Viscount

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A Viscount (French: vicomte, Latin: vicecomes) is a member of the European nobility. A viscount usually ranks above a baron and below a count. The female equivalent is a Viscountess.

History[change | change source]

In France and Western Europe[change | change source]

Beginning in the early ninth century the Carolingian kings appointed counts to run local county governments. The counts used viscounts or deputy counts to assist them.[1]

The viscounts served as deputies of the county. They had military, financial, administrative and judicial authority.[2] They carried out court orders and held courts of their own.[2] Viscounts also collected money for the king.[2] Starting with the reign of Philip the Fair[a] they were paid regular salaries.[2] In the early tenth century, viscounts in the south of France gave themselves the rights of counts for their own profit. In Narbonne and Nimes the office became hereditary just like that of a count.[4] Elsewhere in France viscounts began replacing counts where they could.[4] A Viscounty (or Viscountship) was the office, area or jurisdiction of a viscount.[4] By the eleventh century viscounts had become hereditary offices in most of Western Europe. In Normandy, before 1066, Duke William I began to view the position of a viscount as being removable.[5] After 1066, and as King of England, William made several of his viscounts in Normandy, earls in England (an English earl was about the same as a count in Europe). But there were no viscounts in the English peerage and he did not create any.

In eleventh century Italy, the office and the lands of a viscount began to be thought of as the hereditary property of the family. The title, as with that of count or marquis was used by all members of a family.[6]

In England[change | change source]

The first introduction of the title of viscount in England was in the fifteenth century.[7] The first to be recognized, John Beaumont was already a viscount in Maine. This was to give him a rank above the barons in the English peerage.[7] Afterward it became a regular rank in the peerage.[7] In England, and later in the United Kingdom, a viscount ranks above a baron but below an earl. The wife of a viscount is called a countess.

Notes[change | change source]

  1. Philip reorganized his court and used professional civil servants and court officers instead of advisors.[3] The viscounts served as key local officials the king could rely on. Unlike other officers viscounts could be promoted to higher offices beginning with his reign.[3]

References[change | change source]

  1. Archibald R. Lewis, The Development of Southern French and Catalan Society, 718-1050 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965), p. 114
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Joseph R. Strayer, 'Viscounts and Viguiers under Philip the Fair', Speculum, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Apr., 1963), p. 243
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Middle Ages: Dictionary of World Biography, Vol 2, ed. Frank N. Magill (Oxford; New York: Routledge, 1998), pp. 736-37
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The New Cambridge Medieval History III C.900-c.1024, ed. Timothy Reuter (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 437
  5. Maurice Powicke, The Loss of Normandy: 1189 - 1204; Studies in the History of the Angevin Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), p. 49
  6. Chris Wickham, Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society, 400-1000 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989), pp. 143-44
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 William Stubbs, The Constitutional History of England, in Its Origin and Development (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1878), P. 437