The unique social order known as the aristocracy has beguiled and fascinated the populace ever since the first elite nobles of Roman times enchanted the townsfolk with their glamour, elegance, extravagance and wealth. 

We typically define aristocracy as the highest class in society and, throughout the ages, over the many centuries since those first aristocrats claimed their elevated role in society and took advantage of the feudal or legal privileges their high status afforded them, the nobility through world history have been an enduring source of interest and curiosity. 

Perhaps it is human nature to aspire to the highest echelons of virtue, honour, recognition, social status and influence. Whatever the reason, many ordinary people around the world have been drawn to observe the world of the most notable aristocrats, to study their unique place in society, or to be entertained by stories of their sumptuous homes, vast estates or indulgent lifestyles. 

French Aristocracy & Ruling Class.
French Aristocracy & Ruling Class – Antoine-Jean Duclos, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Some of this interest is historic, based on a love of the legends and infamy that history’s most famous aristocrats enjoyed. Yet, there are also aspiring personalities, who feel called to live the modern equivalent of the heyday of the aristocrats. 

So, it’s not uncommon for people to wonder, what does it take to enjoy that elevated world of sophistication and high society living? What is it like to be part of such a captivating and exclusive social group? And is it possible for those not born into the hereditary noble lines to join their esteemed circles and enjoy hereditary privilege as they once did? 

How to Become an Aristocrat in the Past

With many of the world’s countries moving from monarchies to republics over the last few centuries, there are fewer royal families and even fewer occasions whereby monarchs bestow noble and aristocratic titles on their subjects. As a result, the routes to joining the ranks of the aristocracy are very limited. Yet, in the centuries past, there were a variety of ways of becoming an aristocrat. 

Throughout the cultural shifts of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, these opportunities did alter over time, and as the arbiters of the legal options, as well as the unspoken rules within the aristocracy, decided who could join such an exclusive club. Yet, there were generally a few proven routes into the aristocracy that endured for much of the last millennia. 

Here are some of the ways it was possible to become an aristocrat in the past; 

• Military prowess

Possibly the oldest route to noble status was to prove your military prowess and devotion to king (or queen) and country. Some of the oldest noble titles, such as Lord, Baron, Marquis, Count and Knight, were awarded to valiant and courageous military men who demonstrated outstanding skill or bravery in battle

• Royal warrant

As the nobility evolved during the Middle Ages, it became more common for subjects to be ‘ennobled’ by a sovereign. This meant they were granted a noble title, sometimes with property and privileges included. While these were still awarded for military successes, there were increasing occasions of royal warrants being granted to favoured subjects for other reasons. These included political support of the monarch, because in times past, some rulers were at the mercy of powerful local leaders, and one way to gain their support was to reward their loyalty with noble status or grand estates. 

• Social kinship

The royal courts of the last few centuries were renowned for their social intrigue and shifting allegiances. However, if you found yourself in the right proximity to the king or queen, and managed to become their close friend, supporter or ally, this connection was often blessed with a high-ranking noble title. Again, these gifts of royal kinship could often include a decadent manor house, a small hamlet, or in some cases an entire palace. 

One famous example of a Queen’s Favourite was the first Duke of Marlborough, who so impressed his sovereign Queen Anne in the 18th century, that she upgraded his nobility from an Earl to a Dukedom, as well as gifting him Blenheim Palace, in recognition of his service. However, the Duke is also an example of falling foul of royal favour, as the queen’s patience with the funding of his palace renovations began to wane and she ultimately withdrew her support. 

How to Become an Aristocrat in Modern Society

Once the aristocracy became established over the centuries of the Middle Ages, there opened up some new pathways into this intriguing social circle. 

Some of the following options became available as routes into the esteemed world of the aristocracy, and while these options are rare and limited, they are still available today.  

• Inherit a Noble Title

The classic way to become an aristocrat is to be born into an aristocratic family. As there are still noble lines in modern society, it’s possible that hereditary titles may be passed along the generations. Since these are often subject to laws of primogeniture, ie available to the firstborn males, noble titles and inheritances can sometimes find their way to unsuspecting persons depending on their family tree. 

• Marry into the Aristocracy

Marriage has always been a popular choice for advancing social standing and it has been a common practice within the aristocracy for centuries. While the present-day opportunities may be more limited than they once were, it is still possible, in theory, for those not born into noble lines to marry into them instead, granting them aristocratic status and an entrée into the exclusive circles within the higher echelons of society. 

Marrying into Royal Titles and the Aristocracy.
Royals and marriage – Robbie Dale, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

•Purchase a genuine Title of Nobility

It’s not widely known that it is possible to purchase a noble title, and that such a transaction entitles the new holder to legitimately claim their aristocratic status. While this may not seem like the traditional route into the nobility, there is actually a long and respected history of the purchasing of noble titles at all levels of society throughout the ages. 

So, if you are one of the many who are captivated by the unique allure of the aristocratic lifestyle, you might find that one of these is an option for you, enabling you to enter into the historic and dazzling world of the modern nobility, joining the ranks of centuries of aristocratic lineage, and maybe becoming the head of a new noble line of your own.