Journalists' &
Authors' Guide to Heraldry and Titles

 

Introduction

Coat of Arms

Heraldic Achievement

Origins of
the English Peerage

Metals, Furs and Colours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE PEERAGE

There are now three uses for the term "Peerage". The oldest and the most important is that for the order of men whose joint counsel the king valued and who were equal to the highest ranking feudal lords in the realm. The peerage of Charlemagne was the first and, for its influence throughout the politics of mediaeval Europe, the most famous. Its most notable successors were the peerages of Flanders (established circa 1067) and of France (established in 1180), the former having as its members twelve powerful lords, and the latter six powerful lords and six equally powerful prelates.

Scotland may be said to have a peerage of similar antiquity, for that body known as the "Seven Earls" was as powerful as the continental peerages, pre-dated all but that of Charlemagne, and its descendants retained great influence until comparatively modern times. The English Peerage came into being rather later, and what is now known as the Scots Peerage even later than that.

"The Peerage" has also been used as a term for the directories of peers published by such men as Debrett, Burke, Collins and Dod, with titles such as Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage. There have been many such books, about a dozen different ones during the 19th century, but the only one currently in print today is that known as Debrett's Peerage & Baronetage.

The third and most controversial use of the word is to indicate the rank or dignity of a peer - for example, "he has been given a peerage" meaning that the recipient has been given a peerage title. It is advantageous to be as precise as possible in legal matters, and for that reason the lawyers who insist on using the term "peerage title" where others loosely use "peerage" have a good case, but it is a lost battle. Even some of the most eminent peerage scholars occasionally follow the common usage.

In these notes we shall try to be precise, and we shall use "peerage" only in its original sense of a body of peers. Elsewhere we shall write of "peerage directories" and "peerage titles".

There are five peerages in the British Isles. These are, in their order of precedence -

The English Peerage

The Scots Peerage

The Peerage of Great Britain

The Peerage of Ireland

The Peerage of the United Kingdom

New appointments to the English and Scottish Peerages ended with the Union of the two countries in 1707 and the formation of the Peerage of Great Britain. In contrast, new appointments to the Peerage of Ireland did not end similarly in 1801, when Ireland joined Great Britain in the United Kingdom and the Peerage of the United Kingdom was created, for it was agreed that the number of Irish peers could be maintained at 100 by new creations. However, no new Irish peers have been created since 1922.

Within the peerages are five ranks (although this was not always so). These, in order of precedence, are Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts and Barons - but in Scotland the last rank is not Baron but Lord of Parliament (abbreviated to "Lord") because Baron in Scotland is still a feudal title, not a peerage title.

 

© 1998 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates

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