The Imperial Nobility, collectively known as the peerage, not only forms the upper class and elites of the Third Imperium, but it also is the major source of administrators, military officers, and gentlesophonts of service and honor. While humans form the backbone of this class, increasing numbers of non-humans have claimed or earned Imperial Title.
Noble ranks in the Third Imperium are conferred for three reasons: Honour (for achievement), Ceremonial or Rank (for position), and High or Landed (for service). In general a noble's status is lower when he leaves his sphere of influence.
An Honour Noble receives a patent of nobility from the Emperor for heroism in the military, success in civil or commercial enterprise, or innovation and discovery in the sciences. Normally only patents for knights, baronets, barons, and (rarely) marquises may be issued for achievement, though there are rare exceptions for higher titles.
Also, legacy titles of all levels which no longer have an associated Landed Fief or Administrative position are generally considered to fall under the "Honour" category, as well as those nobles with non-substantive "courtesy titles" arising from a close familial relationship to a higher-ranked noble possessing a substantive patent (though both of these are sometimes considered to overlap with the category of local ceremonial/rank tiles - see below).
Rank or ceremonial titles are given because of a citizen's position. These are nobles with connections and obligations to the government of the Third Imperium.
Local Nobility serve as Imperial representatives in systems that have a government somehow not conducive to administration by Imperial landed nobility. Patents for local rank nobles are typically hereditary, and are generally equivalent to barons, baronets, and knights.
Administrators are citizens who are appointed to an Imperial Office. Often they are administrators of worlds or territories with no formal Imperial representation, or bureaucrats who hold leadership positions in the Imperial Bureaucracy and its many associated offices. These patents are not hereditary as they are tied to a position. If they retire from that position they are allowed to continue to use the title, but it is not heritable (does not pass down).
High Nobles are the smallest segment of the Imperial Nobility and constitute the peerage, generally consisting of people belonging to old and powerful families with voting privileges in the Moot. Landed noble titles are given for: "Political support in office, victory in the military, or contributions or economic assistance from the commercial sector" beyond any reasonable expectation. These nobles directly administer Imperial territories and are personal representatives of the Emperor. They manage and direct the Imperial Bureaucracy.
Hereditary, landed nobles are trained from birth to lead. Their training includes instruction in several languages such as Anglic and Vilani, interstellar relations and diplomacy, the art of self defense, advanced administration, fundamental literature, and a variety of other skills. High Landed Nobles have precedence in the Moot, though even landed barons are immensely powerful as compared to barons belonging to the other classes of Imperial Nobility.
Most of the Landed part of the High Nobility have been granted a fief: a grant of land from the Emperor. Enfeoffment is, a different process and is granted by a separate letter of enfeoffment. Not all High nobles have a fief.
Ranks and Titles
The lowest noble rank is knight; the highest level is archduke. Above the archdukes is the special station accorded members of the Imperial family, but they are not formally considered part of the nobility.
The standard ranks of Nobility are:
- Gentlesophont or Esquire
- Not actually a noble rank, but a courtesy title for gentry. The title survives in some planetary nobility and still serves as an honorific designation of status on some worlds.
- Knight or Dame - Kiduunuuzi (Anglic: Kiduunuuzi)
- The lowest rank of Imperial Nobility granted by either the Emperor or an Archduke. Widely granted as an honor or ceremonial rank for service to the Imperium. All knights are members of one of the Imperium's numerous orders of knighthood. Knighthoods are not hereditary. Fiefs almost never accompany knighthoods, but when included is always on a single world and is generally small. Other knights receive cash stipends or other financial rewards. Knights do not hold a seat in the Moot, though some are present as proxy votes for other nobles.
- Baronet or Baronetess - Iishakku (Anglic: Iishakku)
- The next rank of Imperial Nobility granted by either the Emperor or an Archduke. Usually granted as honor or ceremonial rank for service to the Imperium. The title of baronet is hereditary. Like knights, baronets do not receive fiefs or specific responsibilities, and are not members of the peerage. In practice only Archduke create Baronets, usually awared to a planetary nobility as means of enhancing offworld prestige.
