Hereditary peer

The hereditary peers form part of the peerage in the United Kingdom. As of 2019 there are 814 hereditary peers. The numbers of peers – of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the UK – whose titles are the highest they hold (i.e. are not subsidiary titles) are: dukes, 24 (plus 7 royal dukes); marquesses, 34; earls, 193; viscounts, 112; barons, 444.

Not all hereditary titles are titles of the peerage. For instance, baronets and baronetesses may pass on their titles, but they are not peers. Conversely, the holder of a non-hereditary title may belong to the peerage, as with life peers. Peerages may be created by means of letters patent, but the granting of new hereditary peerages has largely dwindled; only seven hereditary peers have been created after 1965, four of them members of the British royal family.

From 1963 to 1999, all (non-Irish) peers were entitled to sit in the House of Lords, but since the House of Lords Act 1999 was passed, only 92 are permitted to do so, unless they are also life peers.[1] Peers are called to the House of Lords with a writ of summons.


The hereditary peerage, as it now exists, combines several different English institutions with analogous ones from Scotland and Ireland.

English Earls are an Anglo-Saxon institution. Around 1014, England was divided into shires or counties, largely to defend against the Danes; each shire was led by a local great man, called an earl; the same man could be earl of several shires. When the Normans conquered England, they continued to appoint earls, but not for all counties; the administrative head of the county became the sheriff. Earldoms began as offices, with a perquisite of a share of the legal fees in the county; they gradually became honours, with a stipend of £20 a year. Like most feudal offices, earldoms were inherited, but the kings frequently asked earls to resign or exchange earldoms. Usually there were few Earls in England, and they were men of great wealth in the shire from which they held title, or an adjacent one, but it depended on circumstances: during the civil war between Stephen and the Empress Matilda, nine Earls were created in three years.

William the Conqueror and Henry II did not make Dukes; they were themselves only Dukes of Normandy or Aquitaine. But when Edward III of England declared himself King of France, he made his sons Dukes, to distinguish them from other noblemen, much as Royal Dukes are now distinguished from other Dukes. Later Kings created Marquesses and Viscounts to make finer gradations of honour: a rank something more than an Earl and something less than an Earl, respectively.

When Henry III or Edward I wanted money or advice from his subjects, he would order great churchmen, earls, and other great men to come to his Great Council (some of these are now considered the first Parliaments); he would generally order lesser men from towns and counties to gather and pick some men to represent them. The English Order of Barons evolved from those men who were individually ordered to attend Parliament, but held no other title; the chosen representatives, on the other hand, became the House of Commons. This order, called a writ, was not originally hereditary, or even a privilege; the recipient had to come to the Great Council at his own expense, vote on taxes on himself and his neighbours, acknowledge that he was the king's tenant-in-chief (which might cost him special taxes), and risk involvement in royal politics – or a request from the king for a personal loan (benevolence). Which men were ordered to Council varied from Council to Council; a man might be so ordered once and never again, or all his life, but his son and heir might never go.

Under Henry VI of England, in the 15th century, just before the Wars of the Roses, attendance at Parliament became more valuable. The first claim of hereditary right to a writ comes from this reign; so does the first patent, or charter declaring a man to be a Baron. The five orders began to be called Peers. Holders of older peerages also began to receive greater honour than Peers of the same rank just created.

If a man held a peerage, his son would succeed to it; if he had no children, his brother would succeed. If he had a single daughter, his son-in-law would inherit the family lands, and usually the same Peerage; more complex cases were decided depending on circumstances. Customs changed with time; Earldoms were the first to be hereditary, and three different rules can be traced for the case of an Earl who left no sons and several married daughters. In the 13th century, the husband of the eldest daughter inherited the Earldom automatically; in the 15th century, the Earldom reverted to the Crown, who might regrant it (often to the eldest son-in-law); in the 17th century, it would not be inherited by anybody unless all but one of the daughters died and left no descendants, in which case the remaining daughter (or her heir) would inherit.

After Henry II became the Lord of Ireland, he and his successors began to imitate the English system as it was in their time. Irish Earls were first created in the 13th century, and Irish Parliaments began later in the same century; until Henry VIII declared himself King of Ireland, these Parliaments were small bodies, representing only the Irish Pale. A writ does not create a peerage in Ireland; all Irish peerages are by patent or charter, although some early patents have been lost. After James II left England, he was King of Ireland alone for a time; three creations he ordered then are in the Irish Patent Roll, although the patents were never issued; but these are treated as valid.

The Irish peers were in a peculiar political position: because they were subjects of the King of England, but peers in a different kingdom, they could sit in the English House of Commons, and many did. In the 18th century, Irish peerages became rewards for English politicians, limited only by the concern that they might go to Dublin and interfere with the Irish Government.

Scotland evolved a similar system, differing in points of detail. The first Scottish Earldoms derive from the seven mormaers, of immemorial antiquity; they were named Earls by Queen Margaret. The Parliament of Scotland is as old as the English; the Scottish equivalent of baronies are called lordships of Parliament.

