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Earl was the Anglo-Saxon form and jarl the Scandinavian form of a title meaning "chieftain" and referring especially to chieftains set to rule a territory in a king's stead. In Scandinavia, it became obsolete in the Middle Ages and was replaced with duke (hertig/hertug); in later medieval Britain, it became the equivalent of the continental count (in the earlier period, it was more akin to duke).
In modern Britain, an earl is a member of the peerage, ranking below a marquess and above a viscount. The English never developed a feminine form of earl; the wife of an earl is styled countess (the continental equivalent).