- Baron or Baroness - Iishakku (Anglic: Iishakku)
- The lowest rank accorded membership in the peerage and participation in the Moot. A baron in the high nobility usually has a fief of land on a single world. Planetary nobility who rule a world are sometimes granted a barony on that world, partly as a courtesy and partly to give them a stake in the ruling of the empire. Honour Nobility Barons typically serve in Imperial administrations or planetary governments. Imperial admirals and generals are often granted the honor title of baron without a fief or duties.
- Marquis, Marchioness or Marquesa - Sarriiu (Anglic: Sarriiu)
- An intermediate rank of nobility, High Nobility Marquis are granted a fief on an important or high population world which need a rank greater than Baron to oversee. Marquis are not applied uniformly throughout the history of the Imperium.
- Viscount, Viscountess - Shakkanakhu (Anglic: Shakkanakhu)
- Another intermediate rank and not used everywhere in the Imperium. High Nobility Viscount are assigned to oversee small clusters of two or three worlds of low importance. Viscounts are often assigned to clusters of worlds which do not have their own high-noble marquises or barons. A viscount in this situation may be the only high noble responsible for the worlds in his demesne.
- Count, Countess, or Contessa - Shakkanakhu (Anglic: Shakkanakhu)
- The next full rank of Imperial nobility, Counts oversee clusters of two or three worlds within a single subsector, usually at least one important or high population world. Counts are core of a subsector government.
- Duke or Duchess - Saarpuhii (Anglic: Saarpuhii)
- A duke oversees an entire subsector. They are granted a fief on the largest and most important system within the subsector, usually the sector capital. In some subsectors with many important worlds there may be more than one Duke and in that case one is noted as the Grand Duke or Subsector Duke. Within a sector, one of the dukes rises to the position of Sector Duke.
- Archduke or Archduchess - Apkallu Kibrat Arban (Anglic: Apkallu Kibrat Arban)
- The highest rank of nobility below the Emperor. Each Archduke oversees one of the seven Domains of the Imperium. An archduchy includes a fief of an entire world, sometimes (but not always) retained as a private reserve.
- Prince, Princess - Karand (Anglic: Karand)
- The title of Prince is granted to some of the relatives the Emperor. It is granted (and revoked) only by Imperial proclamation. There is no fief associated with the title, and the Princes are not members of the Moot. The title of Grand Prince is granted to the one person who is the designated heir for the Emperor.
- Emperor or Empress - Ishimkarun (Anglic: Ishimkarun)
- The ruler of the Third Imperium, and the Archduke of the Domain of Sylea. The Emperor is not a member of the Moot, indeed has no right to attend any meetings of the Moot. The Emperor has no fief (the whole Imperium is their fief). Most emperors hold several titles and may have fiefs inherited from these other titles, and may attend the Moot using one of these other titles.
All but the highest noble ranks (count, duke, archduke) can be awarded in recognition of achievement or preeminence in a field of endeavor, though all can be awarded as honor titles to existing lower-ranked peers at the Emperor's pleasure.
Several aspects of noble rank are governed by a strict protocol, including:
- Title (the formal reference to the person in print or by reference): The noble title includes the allowed prefixes (such as Sir) and suffixes (such as "of Yori") to a name, and the order in which they are presented. Nobles are typically referred to by their titles and world holdings: e.g. Duke Regina or Duke of Regina. Note that while a Noble may hold more than one title of the same name, duplicate titles are conferred only rarely. 
- Style (the method of addressing the individual personality): The noble style dictates the manner in which a noble is addressed, including such honorifics as "Your Grace" or "Your Majesty".
- Precedence (the relative seniority of the individual among others): Precedence is accorded strictly on the basis of government position, with seniority by date of patent following. The date of noble rank is taken from the date of confirmation when an inherited rank is assumed.
The bulk of patents of nobility are published on one of two lists annually:
- The Holiday List is published on Holiday, the first day of the new year, and covers awards for achievement.
- The Birthday List is published on the Emperor's birthday (Strephon's is day 202) and covers awards for service.
Continuing awards for position are given out as called for by circumstances.
The Nobility Lists are maintained by the Office of the Emperor.
The nobility includes within it a subset called the peerage, which consists of all landed nobles except knights and baronets (though Imperial Landed Baronets have access to and voting rights in the Moot). Except in extraordinary situations, to hold high office in the Imperial bureaucracy, a person must be a peer. Collectively, the peerage constitutes the Moot, the Imperial government's only deliberative body.
