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Hereditary Peer
Life Peer
Representative Peer
Privilege of Peerage
History of the Peerage

The Peerage is a system of titles in the United Kingdom, which represents the upper ranks of British nobility and is part of the British honours system. The term is used both collectively to refer to the entire body of titles, and individually to refer to a specific title. All modern British honours, including peerage dignities, are created directly by the British monarch, taking effect when letters patent are affixed with the Great Seal of the Realm. The Sovereign is considered the fount of honour, and as "the fountain and source of all dignities cannot hold a dignity from himself",[1] cannot hold a peerage. If an individual is neither the Sovereign nor a peer, he or she is a commoner. Members of a peer's family who are not themselves peers (including such members of the Royal Family) are also commoners; the British system thus differs fundamentally from continental European ones, where entire families, rather than individuals, were ennobled.

The inheritance of and the privileges associated with a peerage are regulated by Parliament, which also advises the monarch on the selection process. Some, but not all, peers have the right to sit in the House of Lords, and certain other personal privileges are also afforded to all lords and ladies.

The modern peerage system is a vestige of the custom of English kings in the 1100s and 1200s, in summoning wealthy individuals (along with church officials and elected representatives for commoners) to form a Parliament. The economic system at the time was manorialism (or feudalism), and the burden or privilege of being summoned to Parliament was related to the amount of land one controlled (a "barony"). In the late 1300s, this right (or "title") began to be granted by decree, and titles also became inherited with the rest of an estate under the system of primogeniture. Non-hereditary positions began to be created again in 1867 for Law Lords, and 1958 generally.


Divisions of the Peerage

Divisions of the Peerage
 Flag of England.svg Peerage of England
 Flag of Scotland.svg Peerage of Scotland
 St Patrick's saltire3.svg Peerage of Ireland
 Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Peerage of Great Britain
 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Peerage of the United Kingdom

The various divisions of the Peerage are:


Peers are of five ranks, in descending order of hierarchy:

  • Duke comes from the Latin dux, leader. Created in 1337.[2]
  • Marquess comes from the French marquis, which is a derivative of marche or march. This is a reference to the borders ("marches") between England, Scotland and Wales, a relationship more evident in the feminine form: Marchioness. Created in 1385.[2]
  • Earl comes from the Old English or Anglo-Saxon eorl, a military leader. The meaning may have been affected by the Old Norse jarl, meaning free-born warrior or nobleman, during the Danelaw, thus giving rise to the modern sense. Since there was no feminine Old English or Old Norse equivalent for the term, "Countess" is used (an Earl is analogous to the Continental count), from the Latin comes. Created circa 800-1000.[2]
  • Viscount comes from the Latin vicecomes, vice-count. Created in 1440.[2]
  • Baron comes from the Old Germanic baro, freeman. Created in 1066.[2]

In Scotland, the fifth rank is called a Lord of Parliament, as Barons are holders of feudal dignities, not peers. Baronets, while holders of hereditary titles, are not peers. Knights, Dames, and holders of other non-hereditary Orders, decorations, and medals of the United Kingdom are also not peers.

For peers, the various titles are in the form of (Rank) (Name of Title) or (Rank) of (Name of Title). The name of the title can either be a place name or a surname. The precise usage depends on the rank of the peerage and on certain other general considerations. Dukes always use of. Marquesses and Earls whose titles are based on place names normally use of, while those whose titles are based on surnames normally do not. Viscounts, Barons and Lords of Parliament do not use of. However, there are several exceptions to the rule. For instance, Scottish vicecomital titles theoretically include of, though in practice it is usually dropped. (Thus, the "Viscount of Falkland" is commonly known as the "Viscount Falkland".)

Geographic association

A territorial designation is often added to the main peerage title, especially in the case of Barons and Viscounts: for instance, Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire or Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, of Hindhead in the County of Surrey. Any designation after the comma does not form a part of the main title. Territorial designations in titles are not updated with local government reforms, but new creations do take them into account. Thus there is a Baron Knollys, of Caversham in the County of Oxford (created in 1902), and a Baroness Pitkeathley, of Caversham in the Royal County of Berkshire (created in 1997).

