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Baron is a title of nobility. The word baron comes from Old French baron, itself from Old High German and Latin (liber) baro meaning "(free) man, (free) warrior"; it merged with cognate Old English beorn meaning "nobleman."
In the British peer system, barons rank below viscounts, and form the lowest rank in the peerage. A female of baronial rank has the honorific baroness. A baron may hold a barony (plural baronies), if the title relates originally to a feudal barony by tenure, although such tenure is now obsolete in England and any such titles are now held in gross, if they survive at all, as very few do, sometimes along with some vestigial manorial rights, or by grand serjeanty.
William I introduced "baron" as a rank in England to distinguish the men who had pledged their loyalty to him (see Feudalism). Previously, in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England, the king's companions held the title of earls and in Scotland, the title of thane. All who held their barony "in chief of the king" (that is, directly from William and his successors) became alike barones regis (barons of the king), bound to perform a stipulated service, and welcome to attend his council. Before long, the greatest of the nobles, especially in the marches, such as the Earls of Chester or the Bishops of Durham, might refer to their own tenants as "barons", where lesser magnates spoke simply of their "men" (homines).
Initially those who held land direct of the crown by military service, from earls downwards, all alike bore the title of baron, but under Henry II, the Dialogus de Scaccario already distinguished greater (who held in baroniam by knights' service) or lesser baronies (generally smaller single manors). Within a century of the Norman Conquest, as in Thomas Becket's case (1164), there arose the practice of sending to each greater baron a special summons to the council that evolved into the House of Lords, while the lesser barons, Magna Carta (1215) stipulated, would receive summons only in general, through the sheriffs. Thus appeared a definite distinction, which eventually had the effect of restricting to the greater barons the rights and privileges of peerage.
Later, the sovereign could create a new barony in one of two ways: by a writ of summons directing someone to Parliament, or by letters patent. Writs of summons featured in medieval times, but creation by letters patent has become the norm. Baronies thus no longer directly relate to land ownership, following the Modus Tenendi Parliamenta (1419), the Feudal Tenure Act (1662), and the Fines and Recoveries Act (1834) which enabled such titles to be dis-entailed.
In the twentieth century Britain introduced the concept of non-hereditary life peers. All appointees to this distinction have taken place at the rank of baron, and life-peers are not counted as part of the aristocracy.
In addition, Baronies are often subsidiary titles, thus being used as courtesy titles by the eldest sons of viscounts.
In Scotland, the rank of baron is a rank of the ancient feudal nobility of Scotland and refers to a holder of a feudal barony, formerly a feudal superiority over a proper territorial entity erected into a free barony by a Crown Charter, and is not usually considered a rank of Peerage; as such it can be transferred by either inheritance or conveyance.
The Scottish equivalent of an English baron is a Lord of Parliament.
Normally one refers to or addresses Baron [X] as Lord [X] and his wife as Lady [X]. In the case of women who hold baronies in their own right, they can be referred to as Baroness [X] as well as Lady [X]. In direct address, they can also be referred to as My Lord, Your Lordship, or Your Ladyship, but never as My Lady (except in the case of a female judge). The husband of a Baroness in her own right does not receive a style. Children of Barons and Baronesses in their own right, whether hereditary or for life, have the style The Honourable [Forename] [Surname]. After the death of the father or mother, the child may continue to use the style Honourable.
Scottish feudal barons style their surnames similarly to Clan Chiefs, with the name of their barony following their name, as in John Smith of Edinburgh or John Smith, Baron of Edinburgh. Most formally, and in writing, they are styled as The Much Honoured Baron of Edinburgh. Their wives are styled Lady Edinburgh, or The Baroness of Edinburgh. The phrase Lady of Edinburgh is wrong, if the lady in question does not hold a Scottish barony in her own right. Orally, Scottish barons may be addressed with the name of their barony, as in Edinburgh or else as Baron without anything else following, which if present would suggest a peerage barony. Informally, when referring to a Scots feudal baron in the third person, the name Laird of [X] is used or simply [X].
