More Titles—Academic, Royal & Noble

Trouble has done it, Bilgewater, trouble has done it; trouble has brung these gray hairs and this premature balditude. Yes, gentlemen, you see before you, in blue jeans and misery, the wanderin’, exiled, trampled-on and sufferin’ rightful King of France.”
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Titulado v. obs., trans. To title, entitle; to decorate with a grandiose title.
—The Oxford English Dictionary

“The love of titles is common to all men.…”
—Anthony Trollope

I contracted titulomania when I was very young, too young to fight off the first, virulent onslaught of the disease. Fortunately, though, titulomania is now (for the most part) a relatively rare and harmless illness—not the raging epidemic it was when the hunger for baronies, dukedoms and thrones set cities on fire and turned nations into fiestas of looting, rapine and slaughter. It is a kindred illness—celebromania—that is nowadays far more common and pernicious: sucking up all the oxygen, fouling the public airways, gobbling up book and movie deals. But the mania for titles has become no more dangerous than a foot fetish and the poor titulomaniac (faced with a shortage of available crowns, coronets and castles—and too timid to poison those who have them) is little more than a misunderstood eccentric.

I once offered to give my younger son (then fourteen years old) a large raise in his allowance if only he would agree to address me as “Your Grace.” My enterprising son immediately agreed and so I would have had the enjoyment of this honorific (which is, of course, my due) if only my extremely generous bargain had not been nixed by a higher power.

What I particularly like about “Your Grace” (in addition to its Ducal flair and to the old-fashionedness of its once being a courtesy-title claimed by Kings) is the word itself with its connotations of aesthetic elegance and of a gift bestowed by a deity. That is not to say that I wouldn’t be pleased by even one of the much less august titles. I would, for example, happily answer to “Your Lordship” or even to “Your Excellency”—and if I were referred to as “Your Worship” I would not take offense.

But ecclesiastical titles (“Your Holiness” or “Your Eminence”) leave me cold. Military titles, though, are quite a different matter: or at least they were in my impetuous youth.

My father had been discharged from the army with the rank of Major, and I remember feeling that it was quite unfair that this very appealing title could never pass down to me. Luckily, though, there was a war on when I was in college and I knew someone who could get me a title if I’d only sign up for the NROTC. Still, I’d always been an army man, not only because of my father, but also because I knew that Napoleon had been a general and therefore understood that a high rank in the army was just a stone’s throw from a throne.

So I’d never considered a naval title—and yet I was sorely tempted. But, when it came right down to it, my extreme dislike of violence (especially any directed toward me) was a substantial impediment to my accepting a martial dignity. But when my friend explained that, if I didn’t enlist, I’d be drafted anyway—and given the lowest rank, I took a deep breath and signed on the dotted line.

For the next three days I enjoyed the prospect of my Title. On the fourth day I was to wake up at 5 A.M. and report for morning drill. But in the battle of deadly sins, Pride was trumped by Sloth—and I would probably have become an Admiral or a Commodore if I hadn’t overslept.

* * *

In those days I had ambitiously taken on a double major in English Literature and Marijuana Studies. Unfortunately, those two disciplines sometimes interfered with one another. And so I was in a thick cannabis haze just beginning to be lifted by an overdose of No-Doze, when I heard my professor of Medieval Literature say that—in addition to the church and military (where a stratification of titles was rigidly preserved)—academia was one of the last, impregnable bastions of the feudal hierarchy.

Since even then I felt myself to be a suffering feudal refugee, I suddenly woke up. Doctoral robes and hoods, my professor continued, and in some instances even a splendid doctoral sword, were as much the distinctive regalia of an elevated feudal status as a ducal coronet.

My military career, I knew, was over. Not only because the dignity did not entice me, but also because I nurtured an ambition to overcome my then-lifelong celibacy, I saw no possibility of becoming Pope. But here, at last, was a way to secure an impressive title. I looked about me at my fellow students at their desks and could see, their young eyes already firmly fixed on the dollar sign, that they were mere sojourners in the university. No, they would not go for the glittering prize.

Letter patent from King Leo of Redonda

Letter patent from King Leo of Redonda

I did, an ominous thirteen years later, nab my doctoral title. But despite my exalted rank, I find (even when I wear my robes and hood) that I am often unable to exact my rightful tribute of awe and deference. Worse still, if I dare to identify myself as a doctor and foolishly admit that my specialty is literature—and that I have therefore not achieved the grandeur of a podiatrist or a proctologist—my disclosure evokes a barely concealed contempt.

So maybe that’s why, after decades of remission, the old crown-craving delirium—just as it was in my glory-fevered childhood—has come back with a redoubled vengeance. At one stage of the disease I found myself compelled to wander through the seedy, multi-million dollar marketplace for titles. (For there are others, many others, who are similarly afflicted.) I have also, aided by DNA analysis, sifted through the ashes of my ancestors, looking for royal gold.

And I must concede that—so far—not one person has either bowed or curtsied, and that I have yet to claim my throne.… But I have acceded to a barony and know myself to be descended from a line of kings.

 

Read about the lost, tiny kingdom where I contracted titulomania: “An Upstate Kingdom” (published in Lost Magazine)

Read a longer history of my illness in this excerpt from “True Confessions of an American Royal.”

 

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