It was once the case that a peer administered the place associated with his title, but this has not been true since the Middle Ages. The only remaining peerages with associated lands controlled by the holder are the Duchy of Cornwall, which is associated with the Dukedom of Cornwall, held by the eldest son and heir to the Sovereign, and the Duchy of Lancaster, which is associated with the Dukedom of Lancaster, held by the Sovereign.

Hereditary peers

An hereditary peer is a peer whose dignity may be inherited. Hereditary peerage dignities may be created with writs of summons or by letters patent; the former method is now obsolete. Writs of summons summon an individual to Parliament, in the old feudal tradition, and merely implied the existence or creation of an hereditary peerage dignity, which is automatically inherited, presumably according to the traditional mediæval rules (male-preference primogeniture, similar to the succession of the British crown). Letters patent explicitly create a dignity and specify its course of inheritance (usually agnatic succession, like the Salic Law).[citation needed]

Once created, a peerage dignity continues to exist as long as there are surviving descendants of the first holder, unless a contrary method of descent is specified in the letters patent. Once the heirs of the original peer die out, the peerage dignity becomes extinct. In former times, peerage dignities were often forfeit by Acts of Parliament, usually when peers were found guilty of treason. Often, however, the felonious peer's descendants successfully petitioned the Sovereign to restore the dignity to the family. Some dignities, such as the Dukedom of Norfolk, have been forfeit and restored several times. Under the Peerage Act 1963 an individual can disclaim his peerage dignity within one year of inheriting it.

When the holder of a peerage succeeds to the throne, the dignity "merges in the Crown" and ceases to exist.

All hereditary peers in the Peerages of England, Scotland, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom were entitled to sit in the House of Lords, subject only to qualifications such as age and citizenship, but under section 1 of the House of Lords Act 1999 they lost this right. The Act provided that 92 hereditary peers — the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal, along with 90 others exempted through standing orders of the House — would remain in the House of Lords in the interim[3], pending any reform of the membership to the House. Standing Order 9 provides that those exempted are 75 hereditary peers elected by other peers from and by respective party groups in the House in proportion to their numbers, and fifteen chosen by the whole House to serve as officers of the House.[4]

From 1707 until 1963 Scottish peers elected 16 representative peers to sit in the House of Lords. Since 1963 they have had the same rights as Peers of the United Kingdom.

From 1801 until 1922 Irish peers elected 28 representative peers to sit in the House of Lords. In 1922 the Irish Free State became a separate country.

Some hereditary titles can pass through and vest in female heirs in a system called coparcenary.

Life peers

The Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 and the Life Peerages Act 1958 authorise the regular creation of life peerages. Life peers created under both acts are of baronial rank, though there is nothing to prevent the creation by the Sovereign of a life peer of some other rank. They are always created under letters patent.

Until the formal opening of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on 1 October 2009, life peers created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act were known as "Lords of Appeal in Ordinary" or in common parlance "Law Lords". They performed the judicial functions of the House of Lords and served on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. They remained peers for life, but ceased to receive judicial salaries at the age of 75. Under the terms of the Act, there may be no more than 12 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary under the age of 75 at one time. However, after the transfer of the judicial functions of the Lords to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the Act ceased to have meaningful effect (although all current members of the Court are former Law Lords and hold peerages).

There is no limit on the number of peerages the Sovereign may create under the Life Peerages Act. Normally life peerages are granted to individuals nominated by political parties or by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, and to honour important public figures such as the Archbishop of Canterbury[citation needed] and the Prime Minister on their retirement.[5]

There is currently no recognised way for a life peer to leave the upper House permanently and voluntarily.

Styles and titles

Main articles: Forms of Address in the United Kingdom, Courtesy title

Dukes use His Grace, Marquesses use The Most Honourable and other peers use The Right Honourable. Peeresses (whether they hold peerages in their own right or are wives of peers) use equivalent styles.

