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A marquess or marquis (UK //; French: "marquis", //) is a nobleman of hereditary rank in various European peerages and in those of some of their former colonies. The term is also used to translate equivalent oriental styles, as in imperial China, Japan, and Vietnam (Annam). In the United Kingdom the title ranks below a duke and above an earl (see "Marquesses in the United Kingdom").
The theoretical distinction between a marquess and other titles has, since the Middle Ages, faded into obscurity. In times past, the distinction between a count and a marquess was that a marquess's land, called a march, was on the border of the country, while a count's land, called a county, often wasn't. Because of this, a marquess was trusted to defend and fortify against potentially hostile neighbors and was thus more important and ranked higher than a count. The title is ranked below duke, which was often restricted to the royal family and those that were held in high enough esteem to be granted such a title.
They were a relatively late introduction to the British peerage: no marcher lords had the rank of marquess, though some were earls. On the evening of the Coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838, the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne explained to her why (from her journals):
"I spoke to Ld M. about the numbers of Peers present at the Coronation, & he said it was quite unprecedented. I observed that there were very few Viscounts, to which he replied "There are very few Viscounts," that they were an old sort of title & not really English; that they came from Vice-Comites; that Dukes & Barons were the only real English titles; — that Marquises were likewise not English, & that people were mere made Marquises, when it was not wished that they should be made Dukes".
The word "marquess" is unusual in English, ending in "-ess" but referring to a male and not a female. In continental Europe it is usually equivalent where a cognate title exists.[clarification needed] A woman with the rank of a marquess, or the wife of a marquess, is a marchioness // in the United Kingdom, or a marquise // elsewhere in Europe. The dignity, rank or position of the title is referred to as a marquisate or marquessate.
In the German lands, a Margrave was a ruler of an immediate Imperial territory (examples include the Margrave of Brandenburg, the Margrave of Baden and the Margrave of Bayreuth), not simply a noble like marquesses/marquises in Western and Southern Europe. German rulers did not confer the title of marquis; holders of marquisates in Central Europe were largely associated with the Italian and Spanish crowns.
The word entered the English language from the Old French marchis ("ruler of a border area") in the late 13th or early 14th century. The French word was derived from marche ("frontier"), itself descended from the Middle Latin marca ("frontier"), from which the modern English words "march" and "mark" also descend. The distinction between governors of frontier territories and interior territories was made as early as the founding of the Roman Empire when some provinces were set aside for administration by the senate and more unpacified or vulnerable provinces were administered by the emperor. The titles "duke" and "count" were similarly distinguished as ranks in the late empire, with dux (literally, "leader") being used for a provincial military governor and the rank of comes (literally "companion," that is, of the Emperor) given to the leader of an active army along the frontier.
In Italy the equivalent modern rank (as opposed to margravio) is that of marchese, the wife of whom is a marchesa, a good example of how several languages adopted a new word derived from marquis for the modern style, thus distinguishing it from the old "military" margraves. Even where neither title was ever used domestically, such duplication to describe foreign titles can exist.
Like other major Western noble titles, marquess or marquis is sometimes used to render certain titles in non-Western languages with their own traditions, even though they are, as a rule, historically unrelated and thus hard to compare. However, they are considered "equivalent" in relative rank.
This is the case with:
^ Although the vast majority of marquessates are named after places, and hence their holders are known as the "Marquess of X", a very few of them are named after surnames (even if not the bearer's own), and hence their holders are known as the "Marquess X". In either case, he is still informally known as "Lord X", regardless whether there is an of in his title, and it is always safe to style him so.