The period of rule of a monarch is known as a reign.

I have been trying to find the equivalent word for an earl (or other member of the nobility) to describe the period during which he held this title and was in charge of his landed estates. It would be used as follows:

During the [insert word] of the second earl, many improvements were made on the estate.

So far I have been unsuccessful in coming up with a word – is there an equivalent?

  • 5
    I think the best you'll get is during his earldom Same as, for example, during his baronetcy. You might get away with tenure, but that doesn't really work for me. Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 11:41
  • Just say "During the lifetime of the second earl". It's obvious from context you mean that he was responsible. And he's the earl right up until he dies. You could be more explicit, "After his father died, the second earl..." Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 18:37

7 Answers 7


Consider tenure.

From Merriam–Webster (boldface mine):

the act, right, manner, or term of holding something (as a landed property, a position, or an office);

From Wiktionary (boldface mine):

  1. A status of possessing a thing or an office; an incumbency.
  2. A period of time during which something is possessed.
  3. A status of having a permanent post with enhanced job security within an academic institution.
  4. A right to hold land under the feudal system.

I am not sure whether the last one (feudal land tenure) is what you want to express or conflicts with it. In the latter case, the term tenure may be bad due to being easily confusable.

Some examples of tenure being used in the requested sense:

Harold was probably first associated with Eadgifu during his tenure as earl of East Anglia. [source]

During his 30 year tenure as Earl of Chester, Hugh was thought to be in almost constant conflict […] [source]

Sigurd's tenure as earl was apparently free of the kin-strife that beset some other incumbents of this title […] [source]

  • A Wikipedia search for "during the Earl's tenure" yields few results, mainly referencing a further position, or perhaps property: "during the Earl's tenure as Chancellor of the university" Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 12:00
  • @EdwinAshworth: I added some examples.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 12:19
  • 1
    Good; I'd say that those license the usage. That makes this a good answer. It seems to be a term largely restricted to history (and/or even historical) registers in this usage, but that's to be expected, and it might get the occasional run out in the wider world. Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 12:34

One of the primary functions of the nobility was to manage the estates (property) granted by the monarchy. A noble was charged (entrusted) by the monarchy to hold the estates and keep them in good condition. The word for this is stewardship.

From Merriam-Webster

1: the office, duties, and obligations of a steward

2: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care

From dictionary.com

  1. the position and duties of a steward, a person who acts as the surrogate of another or others, especially by managing property, financial affairs, an estate, etc.
  2. the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.

For the quoted phrase,

During the [insert word] of the second earl, many improvements were made on the estate.

I'd expect to hear time, possibly term, or perhaps "Under the management of the second earl" (or "Under the supervision" ... or change the whole sentence to use the active voice instead of the passive, e.g. "The second earl made many improvements").

I think these (time and term) are relatively common words, compared to e.g. 'tenure'.

Of the two I'd personally prefer to say time to imply "active lifetime", rather than term which implies "finite time with an end".

I find "tenure" rather feudal: to my understanding that word emphasizes the fact that the earl holds his lands, and probably owes fealty to sovereign ... which (consideration) I find a distraction and not directly relevant to the improvements on the estate.

  • It would help if you could dredge up some examples of time, which I like as an answer. My biggest gripe is that it probably isn't formal enough. What you list as an distraction, I consider absolutely necessary. The earldom is what's relevant. The person who happens to be holding that position is typically not of much concern. It is a feudal system, so one might as well run with it.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 13:28
  • I see common/informal as friendly and accessible, and formal as understandable but pedantic or snooty. I was imaging the sentence ("During the time of the second earl...") being used by a friendly docent giving a guided tour of the estate to a middle-class semi-academic audience (and/or the current earl giving the tour and history and speaking plainly rather than reverently). Using a technical (less common) term is sometimes necessary for precision, in this case I think that "time" doesn't lack any important meaning.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 14:03

I would use incumbency.

The holding of an office or the period during which one is held:
during his incumbency he established an epidemic warning system


During the incumbency of the second earl, many improvements were made on the estate.

I don't usually argue with other answers, but tenure suggests that the holding of the office is in the gift of someone else — that the person may be moved on almost at will — and that is hardly ever the case with an earl*. It may be more suited to a professorship, where the professor could give up his position himself (or die in post), but can also be moved on by a Board of Visitors or the like.

Incumbent as a noun is normally used of Anglican clergymen, who until very recently could not be moved easily at all.

* It may be with the Earl of Chester, which is a Royal earldom, and may have been even up to Tudor times when earldoms were very much in the gift of the king.


Another way to say this would be to use the word [earlship] to represent the period of time during which the earlship was held by this person (metonymy I believe.)

Earlship means the title itself, but can also mean the period of time in which the person held the title.

"During the earlship of John Fuzzypants, many improvements were made on the estate." Or you could just say "Under Earl John Fuzzypants, many improvements etc..."

  • Earldoms quite likely being hereditary, they might well all be Fuzzypants (like royalty). For that reason it is conventional to refer to Earl John (and specify by date if there are several). Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 7:49

How about era?

For example the Napoleonic era or the Stalin era.

The first entry on dictionary.com is

a period of time marked by distinctive character, events, etc.

which also seems to be what you are looking for.

  • 1
    I think "era" is too grandiose. I wouldn't apply it to a period of time less than several reigns (e.g. "Tudor era") with the exceptions of Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria, and/or to a geography smaller than an empire or several countries. It's primarily used for geological eras.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 12:52

What about "rule" itself? This sense of the word is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as

Control of or dominion over an area or people

This sentence is given as an example:

Lasting only ten months before Spain resumed control, Britain's rule was of short duration.

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