A title of nobility, formerly the highest in England, now the third, rankingbetween a marquis and a viscount, and corresponding with the French "comte" and theGerman "graf." The title originated with the Saxons, and is the most ancient of theEnglish peerage. William the Conqueror first made this title hereditary, giving it in fee tohis nobles; and alloting them for the support of their state the third penny out of thesheriff's court, issuing out of all pleas of the shire, whence they had their ancient title"shiremen." At present the title is accompanied by no territory, private or judicial rights,but merely confers nobility and an hereditary seat in the house of lords. Wharton.
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