Non-Scottish barons are styled The Right Honourable The Lord [Barony]. Barons' wives are styled The Right Honourable The Lady [Barony]. Baronesses in their own right are either titled The Right Honourable The Baroness [Barony] or The Right Honourable The Lady [Barony], mainly based on personal preference (cf, Margaret, Lady Thatcher and Brenda, Baroness Hale hold the same title). Note the order of the names. 'Lady Margaret Thatcher' would denote that she was the daughter of an earl, marquess or duke. Right Honourable is frequently abbreviated to Rt Hon. When referred to by the Sovereign in public instruments, The Right Honourable is changed to Our right trusty and well-beloved, with counsellor attached if they are a Privy Counsellor.
Courtesy barons are styled simply Lord [Barony], and their wives are Lady [Barony]. The style of Right Honourable and/or the article "The" in front of the title is not used for them.
A baron, in the peerage of England and Wales, Great Britain, (Northern) Ireland, or the United kingdom, or lord, in the peerage of Scotland, is entitled to a coronet bearing six silver balls (called pearls, but never real pearls) around the rim, equally spaced and all of equal size and height. The rim itself is neither jewelled, nor "chased" (which is the case for the coronets of peers of higher degree).
The actual coronet is mostly worn on certain ceremonial occasions, such as the coronation of a new monarch, but a baron can bear his coronet of rank on his coat of arms above the shield. In heraldry, the baron's coronet is shown with four of the balls visible.
Scottish feudal barons were entitled to a red cap of maintenance (chapeau) turned up ermine if petitioning for a grant or matriculation of a coat of arms between the 1930s and 2004. This chapeau is identical to the red cap worn by an English baron, but without the silver balls or gilt. This is sometimes depicted in armorial paintings between the shield and the helmet. Additionally, if the baron is the head of a family he may include a chiefly coronet which is similar to a ducal coronet, but with four strawberry leaves. Because the chapeau was a relatively recent innovation, a number of ancient Arms of Scottish feudal barons do not display the chapeau. Now Scottish feudal barons are principally recognised by the baron's helm, which in Scotland is a steel helmet with grille of three grilles, garnished in gold. Occasionally the great tilting-helm garnished with gold is shown, or a helmet befitting a higher rank, if held.
In the medieval era, some allodial and enfiefed lands held by nobles were created or recognized a baronies by the Holy Roman Emperors, within whose realm most of the Low Countries lay. Subsequently, the Habsburgs continued to confer the baronial title in the Southern Netherlands, first as kings of Spain and then, again, as emperors until abolition of the Holy Roman Empire, but these had become titular elevations rather than grants of new territory.
In the Netherlands after 1815, titles of baron authorized by previous monarchs (except those of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Holland) were usually recognized by the Dutch kings. But such recognition was not automatic, having to be authenticated by the Supreme Council of Nobility and then approved by the sovereign. This ceased to be possible after the Dutch constitution was revised in 1983. More than one hundred Dutch baronial families have been recognized. The title is usually inherited by all males descended patrilineally from the original recipient of the title, although in a few noble families baron is the title of cadet family members, while in a few others it is heritable according to primogeniture.
After its secession in 1830, Belgium incorporated into its nobility all titles of baron borne by Belgian citizens which had been recognized by the Netherlands since 1815. In addition, its monarchs have since created or recognized other titles of baron, and the sovereign continues to exercise the prerogative to confer baronial and other titles of nobility.
Luxembourg's monarch retains the right to confer the baronial title. Two of the grand duchy's prime ministers inherited baronial titles that were used during their tenures in office, Victor de Tornaco and Félix de Blochausen.