In speech, any peer or peeress except a Duke or Duchess is referred to as Lord X or Lady X. The exception is a suo jure Baroness (that is, one holding the dignity in her own right, usually a life peeress), who may also be called Baroness X in normal speech, though Lady X is also common usage. Hence, the Baroness Thatcher, a suo jure life peeress, may be referred to as either "Baroness Thatcher" or "Lady Thatcher". "Baroness" is incorrect for female holders of Scottish Lordships of Parliament, who are not Baronesses; for example, the 21st Lady Saltoun is known as "Lady Saltoun", not "Baroness Saltoun".

A peer is referred to by his peerage even if it is the same as his surname, thus the Baron Owen is "Lord Owen" not "Lord David Owen", though such incorrect forms are commonly used.

Some peers, particularly life peers who were well-known before their ennoblement, do not use their peerage titles. Others use a combination: for example, the author John Julius Norwich is John Julius Cooper, 2nd Viscount Norwich.

Individuals who use the style Lord or Lady are not necessarily peers. Children of peers use special titles called courtesy titles. The heir apparent of a duke, a marquess, or an earl generally uses his father's highest lesser peerage dignity as his own. Hence, the Duke of Devonshire's son is called Marquess of Hartington. Such an heir apparent is called a courtesy peer, but is a commoner until such time as he inherits (unless summoned by a writ in acceleration).

Younger sons of dukes and marquesses prefix Lord to their first names as courtesy titles while daughters of dukes, marquesses and earls use Lady. Younger sons of earls and children of viscounts, barons and lords of Parliament use The Honourable.

Privilege of Peerage

Peers wear ceremonial robes, whose designs are based on their rank.

The Privilege of Peerage is the body of privileges that belongs to peers, their wives and their unremarried widows. While the Privilege of Peerage was once extensive, only three privileges survived into the 20th century:[citation needed]

  • The right to be tried by fellow peers in the Lord High Steward's Court and in the House of Lords, abolished 1948.
  • The personal right of access to the Sovereign, but this privilege has long been obsolete.
  • The right to be exempt from civil arrest. This privilege has been used only twice since 1945.

Peers enjoy several rights that do not formally form a part of the Privilege of the Peerage. For instance:[citation needed]

  • Peers and their families have positions in the order of precedence.
  • Peers wear special coronets at coronations of Sovereigns; depictions of these coronets also appear atop peers' armorial achievements.
  • Peers have distinctive robes for use at coronations and in the House of Lords (if a member of the latter).


When William of Normandy conquered England, he divided the nation into many "manors", the owners of which came to be known as barons; those who held many manors were known as "greater barons", while those with fewer manors were the "lesser barons". When Kings summoned their barons to Royal Councils, the greater barons were summoned individually by the Sovereign, lesser barons through sheriffs. In 1254, the lesser barons ceased to be summoned, and the body of greater barons evolved into the House of Lords. Since the Crown was itself a hereditary dignity, it seemed natural for seats in the upper House of Parliament to be so as well. By the beginning of the 14th century, the hereditary characteristics of the Peerage were well developed. The first peer to be created by patent was Lord Beauchamp of Holt in the reign of Richard II.

The ranks of baron and earl date to feudal, and perhaps Anglo-Saxon, times. The ranks of duke and marquess were introduced in the 14th century, and that of viscount in the 15th century. While life peerages were often created in the early days of the Peerage, their regular creation was not provided for by Act of Parliament until the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876.


Other feudal monarchies equally had a similar system, grouping high nobility of different rank titles under one term, with common privileges and/or in an assembly, sometimes legislative and/or judicial.

Ito Hirobumi and the other Meiji leaders deliberately modeled the Japanese House of Peers on the House of Lords, as a counterweight to the popularly elected House of Representatives (Shūgiin).

In France, the system of pairies (peerage) existed in two different versions: the exclusive 'old' in the French kingdom, in many respects an inspiration for the English/British practice, and the very prolific chambre des pairs of the Bourbon Restoration (1814-1848)

In Spain and Portugal, the closest equivalent title was grandee; in Hungary, magnate.