Noble Fiefs & Land Grants (Enfeoffment)
Imperial nobility is based on fiefs: territories (usually worlds) which are assigned to nobles for their benefit and placed under their protection. Patents of nobility, especially for service, may include Land Grants as part of their fiefs. Land Grants are given out by the Emperor for two primary reasons :
- To encourage the economic development of the worlds of the Imperium
- To provide a measure of economic support to the nobility
A Land Grant is normally expressed in terms of economic control of one or more Terrain-hexes on the surface of Imperial member-worlds and/or the bodies in their respective star systems. Until claimed and improved, the Imperium pays the holder of noble lands Cr 1000 per Terrain-hex per year. 
The Land Grants associated with fiefs are granted in a Letter of Enfeoffment separate from the patent of nobility. Fief Land Grants are granted to the individual at the discretion of the Emperor and remain the Emperor's possessions. However, the fief conveys the right to use the land, to rent or lease it out and collect income from it. The land grant is a convenient method for the Emperor to reward certain nobles. The size of the land grant depends upon how great an income the Emperor wishes to award a noble, and the location of the grant within the fief itself. A knight with a grant consisting of several hundred square kilometers of sparsely settled wilderness and one with a single hectare of the business district of a city can be considered to hold equal grants. Hereditary nobles have often had the fief and associated land grant in their family for generations, and have built it up in value and income potential. Some sites at the capital generate considerable income each year. Other land grants have been administered with great care to ensure that the territory be not only valuable, but also tastefully used. Still others have been exploited ruthlessly in mining or industrial pursuits. Completely separate from fiefs and land grants, a noble may own land obtained from other sources (inheritance, purchase, and so forth). These lands remain the property of their owner even if his title is revoked, and can be disposed of separately from the land grants of fiefs. Under most circumstances, each terrain-hex of a land grant also includes one local-hex of property gifted to the noble outright as personal property.
The noble who is responsible for a given fief is known as the "active noble"; other members of the noble family are known as "courtesy nobles". Note that it is generally considered impolite to point out this difference to a courtesy noble. Each world under the protection and control of a noble is considered a fief. Each world has a limit of one active noble of each rank (although there may be any number of courtesy nobles or inactive nobles on a world - see Honor Nobles and Ceremonial Nobles below). 
An interesting note is that the fiefdoms of higher ranks often include orbital or systemic "property" within a sytem.
In theory, the Imperium reserves for itself the "pentagons" (as opposed to "hexagons") on the geodesic maps of each undeveloped world (including the main-world and every other world within a system). This territory may be developed by the Imperium, or it may be exchanged with the local government for other territory. Note that on previously settled worlds (i.e. those containing Native Intelligent Life), there are no consistently and specifically defined Imperial Lands. 
Nobility is usually hereditary. Once confirmed by the Moot, a title continues to be passed down to succeeding generation. Titles need not pass through the first born (although this is the accepted practice), and individuals with several titles may divide them among their children as they see fit, along with their associated noble land grants. A specific noble title (and its associated lands) are normally indivisible and must be inherited by a single individual as a unit. 
Children of a noble are generally accorded a courtesy title of one noble rank lower. For example, the sons and daughters of a Count or Viscount receive a courtesy title of Marquis or Marchioness (although in some cases the heir of a Count may be permitted the use of Viscount). Upon the death of the Count or Viscount, the heir assumes the title of Count or Viscount (respectively), the other offspring remaining Marquises and Marchionesses. Note that the courtesy title one level lower for a Baron is Baronet, not Knight. 
Revocation of Nobility
- High Crimes: Reasons for such revocation are treason, murder, kidnapping, and extortion as well as other felonies.
- Incompetence: Extremely poor performance can also be a reason.
- Discontinuation: Occasionally, a noble rank will not be confirmed upon inheritance.
- All noble ranks within the peerage come from the Emperor.
- The ability to create Knights and Baronets (and in a few rare cases, Barons), however, is shared with the Archdukes of the Imperium, though such archducal appointments are never considered members of the peerage, and always rank equal to but behind those of similar title bestowed by the Emperor.