Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

'I suppose you'd call yourself Baroness Wordsworth of the Lakes,' said my husband in one of his facetious attempts. He was only doing it because we had people there.

We had been talking about this sudden rash of 'Baronesses'. I think it was when Mrs Thatcher (having become Lady Thatcher on the knighting of her husband) went to the Lords herself that the rot set in. The Evening Standard referred last week to `Baroness Helena Kennedy'. That is plain wrong.

The wife of a simple peer of the lowest grade is called Lady Simple, or whatever his title is. The lowest grade is baron, but it is not the custom to refer to barons by the style 'Baron'. They are called 'Lord', except in formally technical circumstances. Even in the House of Lords, when one peer is referring to a baron he calls him `the noble lord, Lord Simple'. There is no way of telling from the way he is addressed whether a lord is a life peer or an hereditary peer.

I can see that some women peers might want to call themselves 'Baroness', to show that they are not merely the wife of a peer. But technically it does not even achieve that aim, for the wife or widow of a baron can just as truly call herself a baroness.

What no one can do correctly is to insert her Christian name between the 'Baroness' and the title. …

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