Originally Posted by FoolInTheRain
Thank you for the clarification. I do realize that there's a lot of history there with royalty and it really is interesting. I just wasn't sure how much leverage the Queen still had, since there is a multi-party system in place like there is here in the States.
That's interesting what you said about not all upper class are wealthy. I never would have thought that was the case.
Some are but it is mostly to do with inheritance and hereditary positions rather than 'wealth' per se.
For instance, if you are an hereditary Viscount (one of the hereditary titles) then your next born son will inherit that title, regardless of wealth. Traditionally, titles were given by the Monarch for service to the country - for instance, a 'Earl' is an old European title traditionally handed to somebody that has performed a great military service to the country.
The system is further complicated by the political system. A modern 'Lord' (as in 'The House of Lords' - one of the Houses of Parliament) is no longer given an hereditary title. A seat in the House of Lords was until very recently given to somebody that inherited the title from their parent automatically. Now the House of Lords is composed of those that are granted the title in their lifetime (called 'Life Peers' - usually for their expertise in a particular subject or service to the realm) and the seats are not passed down.
So, essentially there are two different forms of 'Lord' (or 'Lady'). Those that have hereditary titles and are no longer permitted to sit in the House of Lords and those that are made Lords or Ladies in their lifetime and are permitted to sit in the House of Lords. It's technically possible for an hereditary Lord or Lady to be seated in the Houses of Parliament but only if they are there by the approval criteria required to be a life peer - regardless of hereditary title.
To complicate it even further
, there are six basic ranks of nobility. They are ranked titles. Baronet, Baron, Viscount, Earl, Marquess and Duke. There are female terms for each of these too, e.g. 'Duchess'. Baronets were never peers and therefore never permitted to sit in the House of Lords, with Baronet being the lowest-ranked hereditary title. Dukes are only below the monarch themselves - hence why Prince Charles is a Duke, as is Prince William.
With the titles traditionally came land, even if the individual first granted the title was from humble origins. With each ranked title came a larger plot of land - so a Marquess was traditionally the owner of a 'March' - a large plot of land. Dukes owned a 'Dukedom', except for two of the Royal Dukes, who own a 'Duchy'. Nowadays, the title merely refers to an area and not the ownership of land - except the two Duchies (Cornwall and Lancaster).
So - a lot of the aristocracy is wealthy as a result of inherited wealth from the lands they were traditionally granted but being an aristocrat is no guarantee of wealth - you may be a life peer (who are often well-paid in their previous occupation and independently wealthy but not necessarily) or your family may have gradually sold off its assets over the generations, leaving the next in line with less.
Funnily enough my Grandparents are quite good friends with a Baronet that owns a small castle near Hereford that has been passed onto him through his family. Other than the land and the title, he's a pretty ordinary (if relatively wealthy) bloke. It's entirely possible for an aristocrat to be destitute and homeless but still have the title.