A 17th-century engraving of a marquis in the robe worn during his creation ceremony.
A marquess (
Portuguese: marquês) is a
nobleman of hereditary rank in various European peerages and in those of some of their former colonies. The term is also used to translate equivalent Asian styles, as in
imperial China and
Great Britain and
Ireland, the correct spelling of the aristocratic title of this rank is marquess (although for aristocratic titles on the European mainland, the French spelling of marquis is often used in English). In Scotland the French spelling is also sometimes used. In Great Britain and Ireland, the title ranks below a
duke and above an
earl (see "
Marquesses in the United Kingdom"). A woman with the rank of a marquess, or the wife of a marquess, is called a marchioness /
 in Great Britain and Ireland or a marquise / elsewhere in Europe. The dignity, rank or position of the title is referred to as a marquisate or marquessate.
The theoretical distinction between a marquess and other titles has, since the
Middle Ages, faded into obscurity. In times past, the distinction between a
count and a marquess was that the land of a marquess, called a
march, was on the border of the country, while a count's land, called a
county, often was not. As a result of this, a marquess was trusted to defend and fortify against potentially hostile neighbours and was thus more important and ranked higher than a count. The title is ranked below that of a
duke, which was often restricted to the royal family and those that were held in high enough esteem to be granted such a title.
In the German lands, a
Margrave was a ruler of an
immediate Imperial territory (examples include the
Margrave of Brandenburg, the
Margrave of Baden and the
Margrave of Bayreuth), not simply a nobleman like a marquess or marquis in Western and Southern Europe. German rulers did not confer the title of marquis; holders of marquisates in Central Europe were largely associated with the Italian and Spanish crowns.