During the Ancien Régime, French baronies were very much like Scottish ones. Feudal landholders were entitled to style themselves baron if they were nobles; a roturier (commoner) could only be a seigneur de la baronnie (lord of the barony). These baronies could be sold freely, until the abolition of feudalism in 1789. The title of baron was assumed as a titre de courtoisie by many nobles, both members of the Nobles of the Robe and cadets of Nobles of the Sword who had no legal right to any noble title. Napoléon created a new empire nobility, in which baron was the second lowest title. The titles followed a male-only line of descent and could not be purchased. In 1815, King Louis XVIII created a new peerage system based on the British model. Baron-peer was the lowest title, but the heirs to pre-1789 barons could remain barons, as could the elder sons of viscount-peers and younger sons of count-peers. This peerage was abolished in 1848, though some titles still exist today.
In pre-republican Germany all the knightly families of the Holy Roman Empire (sometimes distinguished by the prefix von) eventually were recognised as of baronial rank, although Ritter is the literal translation for "knight", and persons who held that title enjoyed a distinct, but lower, rank in Germany's nobility than barons (Freiherren). Families which had always held this status were called "original nobility" (Uradel), and were heraldically entitled to a seven pointed coronet. Families which had been ennobled at a definite point in time (Briefadel or "nobility by patent") had only five points on their coronet. These families held their fief in vassalage from a suzerain. The holder of an allodial (i.e. suzerain-free) barony was thus called a Free Lord, or Freiherr. Subsequently, sovereigns in Germany conferred the title of Freiherr as a rank in the nobility, without implication of allodial or feudal status.
Today there is no legal privilege associated with hereditary titles in Germany, and in Austria they have been banned (though persisting in social use). In republican Germany, Freiherr and Baron remain heritable only as part of the legal surname, (and may thereby be transmitted by females to their husbands and children, without implication of nobility).
In Luxembourg and Liechtenstein (where German is among the official languages), barons remain members of the recognized nobility, and the sovereigns retain authority to confer the title (morganatic cadets of the princely dynasty received the title Baron of Lanskron, using both "Freiherr" and "Baron" for different members of this branch).
Generally, all legitimate males of a German baronial family inherit the title Freiherr or Baron from birth. As a result, German barons have been more numerous than those of, e.g., France, Spain, and the United Kingdom, where primogeniture prevails.
In the beginning, Finnish nobles were all without honorific titulature, and known simply as lords. Since the Middle Ages, each head of a noble family had been entitled to a vote in any of Finland's provincial diets whenever held, as in the realm's Herrainpäivät, later Aatelissääty of the Riksdag of the Estates. In 1561, Sweden's King Eric XIV granted the hereditary titles of count and vapaaherra to some of these, but not all. Although their cadet family members were not entitled to vote or sit in the Riksdag, they were legally entitled to the same title as the head of the family, but in customary address they became Paroni or Paronitar. Theoretically, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, families elevated to vapaaherra status were granted a barony in fief, enjoying some rights of taxation and judicial authority. Subsequently, the "barony" was titular, usually attached to a family property, which was sometimes entailed. Their exemptions from taxes on landed properties continued into the twentieth century, although in the nineteenth century tax reforms narrowed this privilege. Nobility creations continued until 1917, the end of Finland's grand ducal monarchy.
In Spain the title follows Vizconde in the noble hierarchy, and ranks above Señor. Baronesa is the feminine form, for the wife of a baron or for a woman who has been granted the title in her own right. In general, titles of baron created before the nineteenth century originate from the Crown of Aragon. Barons lost territorial jurisdiction around the middle of the nineteenth century, and from then on the title became purely honorific. Although most barons have not also held the rank of grandeza, the title has been conferred in conjunction with the grandeza. The sovereign continues to grant baronial titles.
Like other major Western noble titles, Baron is sometimes used to render certain titles in non-western languages with their own traditions, even though they are necessarily historically unrelated and thus hard to compare, which are considered 'equivalent' in relative rank.
In the Polynesian island monarchy of Tonga, as opposed to the situation in Europe, barons are granted this imported title (in English), alongside traditional chiefly styles, and continue to hold and exercise some political power.
Furthermore it is customary in Western languages to use the word Baron to render somewhat 'equivalent' ranks in non-related aristocratic hierarchies in non-Western cultures.
