|This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (July 2009)|
|Sovereign Prince / Fürst|
|Marquess / Marquis / Margrave / Landgrave|
|Count / Earl|
|Viscount / Vidame|
An earl is a member of the nobility. The title is Anglo-Saxon, akin to the Scandinavian form jarl, and meant "chieftain", particularly a chieftain set to rule a territory in a king's stead. In Scandinavia, it became obsolete in the Middle Ages and was replaced with duke (hertig/hertug). In later medieval Britain, it became the equivalent of the continental count (in England in the earlier period, it was more akin to duke; in Scotland it assimilated the concept of mormaer). However, earlier in Scandinavia jarl could also mean sovereign prince. For example, the rulers of several of the petty kingdoms of Norway had in fact the title of jarl and in many cases of no lesser power than their neighbours who had the title of king. Alternative names for the "Earl/Count" rank in the nobility structure are used in other countries, such as Hakushaku during the Japanese Imperial era.
In modern Britain, an earl is a member of the peerage, ranking below a marquess and above viscount. There never developed a feminine form of earl; countess is used as the equivalent feminine title.Contents
According to Procopius, the Heruli, after having raided the European continent for several generations, returned to Scandinavia in 512 AD as a result of military defeats. As their old territory was now occupied by the Danes, they settled next to the Geats in present-day Sweden. While the Proto-Norse word for this mysterious tribe may have been erilaz, which is etymologically near "jarl" and "earl", and it has often been suggested they introduced the runes in Scandinavia, no elaborate theory exists to explain how the word came to be used as a title. Arguably, their knowledge in interpreting runes also meant they were gifted in martial arts and, as they gradually integrated, eril or jarl instead came to signify the rank of a leader.
The Norman-derived equivalent "count" was not introduced following the Norman conquest of England though "countess" was and is used for the female title. As Geoffrey Hughes writes, "It is a likely speculation that the Norman French title 'Count' was abandoned in England in favour of the Germanic 'Earl' precisely because of the uncomfortable phonetic proximity to cunt".Earls in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth