bowing to you in the street. Blimey, the toffs have it good!
The UK has one of the most extensive systems of titles and honours in the World, but what do all those titles and honours actually mean? "Lord Muck", as we say in London, is right at the bottom of the aristocratic totem pole. As one of the holders of that title I'll walk you through the aristocratic hierarchy of the British Isles.
At the top is Her Majesty The Queen. She is the only person in the Commonwealth who can be addressed as "Her Majesty" and has sole authority to bestow titles and honours on her subjects (although governments often select the candidates or, in the case of Canada, forbid their citizens to hold foreign titles).
Next in the pecking order come members of the Royal Family who hold the title of "His/Her Royal Highness".
Next in line are the peers. There are five ranks of the peerage:
All except Dukes can be referred to as "Lord". All are members of the British House of Lords and were hereditary until 1958 . Since 1958 there are also Life Peers with the rank of baron. Persons called "Lord" or "Lady"+first and last name have courtesy titles meaning they are sons or daughters of a peer.
Below the peerage are two classes of knights entitled to be addressed as "Sir"+first name:
1. Baronets - a hereditary title
2. Knights - a non-hereditary title
Wives of knights may be addressed as "Lady"+surname
Orders of Chivalry
1. Order of the Garter (K.G.)
2. O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) has 5 grades:
i. Knights Grand Cross (G.B.E.) carries title "Sir"
ii. Knights Commander (K.B.E.) carries title "Sir". Female holders are called "Dame" (D.B.E.)
iii. Commanders (C.B.E)
iv. Officers (O.B.E.)
v. Members (M.B.E.)
Orders of the Bath (G.C.B. etc) similarly has five grades
Order of St Michael (G.C.M.G etc) similarly has five grades
Royal Victorian Order (G.C.V.O. etc) similarly has five grades
Order of Merit (O.M.)
Order of the Companions of Honour (C.H.)
Down among the weasels, stoats and ferrets comes "Lord Muck" - like owners of shops in the Commonwealth flogging British stuff. Is it too late for me to learn to play the guitar?