Understanding the differences between a Lord & a Sir

The British Honours Order is a noble establishment dating back centuries and it can be confusing to understand when you first start to learn about it. One of the most common questions we get asked by anyone researching how to get a Knighthood is What is the difference between a Lord and a Sir. 

According to Mirriam-Webster.com, the answer is quite simple: Sir is used to address a man who has the rank of baronet or knight; the higher nobles are referred to as Lord. You can learn more about the History of The Queen’s Honours in this post.

But what does this actually mean?

What is a Baronet or a Knight or a higher noble?

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What does the term Baronet mean?

A Baronet is higher than a Knight, but lower than a Baron. Baronet’s are addressed as Sir and the term Baronet was first created by King James I of England in May 1611. These days you cannot be awarded the title of Baronet and there are just 1000 left now in the UK. Any person wishing to be recognized as a Baronet must prove succession to the relevant dignity, to the satisfaction of the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.

What is a Knight & how do you get a Knighthood?

According to Wikipedia “​​A knight is a person granted an honorary title of knighthood by a head of state (including the Pope) or representative for service to the monarch, the church or the country, especially in a military capacity.”

Knighthood is a title which is bestowed upon an individual (usually a man) by the Queen of England for services to his country or outstanding personal achievement. 

Damehood is a title bestowed upon a woman by the Queen of England and is the female equivalent of a Knighthood. 

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Are you a Sir with an OBE?

We are often asked the questions, ‘is OBE a Sir?’ Or ‘is CBE a Sir?’

However, the answer is not straightforward, effectively a man who has been given a knighthood can put `Sir’ in front of his name instead of `Mr. ‘ Examples of British Citizens awarded Knighthoods for personal achievements include the actor Sir David Jason and musicians Sir Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney. However, there are different ranks of Knighthood.

Only the top two ranks of Knighthood, GBE and KBE are eligible to use the title Sir or Dame. However, individuals who are awarded a CBE, OBE or MBE may be awarded an additional higher rank at a later date which enables them to use the title Sir. 

You may wonder why personal achievement would entitle someone to use the title Sir? It is commonly believed that a Knighthood is offered as thanks and recognition for favourable representation of the United Kingdom. Knighthoods are decided and announced by the Cabinet Office twice a year: at New Year and on The Queen’s official birthday in June.

Is a Lord higher than a Sir?

In short, yes a Lord is higher than a Sir, let’s explore why this is. 

The title Sir is used to address a man who has the rank of baronet or knight; the higher nobles are referred to as Lord, so effectively a Lord is higher than a Sir.

Any man who has the rank of Duke, Marquess, Earl/Count, Viscount, and Baron can be addressed as Lord. Any woman with the rank of Marchioness, Countess, Viscountess, Duchess or Baroness.

Traditionally, these ranks were obtained through land ownership and these days, the most common ways to become a Lord or Lady is to either inherit the title through parentage or through marriage. You can also purchase a piece of land from the current owner and have the title bestowed upon the new landowner. There are companies who specialise in this process, particularly in Scotland.