It isn't often that an American awakes to find himself in line for an English title. While retired grocery store worker William Jennings Capell of Yuba City, California, always knew he had noble blood, he didn't know that he might one day become the 12th Earl of Essex, successor to some of the most powerful and feared noblemen in English history. This will happen if the current Earl dies before the American Capell. It is a distinct possibility as the current Earl is nine years older than the Californian.
A British newspaper reporter was the first to inform Capell of his possible future title. It seems that the 10th Earl of Essex passed away on June 5th of this year and that 61-year-old Frederick Paul de Vere Capell had just assumed the title of the 11th Earl of Essex. However, few of his neighbors in Lancaster (Lancashire, England) knew of his aristocratic status.
The new Lord Essex is unmarried at age 61. It is likely he will die childless, so the Earldom will pass to his distant cousin in America. In fact, the heir is his fourth cousin once removed, William Jennings Capell of California. Assuming that William outlives his already titled distant cousin, he will become the 12th Earl of Essex.
Until the recent telephone call from a British newspaper reporter, William Jennings Capell had no idea of any titles in his future. "I was still half asleep," recalled Capell, speaking of the recent telephone call. "I acknowledged it. But that was all. It wasn't until later that I got to thinking about it, that 'Wow, I'm next in line.' It started to sink in a little."
An earl is a member of the British peerage. The title can be inherited or bestowed upon an individual by the state. Capell believes his great-grandfather emigrated from England to Canada, and then to Idaho. He doesn't recall what the patriarch did for a living, but he did know his grandfather - an Idaho cattle rancher and potato farmer. "I met him once," said Capell, who used to check and stock shelves and do managerial duties at a local supermarket. "He died when I was 7 years old."
Capell's father was an Army clerk and rarely spoke about his noble family tree.
The new heir to the English title has never visited England but says that he hopes to visit there soon and meet the current Earl. William Jennings Capell's wife, Sandy, suggested, "I think we should send him a family photo. We've got the address."
She would become Lady Essex, a countess. Her husband's full title, at least for correspondence, would be The Right Honorable Earl of Essex.
Capell's only son, 23-year-old Kevin Devereux Capell, is a reservations agent at a hotel and casino resort. He is married with no children. His title would become Viscount Malden if his father becomes Earl, and he stands in line to inherit the title someday, whether his father ever achieves the title or not.
Sadly, there is no family fortune. There's no castle, no estates, and no money left. Previous earls have been politicians, military commanders, and farmers. Apparently all that went away several generations ago. The 11th earl inherited nothing of value, other than his lineage and a family motto: Fide et fortitudine (By fidelity and fortitude).
Until recently, peers of hereditary titles, like that of earl, were entitled to a seat in Britain's House of Lords - the second chamber of the British Parliament, which normally has to consent before Acts of Parliament can be passed. But the House of Lords Act of 1999 removed the right of most hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House. The 10th Earl of Essex sat in the House of Lords until 1999.
Even if the American Capell did get a chance to serve in Parliament, membership in the House of Lords is unpaid.
A pedigree chart showing the possible future earl's claim to the title may be found at http://www.william1.co.uk/w6.html.
You can read more about the previous Earls of Essex at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_of_Essex.