/vuy"kownt'/, n.
1. a nobleman next below an earl or count and next above a baron.
2. Hist. a deputy of a count or earl.
3. (in England) a sheriff.
[1350-1400; ME viscounte < AF; OF visconte (F vicomte), equiv. to vis VICE3 + counte COUNT2, trans. ML vicecomes]

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European title of nobility, ranking immediately below a count, or earl.

The wife of a viscount is a viscountess. In the Carolingian period, the vicecomes were deputies or lieutenants of the counts (comes), whose official powers they exercised by delegation. In the 11th century most of Normandy was divided into vicomtés, but the viscountcy was not introduced into the English peerage until nearly 400 years after the Norman conquest.
(as used in expressions)
Bacon Francis Viscount St. Albans
Barras Paul François Jean Nicolas viscount de
Beauharnais Alexandre viscount de
Bolingbroke Henry Saint John 1st Viscount
Canning Stratford Viscount Stratford of Redcliffe
Castelo Branco Camilo viscount of Correia Botelho
Castlereagh Robert Stewart Viscount
Chateaubriand François Auguste René viscount of
Cooper Alfred Duff 1st Viscount Norwich of Aldwick
Haldane of Cloane Richard Burdon 1st Viscount
Howe William Howe 5th Viscount
Lesseps Ferdinand Marie viscount de
Melbourne of Kilmore William Lamb 2nd Viscount
Montgomery of Alamein Bernard Law Montgomery 1st Viscount
Morley of Blackburn John Morley Viscount
Nelson Horatio Nelson Viscount
Snowden of Ickornshaw Philip Snowden Viscount
Townshend of Rainham Charles Townshend 2nd Viscount
Alanbrooke of Brookeborough Alan Francis Brooke 1st Viscount
Allenby of Megiddo and of Felixstowe Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby 1st Viscount
Cecil of Chelwood Edgar Algernon Robert Gascoyne Cecil 1st Viscount
Chelmsford of Chelmsford Frederic John Napier Thesiger 1st Viscount
Viscount Templewood of Chelsea
Philippe Marie viscount de Hauteclocque
Maurice Harold Macmillan 1st earl of Stockton Viscount Macmillan of Ovenden
Northcliffe of Saint Peter Alfred Charles William Harmsworth Viscount
Palmerston of Palmerston Henry John Temple 3rd Viscount
Samuel of Mount Carmel and of Toxeth Herbert Louis Samuel 1st Viscount
Simon of Stackpole Elidor John Allsebrook Simon 1st Viscount
Slim William Joseph 1st Viscount Slim of Yarralumla and Bishopston
Turenne Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne viscount de

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      a European title of nobility, ranking immediately below a count, or earl.

      In the Carolingian (Carolingian dynasty) period of European history, the vicecomites, or missi comitis, were deputies, vicars, or lieutenants of the counts, whose official powers they exercised by delegation. As the countships eventually became hereditary, the lieutenancies did as well: for instance, in France the viscounts in Narbonne, in Nîmes, and in Albi appear to have made their office hereditary by the beginning of the 10th century. Even so, viscounts remained for some time with no other status than that of the count's officers, either styling themselves simply vicecomites or qualifying their title with the name of the countship whence they derived their powers.

      By the end of the 11th century, the universal tendency of feudalism to associate status with the possession of land caused the French viscounts to qualify their title with the name of their own most important fief. In Aquitaine, of which the counts of Poitiers were dukes, and in the county of Toulouse the viscounts were great barons often able to assert themselves against their suzerain. In the Île-de-France, in Champagne, and in part of Burgundy, on the other hand, the viscounts by the end of the 12th century were surviving only as minor feudatories, having lost their special administrative functions to the prévôts.

      In Normandy, however, the judicial functions of the viscounts as deputies of the duke remained important for some time longer. By the middle of the 11th century most of the country was administratively divided into vicecomtés (this explains the Norman use of the Latin term vicecomes for the sheriff in England); under Henry I of England the hereditary holders of the vicomtés in his Norman possessions were to a large extent replaced by ducal officials.

British Isles (England)
      In England the viscountcy was not introduced into the peerage until four centuries after the Norman Conquest: John, Lord Beaumont, who had been created Count of Boulogne in 1436, was in 1440 created Viscount Beaumont in the peerage of England, with precedence over all barons. The oldest English viscountcy surviving today is that of Hereford, created in 1550; the premier Irish one, however, that of Gormanston, is somewhat older, having been created in 1478. The premier viscount in the peerage of Scotland is the Viscount of Falkland, whose peerage title was created in 1620.

      Viscounts had been created in Catalonia by Charlemagne in the 8th century, whence the title had spread, with diminishing functions and increasingly significant noble rank, to Aragon and to Castile. Philip IV of Spain introduced the system of vizcondados previos (regulations of 1631 and of 1664); under this, no one could proceed to the rank of conde (count) or marqués (marquess) unless he had previously been vizconde. A fee of 750 ducats had to be paid for this habilitating title (except in the case of counts' sons), and a further fee of 750 ducats was required for the obligatory cancellation of the vizcondado when the time came to confer the higher rank. The removal of the obligation to cancel, in 1846, led only to confusion, as numerous families began petitioning to have their already cancelled titles revived; in 1858 it was declared that the vizcondado previo was no longer necessary for accession to the higher titles.

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Universalium. 2010.

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