Remarriage of Peers' Widows


If a peer's widow remarries, she forfeits any title or style acquired by her former marriage and should take that of her new husband, unless she has any courtesy style of her own which takes precedence of his.  In the past not a few have retained their previous styles.  There is not the slightest justification for this.  They do so, not in pursuance of any recognised custom, as I have stated, but because they cannot bear to give up their titular style, though they want the other advantages of a second marriage.  This solecism has even been perpetrated by widows of eldest sons of peers using secondary peerages as purely courtesy titles.


If the widow of a peer marries another peer she takes her new husband's style, but here again there have been cases where the lady retained her fomer style if it was of higher rank than her new.  Thus when the widow of the third and last Duke of Buckingham and Chandos made a second marriage with Earl Egerton of Tatton she still used the ducal style, though she would have been summoned to Court only as Countess Egerton of Tatton.


To complete the explanation under this head perhaps it should be added that in England and Ireland peeresses who have divorced their husbands or been divorced by them generally still continue to bear their husbands' styles, though in law they probably cease to be peeresses.  When new wives appear on the scene former wives distinguish themselves by prefixing their Christian names to their titles.


There is on record an action brought by the third Earl Cowley, whose wife, formerly Lady Violet Nevill, had divorced him, seeking to restrain her from using the title of Countess Cowley after the divorce, on the ground that her use of the title was an injury to his "incorporeal hereditament", the earldom.  She called herself Violet Countess Cowley, and was so known in society.  The eloquence of the late Lord Haldane, who was Lord Cowley's counsel, persuaded the Divorce Court to grant an injunction against the Countess, but this decision was quickly upset in the Court of Appeal on the ground that the ordinary courts of law had no jurisdiction to consider a question of honour, and when the case was carried to the House of Lords that august body agreed with the Court of Appeal in no uncertain terms.  Thus the Cowley case decided nothing.


In Scotland the position is different.  There the law regarding a peeress whose marriage has ended in a divorce is as if her husband were dead, and she takes her legal rights as a widow.


The point arose at the beginning of this century in regard to the Marchioness of Queensberry, who had divorced her husband, the eighth Marquis.  She claimed her right as a peeress to be summoned to the Coronation of King Edward VII, and was refused.  Her lawyers sought the counsel of the then Mr. Francis Grant, Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records in the Court of Lord Lyon (afterwards Sir Francis, and Lyon King of Arms), and he advised that they should claim that the question be referred to the Law Officers for Scotland.


This was done, and the late Viscount Dunedin, then Sir Andrew Murray, the Lord Advocate, confirmed Mr. Grant's view, but said that the Lord Chancellor (Lord Halsbury) had given a wrong opinion, but that he must be let down gently.  The result was that Lady Queensberry received a special invitation to the Abbey.