MARQUESS, or Marquis (Fr. marquis, Ital. marchese; from med. Lat. marchio, marchisus, i.e. comes marchiae, "count of the March"), a title and rank of nobility. In the British peerage it is the second in order and therefore next to duke. In this sense the word was a reintroduction from abroad; but lords of the Welsh and Scottish "marches" are occasionally termed marchiones from an early date. The first marquess in England was Robert de Vere, the 9th earl of Oxford, who was created marquess of Dublin by Richard II. on the 1st of December 1385 and assigned precedence between dukes and earls. On the 13th of October following the patent of this marquessate was recalled, Robert de Vere then having been raised to a dukedom. John de Beaufort, earl of Somerset, the second legitimate son of John of Gaunt, was raised to the second marquessate as marquess of Dorset on the 29th of September 1397, but degraded again to earl in 1399. The Commons petitioned for the restoration of his marquessate in 1402, but he himself objected because "le noun de Marquys feust estraunge noun en cest Roialme." From that period this title appears to have been dormant till the reign of Henry VI., when it was revived (1442), and thenceforward it maintained its place in the British peerage. Anne Boleyn was created marchioness of Pembroke in 1532. A marquess is "most honourable," and is styled "my lord marquess." His wife, who is also "most honourable," is a marchioness, and is styled "my lady marchioness." The coronet is a circlet of gold on which rest four leaves and as many large pearls, all of them of equal height and connected. The cap and lining, if worn, are the same as in the other coronets (see Crown and Coronet). The mantle of parliament is scarlet, and has three and a half doublings of ermine.
In France, so early as the 9th century, counts who held several counties and had succeeded in making themselves quasi-independent began to describe themselves as marchiones, this use of the word being due to the fact that originally none but the margraves, or counts of the marches, had been allowed to hold more than one county. The marchio or marquess thus came to be no more than a count of exceptional power and dignity, the original significance of the title being lost. In course of time the title was recognized as ranking between those of duke and count; but with the decay of feudalism it lost much of its dignity, and by the 17th century the savour of pretentiousness attached to it had made it a favourite subject of satire for Molière and other dramatists of the classical comedy. Abolished at the Revolution, the title of marquess was not restored by Napoleon, but it was again revived by Louis XVIII., who created many of Napoleon's counts marquesses. This again tended to cheapen the title, a process hastened under the republic by its frequent assumption on very slender grounds in the absence of any authority to prevent its abuse. In Italy too the title of marchese, once borne only by the powerful margraves of Verona, has shared the fate of most other titles of nobility in becoming common and of no great social significance. (See also Margrave.) (J. H. R.)