In the Holy Roman Empire, instead of an exclusive aristocratic assembly, the imperial Diet, the Reichstag, was the highest organ, membership of which, expressed by the title Reichsfürst, was granted to all major princes, and various minor ones, princes of the church (parallel to the Lords spiritual) and in some cases restricted to a collective 'curiate' vote in a 'bench', such as the Grafenbank.

See also

Peerages and baronetages
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
of the British Isles
Extant All
Dukes Dukedoms
Marquesses Marquessates
Earls Earldoms
Viscounts Viscountcies
Barons Baronies
Baronets Baronetcies


External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PEERAGE (Fr. pairage, med. Lat. paragium; M.E. Pere, O. Fr. per, peer, later pair; Lat. Paris, " equal"). Although in England the terms "peerage," "nobility," "House of Lords" are in common parlance frequently regarded as synonymous, in reality each expresses a different meaning. A man may be a peer and yet not a member of the House of Lords, a member of the House of Lords and yet not strictly a peer; though all peers (as the term is now understood) are members of the House of Lords either or in posse. In the United Kingdom the rights, duties and privileges of peerage are centred in an individual; to the monarchial nations of the Continent nobility conveys the idea of family, as opposed to personal, privilege.

Etymologically "peers" are "equals" (pares), and in Anglo. Norman days the word was invariably so understood. The feudal tenants-in-chief of the Crown were all the explanation, "whom some Zabeta call." The Famous Chronicle of King Edward the first, sirnamed Edward Longshankes, with his returne from the holy land. Also the life of Lleuellen, rebell in Wales. Lastly, the sinking of Queen Elinor, who suncke at Charingcrosse, and rose again at Potters-hith, now named Queenehith (printed 1 593). This "chronicle history," formless enough, as the rambling title shows, is nevertheless an advance on the old chronicle plays, and marks a step towards the Shakespearian historical drama. The Battell of Alcazar - with the death of Captaine Stukeley (acted 1588-1589, printed 1 594), published anonymously, is attributed with much probability to Peele. The Old Wives Tale, registered in Stationers' Hall, perhaps more correctly, as "The Owlde wifes tale" (printed 1595), was followed by The Love of King David and fair Bethsabe (written c. 1588, printed 1 599), which is notable as an example of Elizabethan drama drawn entirely from scriptural sources. Mr Fleay sees in it a political satire, and identifies Elizabeth and Leicester as David and Bathsheba, Mary Queen of Scots as Absalom. Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamydes (printed 1599) has been attributed to Peele, but on insufficient grounds. Among his occasional poems are "The Honour of the Garter," which has a prologue containing Peele's judgments on his contemporaries, and "Polyhymnia" (1590), a blank-verse description of the ceremonies attending the retirement of the queen's champion, Sir Henry Lee. This is concluded by the "Sonnet," "His golden locks time hath to silver turn'd," quoted by Thackeray in the 76th chapter of The Newcomes. To the Phoenix Nest in 1593 he contributed "The Praise of Chastity." Mr F. G. Fleay (Biog. Chron. of the Drama) credits Peele with The Wisdom of Doctor Doddipoll (printed 1600), Wily Beguiled (printed 1606), The Life and Death of Jack Straw, a notable rebel (1587?), a share in the First and Second Parts of VI., and on the authority of Wood and Winstanley, Alphonsus, Emperor of Germany. Peele belonged to the group of university scholars who, in Greene's phrase, "spent their wits in making playes." Greene went on to say that he was "in some things rarer, in nothing inferior," to Marlowe. Nashe in his preface to Greene's Menapiton called him "the chief supporter of pleasance now living, the Atlas of Poetrie and primus verborum artifex, whose first encrease, the Arraignment of Paris, might plead to your opinions his pregnant dexteritie of wit and manifold varietie of invention, wherein (me judice) hee goeth a step beyond all that write." This praise was not unfounded. The credit given to Greene and Marlowe for the increased dignity of English dramatic diction, and for the new smoothness infused into blank verse, must certainly be shared by Peele. Professor F. B. Gummere, in a critical essay prefixed to his edition of The Old Wives Tale, puts in another claim for Peele. In the contrast between the romantic story and the realistic dialogue he sees the first instance of humour quite foreign to the comic "business" of earlier comedy. The Old Wives Tale is a play within a play, slight enough to be perhaps better described as an interlude. Its background of rustic folk-lore gives it additional interest, and there is much fun poked at Gabriel Harvey and Stanyhurst. Perhaps Huanebango, 1 who parodies Harvey's hexameters, and actually quotes him on one occasion, may be regarded as representing that arch-enemy of Greene and his friends.