BARON. This word, of uncertain origin, was introduced into England at the Conquest to denote "the man" (i.e. one who had done him "homage") of a great lord, and more especially of the king. All who held "in chief" (i.e. directly) of the king were alike barones regis, bound to perform a stipulated service, and members, in theory at least, of his council. Great nobles, whether earls or not, also spoke of their tenants as "barons," where lesser magnates spoke of their "men" (homines). This was especially the case in earldoms of a palatine character, such as Chester, where the earl's barons were a well-recognized body, the Venables family, "barons of Kinderton," continuing in existence down to 1679. In the palatinate of Durham also, the bishop had his barons, among whom the Hiltons of Hilton Castle were usually styled "Barons of Hilton" till extinct in 1746. Other families to whom the title was accorded, independently of peerage dignity and on somewhat uncertain grounds, were "the barons of Greystock," "the barons of Stafford," and the Cornwalls, "barons of Burford." Fantosme makes Henry II. speak of "mes baruns de Lundres"; John's charter granting permission to elect a mayor speaks of "our barons of our city of London," and a London document even speaks of "the greater barons of the city." The aldermen seem to have been loosely deemed equivalent to barons and were actually assessed to the poll-tax as such under Richard II. In Ireland the palatine character of the great lordships made the title not uncommon (e.g. the barons of Galtrim, the barons of Slane, the barons of the Naas).
As all those who held direct of the crown by military service (for those who held "by serjeanty" appear to have been classed apart), from earls downwards, were alike "barons," the great difference in their position and importance must have led, from an early date, to their being roughly divided into "greater" and "lesser" barons, and indeed, under Henry II., the Dialogus de Scaccario already distinguishes their holdings as "greater" or "lesser" baronies. Within a century of the Conquest, as we learn from Becket's case (1164), there arose the practice of sending to the greater barons a special summons to the council, while the lesser barons, it is stipulated in Magna Carta (1215), were to be summoned only through the sheriffs. Thus was introduced a definite distinction, which eventually had the effect of restricting to the greater barons the rights and privileges of peerage.
Thus far the baron's position was connected with the tenure of land; in theory the barons were those who held their lands of the king; in practice, they were those who so held a large amount of land. The great change in their status was effected when their presence in that council of the realm which became the House of Lords was determined by the issue of a writ of summons, dependent not on the tenure of land, but only on the king's will. Camden's statement that this change was made by Henry III. after "the Barons' War" was long and widely accepted, but it is now assigned, as by Stubbs, to Edward I., and the earliest writs accepted as creating hereditary baronies are those issued in his reign. It must not, however, be supposed that those who received such summons were as yet distinguished from commoners by any style or title. The only possible prefix at that time was Dominus (lord), which was regularly used by simple knights, and writs of summons were still issued to the lowest order of peers as knights (chevaliers) only. The style of baron was first introduced by Richard II. in 1387, when he created John de Beauchamp, by patent, Lord de Beauchamp and baron of Kidderminster, to make him "unum parium et baronum regni nostri." But it was not till 1433 that the next "baron" was created, Sir John Cornwall being then made baron of Fanhope. In spite, however, of these innovations, the former was only summoned to parliament by the style of "John Beauchamp of Kidderminster," and the latter by that of "John Cornwall, knight." Such creations became common under Henry VI., a transition period in peerage styles, but "Baron" could not evict "Sire," "Chevalier" and "Dominus." Patents of creation contained the formula "Lord A. (and) Baron of B.," but the grantee still styled himself "Lord" only, and it is an historically interesting fact that to this day a baron is addressed in correspondence, not by that style, but as "the Lord A.," although all peers under the rank of Duke are spoken of as "lords," while they are addressed in correspondence by their proper styles. To speak of "Baron A." or "Baron B." is an unhistorical and quite recent practice. When a barony, however, is vested in a lady it is now the recognized custom to speak of her as baroness, e.g. Baroness Berkeley.
