Though earl is the oldest peerage title, it has been overtaken by duke and marquis. In early Saxon England it was merely the general name for noble. Administrative responsibility in shires belonged to ealdormen. But the name earl gradually merged with the Danish jarl and, after the reign of Alfred, earls took over the responsibilities of ealdormen. Since they supervised several shires or provinces, administration passed increasingly to the shire reeve. After the Conquest, earldoms tended to become hereditary.
Subjects: British History.