Within the ancient systems of aristocracy and nobility, there are many ranks and titles that have become familiar terms in our modern vocabulary. 

Throughout this complex and highly nuanced social system, the various titles of nobility comprise a wide range of terms, with some being very well known across the whole spectrum of society, both ancient and modern, while others are less widely known, particularly beyond the inner realms of the aristocratic sphere. 

The Most Famous Noble Titles

The nature of history is such that it records the stories of the prominent personalities and eminent figures of the ages, those in positions of power and influence on the world stage. 

As a result, the history books are rife with accounts and legends of the great Dukes and Counts of Europe, the fearless Knights and Barons who fought valiantly alongside their Medieval kings, and the infamous Duchesses and Ladies whose noteworthy lives at the top of the social order secured their place in posterity. 

Works of literature over the ages have also brought many of the aristocratic titles and positions into the minds of readers across the entire social spectrum. For example, the enduring popularity of the works of Jane Austen has opened up the worlds of high-ranking nobility to people from all walks of life, introducing memorable Earls, Countesses and Viscounts to her many fans and readers. 

Thanks to these fictional and factual records, so many of us are familiar with the more prevalent noble ranks from the last millenia. Most of us have heard of the main titles from the traditional hierarchy that ranges from the Grand Dukes and Archdukes at the top of the aristocratic order, through the middle ranks of Marquises, Counts and Viscounts, to the ancient titles of Baron, Lord and Knight. 

Rare & Unusual Noble Titles

There are some lesser-known noble titles, however, that are unfamiliar to many modern people. While these rare and unusual aristocratic ranks may be less infamous than their legendary counterparts, many are no less ancient, historic and endlessly fascinating. 

One such rare noble title is a moniker that flourished during the heyday of the french aristocracy – the era of Louis XIV, the great king of France known as The Sun King and infamous for his development of the spectacular Versailles Palace – and that’s the complex and ancient title of Chevalier. 

What Is A Chevalier? 

In the simplest sense, a Chevalier is a title and rank within the realm of nobles and cavalrymen that translates as the French equivalent of a Knight. 

The ranks and roles of knights throughout the ages have a broad and varied history depending on their country of origin. For example, the great Spanish Knights of old have a distinct custom, different to that of the Knights of Old England, such as King Arthur and his legendary Knights of The Round Table. 

Yet the term Chevalier is uniquely French, and as such, it tells the story of the French Knights of the ages, the heroes on horseback, as well as the elegant noble chevaliers that made their name in the French royal courts of the Renaissance and beyond. 

What Does Chevalier Mean? 

Chevalier is one of the European equivalents of the title of Knight that most reflects the title’s origins – it relates to the root word cheval, meaning horse. 

It is similar to the German title of Ritter, (which means rider), and the Spanish title Caballero (from the Spanish word for horse), and it is resonant of the English term cavalier, which relates to the old English word for horseman. 

All of these terms stem from the Latin word caballus, meaning horse, and they largely represent a kind of military horseman. Similar words that also evolved from this root word also paint a picture of the role of this type of rider, words such as chivalry and cavalcade. 

While the root of the word Chevalier may simply indicate a type of horseman, the rich history and complex connotations give rise to a much more captivating story of this uniquely French noble title. 

Is Chevalier A Noble Title? 

Much like the title of Knight and all its European equivalents, the roles and ranks of Chevaliers through the ages have varied and evolved. 

There were times when the term Chevalier referred simply to the occupation of the horseman. At other times, it denoted a military connection or appointment. In time, it came to be regarded as membership of specific chivalric orders, or Orders of Knights

At the height of its eminence, the term Chevalier came to represent a rank and title within the French Nobility. Over the centuries, the status, esteem and standing of this particular title varied, and it didn’t always benefit from a strong lineage of hereditary aristocracy like similar noble titles such as Baron and Lord

There have also been varying accounts as to whether the title of Chevalier was a hereditary title or bestowed solely on the current recipient or holder. Unlike ancient noble titles such as Dukes and Marquises, the chevaliers of France have not always been able to claim an unbroken lineage of inheritance of rank and status. 

Yet, despite the complicated history of this uniquely captivating title, the term chevalier has undoubtedly enjoyed significant connections with the French Nobility, and there are some famous chevaliers whose place within the realm of the aristocracy was undisputed and secure. 

The Most Famous Chevalier

Perhaps the most famous of all the noble chevaliers is the legendary Philippe, Chevalier de Lorraine, who was the flamboyant and scandalous lover of the duc d’Orléans, the brother of King Louis XIV of France. 

Philippe of Lorraine, called the Chevalier de Lorraine (1643-1702) – Unidentified painter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Chevalier de Lorraine was a nobleman, his father was a Count and his mother was the daughter of a Marquis, belonging to an ancient and esteemed noble lineage within the French aristocracy. 

Though the title suggests a military role, the Chevalier de Lorraine’s title was likely honourary more than chivalric. However, as a prominent member of the French Royal Court, it’s likely that he was skilled at horse riding and some accounts relate to his talent in the jousting arena. 

The ancient title of Chevalier has a more complicated history than some of the more famous French noble titles. Yet the nature of the title’s origins, and the holders of this rare and unusual rank throughout the ages, ensure that this intriguing french rank continues to fascinate in modern times, both within the French social orders and the wider world beyond.