The solemn investiture of barons created by patent was performed by the king himself, by enrobing the peer in the scarlet "robe of estate" during the reading of the patent, and this form continued till 13 Jac. I., when the lawyers declared that the delivery of the letters patent without ceremony was sufficient. The letters patent express the limits of inheritance of the barony. The usual limit is to the grantee and heirs male of his body, occasionally, in default of male issue, to a collateral male relative (as in the case of Lord Brougham, 1860)or (as in the case of Lord Basset, 1797, and Lord Burton, 1897) to the heirsmale of a daughter, and occasionally (as in the case of Lord Nelson, 1801) to the heirs-male of a sister. Sometimes also (as in the case of the barony of Rayleigh, 1821) the dignity is bestowed upon a lady with remainder to the heirs-male of her body. The coronation robes of a baron are the same as those of an earl, except that he has only two rows of spots on each shoulder; and, in like manner, his parliamentary robes have but two guards of white fur, with rows of gold lace; but in other respects they are the same as those of other peers. King Charles II. granted to the barons a coronet, having six large pearls set at equal distances on the chaplet. A baron's cap is the same as a viscount's. His style is "Right Honourable"; and he is addressed by the king or queen, "Right Trusty and Wellbeloved." His children are by courtesy entitled to the prefix "The Honourable." Barons of the Exchequer were formerly six judges (a chief baron and five puisne barons) to whom the administration of justice was committed in causes betwixt the king and his subjects relative to matters of revenue. Selden, in his Titles of Honour, conjectures that they were originally chosen from among the barons of the kingdom, and hence their name; but it would probably be more exact to say that they were officers of a branch of the king's Curia, which was theoretically composed of his "barons." The title has become obsolete since 1875, when the court of exchequer was merged in the High Court of Judicature.
Barons of the Cinque Ports (originally Hastings, Dover, Hythe, Romney and Sandwich) were at first the whole body of their freemen, who were so spoken of in royal charters. But the style was afterwards restricted to their mayors, jurats, and (prior to 1831) members of the House of Commons elected by the Cinque Ports, two for each port. Their right to the title is recognized in many old statutes, but in 1606 the use of the term in a message from the Lower House drew forth a protest from the peers, that "they would never acknowledge any man that sitteth in the Lower House to the right or title of a baron of parliament" (Lords' Journals). It was the ancient privilege of these "barons" to bear a canopy over the sovereign at his or her coronation and retain it as their perquisite. They petitioned as "barons of the Cinque Ports" to attend the coronation of Edward VII., and a deputation was allowed to do so.
Baron and Feme, in English law, is a phrase used for husband and wife, in relation to each other, who are accounted as one person. Hence, by the old law of evidence, the one party was excluded from giving evidence for or against the other in civil questions, and a relic of this is still preserved in the criminal law.
Baron and Feme, in heraldry, is the term used when the coatsof-arms of a man and his wife are borne per pale in the same escutcheon, the man's being always on the dexter side, and the woman's on the sinister. But in this case the woman is supposed not to be an heiress, for then her coat must be borne by the husband on an escutcheon of pretence. (See Heraldry.) The foreign title of baron is occasionally borne by English subjects, but confers no precedence in the United Kingdom. It may be Russian, e.g. Baron Dimsdale (1762); German, e.g. Baron Stockmar, Baron Halkett (Hanoverian); Austrian, e.g. Baron Rothschild (1822), Baron de Worms; Italian, e.g. Baron Heath; French, e.g. Baron de Teissier; French-Canadian, e.g. Baron de Longueil (1700); Dutch, e.g. Baron Mackay (Lord Reay). (J. H. R.) The Foreign Title. - On the continent of Europe the title baron, though the same in its origin, has come, owing to a variety of causes, to imply a rank and status very different from its connotation in the United Kingdom, and again varies considerably in different countries. Originally baro meant no more than "man," and is so used in the Salic and other "barbarian" laws; e.g. Si quis mortaudit barum vel feminam, &c. (Lex Alernan. tit. 76). In this way, too, it was long preserved in the sense of "husband," as in the Assize of Jerusalem (MSS. cap. 98): Si l'on appelle aucune chose femme qui aura baron, et it la veut deffendre, it la pent deffendre de son cors, &c. Gradually the word seems to have come to mean