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1. (in the British Isles) a nobleman ranking below a marquess and above a viscount
2. (in Anglo-Saxon England) a royal governor of any of the large divisions of the kingdom, such as Wessex



in early medieval England, a member of the hereditary nobility, as distinguished from an ordinary freeman, or ceorl. The average size of an earl’s holding was 40 hides. As Anglo-Saxon society became feudalized, the earls, in the late seventh century, became part of the general landed aristocracy required to render state service, the thanes. Since the 11th century the term “earl” has designated a noble rank corresponding to that of count.

References in periodicals archive ?
In 1337, Edward III declared that royalty worked best when 'buttressed by wise counsels and fortified by mighty powers', expressed regret at the 'serious decline in names, honours and ranks of dignity', and aimed to set things right by the simultaneous creation of no less than six new earldoms.
Only the king, it was accepted, could create an earldom from scratch and, after Stephen's reign, kings were understandably reluctant to do so.
Her study is based on an examination of almost 300 charters relating to the earldoms of Strathearn and Lennox from the 12th to the 15th century.
The King now turned the tables on Godwin by calling out the militia of all England, which meant that even in the Godwins' own earldoms many men were duty bound to join a force opposing them.