Is it possible to claim a noble title from an ancestor several generations back, even when the male line has been broken by a female descendant?

One of the titles is Earl, and the country of that title is Ireland.

How does one go about this?

  • 3
    It depends on the title, and the laws that dictate who inherits the title. I'm afraid it is impossible to provide any answer without further details.
    – Harry V.
    Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 3:03
  • There is an edit button beneath your question which will enable you to revise it with additional details. I suspect that it may need you, at a minimum, to say the country involved and the title type e.g. Duke, Count, etc.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 3:11
  • 2
    Not all dukedoms or counties have the same pattern of heredity, therefore to provide a useful answer we need the specific title in question.
    – Harry V.
    Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 3:20
  • 2
    Hi, welcome to G&FH.SE. If someone is offering to help you hook into a particular lineage in order to get something in return (money, a title, or some other gain), it could be a scam. On the PBS show Genealogy Roadshow this week, Josh Taylor showed one family that their family story of being heirs to someone's fortune was very likely a result of a known fraudster's soliciation (the 1850ish equivalent of the Nigerian spam campaigns).
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 16:05

1 Answer 1


Short version: Almost certainly not.

Long version:

To find out the rules of inheritance for a Irish peerage*, you would need to check the letters patent. These will specify how the inheritance takes place (the limitation on the remainder).

For the most part, the inheritance is only through legitimate male heirs (heirs male of the body). This means descendants of the original holder only - so it is possible for it to pass back to a brother, uncle, cousin, etc. if someone dies without legitimate sons, as long as they are descendants of the man the title was originally created for.

In some cases a peerage is created with a special remainder, e.g. in the case of Earl Roberts, his sons had already predeceased him, therefore a special remainder allowed his daughters and their male heirs to inherit (there were no male heirs, and the title is now extinct). In another special case, that of the Duke of Marlborough, the rules of inheritance were actually changed by Act of Parliament to stop the title becoming extinct.

In a very few cases instead of "heirs male" the inheritance is through "heirs general" - i.e. women can inherit. The only known extant Irish peerage that descends through heirs general is Viscount Massereene (and the associated title Baron Loughneugh).

In principle, there might be a legitimate heir to a peerage that was thought to be extinct. This happened in 1831 where the title of the Earl of Devon was successfully claimed (it had been dormant since 1556) by a distant cousin. In practice, I don't see it happening. It would not be enough to show you were descended - even if you descended through the male line - you would also need to show there were no other legitimate claimants. Just like Prince Harry being in line for the throne, but not at the head of the queue ;).

*the status of the "Irish Peerage" is a little complicated these days - the Republic of Ireland does not confer titles or permit citizens to accept them without permission. In practice this means that these titles are under the control of the UK crown, and in the Republic of Ireland they are considered 'courtesy titles' only.

  • I was working for a client recently who was an Earl. His father had managed to revive the dormant title. In their archives, there were several shelves of the legal arguments required to make their case. What helped was that they were able to produce a charter from Charles II in the 17th century. That was for a family that still lived on the estate. As @nkjt says, it may be technically possible, but a VERY long shot.
    – neil
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 22:31

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