Peele's Works were edited by Alexander Dyce (1828,1829-1839and 1861); by A. H. Bullen (2 vols., 1888). An examination of the metrical peculiarities of his work is to be found in F. A. R. L4mmerhirt's Georg Peele, Untersuchungen fiber sein Leben and seine Werke (Rostock, 1882). See also Professor F. B. Gummere, in Representative English Comedies (1903); and an edition of The Battell of Alcazar, printed for the Malone Society in 1907.

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Simple English

A peer is a member of the nobility. It is sometimes used instead of "Lord". In formal old British documents, the House of Lords is called the House of Peers.



In the United Kingdom there are five ranks of the peerage:

  • Baron is the lowest. In Scotland this is called a Lord, short for Lord in Parliament.
  • Viscount
  • Earl - this is an old Saxon word. In Europe this rank is called "count", the lord in charge of a county. An earl's wife is called a countess
  • Marquess - A special rank higher than an earl because a marquess's land was in the Marches, the border areas that were hard to defend against attack. A marquess's wife is called a marchioness. There were not many marquesses in Scotland, and they usually spelled the title "marquis" like the French
  • Duke - the highest rank.

Informally Barons, Viscounts, Earls and Marquesses are called lords, and instead of their name when speaking to them, the term "my lord" is used. A Duke is never called a lord. "Your grace" is used for a Duke.

Since 2004 a list of peers has been kept by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. This list, called the Roll of Peerage had to be kept to prove who was a peer. The list of members of the House of Lords used to be the same until the hereditary peers were excluded. Official documents can only call someone a peer if their name is on the Peerage Roll.


Sorting out which peer should precede (come in front of) in a procession or other event depends on three different things:

  1. The rank. All dukes come before all marquesses, then earls, then viscounts and finally barons.
  2. Country the peerage was created in. All Dukes first created by the King of England come before those created by the King of Scotland. After this come Dukes of Great Britain whose titles were created between 1707 and 1801. In 1801 Ireland joined Great Britain to form the United Kingdom, so Dukes of Ireland come next, followed by Dukes of the United Kingdom. The other types of peer follow in the same order.
    1. England
    2. Scotland
    3. Great Britain
    4. Ireland
    5. United Kingdom
  3. Finally the order is decided on the year the title was created.


The only exceptions are the royal dukes, and the Duke of Abercorn.

  • The dukes of Gloucester, Kent, Edinburgh and York are the most junior dukes, but because they are princes they rank ahead of all other dukes. In 1952 the Queen ordered that her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, would be second only to her[1].
  • The Duke of Abercorn. When the Irish Marquess of Abercorn[2] was "promoted" in 1868 the duke was listed as a duke of the kingdom of Ireland, but was given precedence as if it was a United Kingdom peerage. Irish peers cannot attend the House of Lords.


  1. G. R. Bellew, Garter King of Arms (30 September 1952). "The London Gazette". HMSO. Retrieved 2007-09-03. "The QUEEN has been graciously pleased by Warrant bearing date the 18th instant to declare and ordain that His Royal Highness Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Commander in the Royal Navy, shall henceforth upon all occasions and in all Meetings except where otherwise provided by Act of Parliament have, hold and enjoy Place, Pre-eminence and Precedence next to Her Majesty." 
  2. Peerage Roll 2004 Peerage Roll lists the Marquessate as a UK peerage and notes that the peer is usually called by a higher title. This is usual with Irish peers


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