a "strong or powerful man," and thus generally "a magnate." Finally, in France in the 12th century the general expression barones was introduced in a restricted sense, as applied properly to all lords possessing an important fief, subject to the rule of primogeniture and thus not liable to be divided up, and held of one overlord alone. Sometimes it included ecclesiastical lordships of the first rank. In the 13th century the Register of King Philip Augustus places the barones regis Francie next to the dukes and counts holding in chief, the title being limited to vassals of the second rank. Towards the end of the century the title had come to mean that its bearer held his principal fief direct from the crown, and was therefore more important than that of count, since many counts were only mediate vassals. Thus the kings in granting a duchy or countship as an apanage to their brothers or sons used the phrase in comitatum et baroniam. From this period, however, the title tends to sink in comparative importance. When, in the 14th century, the feudal hierarchy was completed and stereotyped, the barons are ranked not only below counts, but below viscounts, though in power and possessions many barons were superior to many counts. In any case, until the 17th century, the title of baron could only be borne by the holder of a territorial barony; and it was Louis XIV. who first cheapened the title in France by creating numerous barons by royal letters. This entire dissociation of the title from the idea of feudal rights and obligations was completed by Napoleon's decree of March 1, 1808, reviving the ancient titles. By this instrument the title of baron was to be borne ex officio by a number of high officials, e.g. ministers, senators, councillors of state, archbishops and bishops. It was given to the 37 mayors who attended the coronation, and could be claimed by any mayor who had served to the emperor's satisfaction for ten years, and by any member of an electoral college who had attended three sessions. The title was made to descend in order of primogeniture to legitimate or adopted sons and to the nephews of bishops, the sole condition being that proof must be presented of an actual income of 15,000 fr., of which one-third should descend with the title. The creation of barons was continued by Louis XVIII., Charles X. and Louis Philippe, and, suspended at the revolution of 1848, was revived again on a generous scale by Napoleon III. The tolerant attitude of the Third Republic towards titles, which it does not officially recognize, has increased the confusion by facilitating the assumption of the title on very slender grounds of right. The result has been that in France the title of Baron, unless borne by the recognized representative of a historic name, not only involves no political status, but confers also but very slight social distinction.
The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of most other European countries, and notably of Italy. In Austria and Germany the case is somewhat different. Though in Latin documents of the middle ages the term barones for liberi domini was used, it was not until the 17th century that the word Baron, perhaps under the influence of the court of Versailles, began to be used as the equivalent of the old German Freiherr, or free lord of the Empire. The style Freiherr (liber dominos) implied originally a dynastic status, and many Freiherren held countships without taking the title of count. When the more important of them styled themselves counts, the Freiherren sank into an inferior class of nobility. The practice of conferring the title Freiherr by imperial letters was begun in the 16th century by Charles V., was assumed on the ground of special imperial concessions by many of the princes of the Empire, and is now exercised by all the German sovereigns. Though the practice of all the children taking the title of their father has tended to make that of Baron comparatively very common, and has dissociated it from all idea of territorial possession, it still implies considerable social status and privilege in countries where a sharp line is drawn between the caste of "nobles" and the common herd, whom no wealth or intellectual eminence can place on the same social level with the poorest Adeliger. In Japan the title baron (Dan) is the lowest of the five titles of nobility introduced in 1885, on the European model. It was given to the least important class of territorial nobles, but is also bestowed as a title of honour without reference to territorial possession.
See du Cange, Glossarium, s. " Baro" (ed. Niort, 1883); John Selden, Titles of Honor, p. 353 (ed. 1672); Achille Luchaire, Manuel des institutions francaises (Paris, 1892); Maurice Prou, art. "Baron" in La Grande Encyclopedie. (W. A. P.)
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