The Act of Union 1707, between England and Scotland, provided that future peerages should be peers of Great Britain, and the rules covering the peers should follow the English model; because there were proportionately many more Scottish peers, they chose a number of representatives to sit in the British House of Lords. The Acts of Union 1800 changed this to peers of the United Kingdom, but provided that Irish peerages could still be created; but the Irish peers were concerned that their honours would be diluted as cheap prizes, and insisted that an Irish peerage could be created only when three Irish peerages had gone extinct (until there were only 100 Irish peers left). In the early 19th century, Irish creations were as frequent as this allowed; but only three have been created since 1863, and none since 1898. As of 2011, only 66 "only-Irish" peers remain.[2]

Modern laws

The law applicable to a British hereditary peerage depends on which Kingdom it belongs to. Peerages of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom follow English law; the difference between them is that Peerages of England were created before the Act of Union 1707, Peerages of Great Britain between 1707 and the Union with Ireland in 1800, and Peerages of the United Kingdom since 1800. Irish Peerages follow the law of the Kingdom of Ireland, which is very like English law, except in referring to the Irish Parliament and Irish officials, generally no longer appointed; no Irish peers have been created since 1898, and they have no part in the present governance of the United Kingdom. Scottish Peerage law is generally similar to English law, but differs in innumerable points of detail, often being more similar to medieval practice.

Women are ineligible to succeed to the majority of hereditary peerages, and only inherit in the absence of a male heir in the other peerages.[3]

Ranks and titles

House of Lords Microcosm edited
The House of Lords (old chamber, burned down in 1834) as drawn by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson for Ackermann's Microcosm of London (1808-11).

The ranks of the Peerage in most of the United Kingdom are, in descending order of rank, duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron;[4] the female equivalents are duchess, marchioness, countess, viscountess and baroness respectively. Women typically do not hold hereditary titles in their own right, one significant change to this however was in 1532 when Henry VIII created the Marquess of Pembroke title for his soon to be wife, Anne Boleyn. Anne held this title in her own right and was therefore ennobled with the same rank as a male Viscount.

In the Scottish peerage, the lowest rank is lordship of Parliament, the male holder thereof being known as a lord of Parliament.[5] A Scottish barony is a feudal rank, and not of the Peerage. The barony by tenure or feudal barony in England and Wales was similar to a Scottish feudal barony, in being hereditary, but is long obsolete, the last full summons of the English feudal barons to military service having occurred in 1327.[6] The Tenures Abolition Act 1660 finally quashed any remaining doubt as to their continued status.

Peerage dignities are created by the Sovereign by either writs of summons or letters patent. Under modern constitutional conventions, no peerage dignity, with the possible exception of those given to members of the Royal Family, would be created except upon the advice of the Prime Minister.

Many peers hold more than one hereditary title; for example, the same individual may be a duke,a marquess, an earl, a viscount and a baron by virtue of different peerages. If such a person is entitled to sit in the House of Lords, he still only has one vote. However, until the House of Lords Act 1999 it was possible for one of the peer's subsidiary titles to be passed to his heir before his death by means of a writ of acceleration, in which case the peer and his heir would have one vote each. Where this is not done, the heir may still use one of the father's subsidiary titles as a "courtesy title", but he is not considered a peer.[7]

Inheritance of titles

The mode of inheritance of a hereditary peerage is determined by the method of its creation. Titles may be created by writ of summons or by letters patent. The former is merely a summons of an individual to Parliament—it does not explicitly confer a peerage—and descent is always to heirs of the body, male and female. The latter method explicitly creates a peerage and names the dignity in question. Letters patent may state the course of descent; normally, only male heirs are allowed to succeed to the peerage. A child is deemed to be legitimate if its parents are married at the time of its birth or marry later; only legitimate children may succeed to a title, and furthermore, an English, Irish, or British (but not Scottish) peerage can only be inherited by a child born legitimate, not legitimated by a later marriage.

Normally, a peerage passes to the next holder on the death of the previous holder. However, Edward IV introduced a procedure known as a writ of acceleration, whereby it was possible for the eldest son of a peer with multiple titles to sit in the House of Lords by virtue of one of his father's subsidiary dignities.

A person who is a possible heir to a peerage is said to be "in remainder". A title becomes extinct (an opposite to extant, alive) when all possible heirs (as provided by the letters patent) have died out, i.e., there is nobody in remainder at the death of the holder. A title becomes dormant if nobody has claimed the title, or if no claim has been satisfactorily proven. A title goes into abeyance if there is more than one person equally entitled to be the holder.

In the past, peerages were sometimes forfeit or attainted under Acts of Parliament, most often as the result of treason on the part of the holder. The blood of an attainted peer was considered "corrupted", consequently his or her descendants could not inherit the title. If all descendants of the attainted peer were to die out, however, then an heir from another branch of the family not affected by the attainder could take the title. The Forfeiture Act 1870 abolished corruption of blood; instead of losing the peerage, a peer convicted of treason would be disqualified from sitting in Parliament for the period of imprisonment.

The Titles Deprivation Act 1917 permitted the Crown to suspend peerages if their holders had fought against the United Kingdom during the First World War. Guilt was to be determined by a committee of the Privy Council; either House of Parliament could reject the committee's report within 40 days of its presentation. In 1919, King George V issued an Order in Council suspending the Dukedom of Albany (together with its subsidiary peerages, the Earldom of Clarence and the Barony of Arklow), the Dukedom of Cumberland and Teviotdale (along with the Earldom of Armagh) and the Viscountcy of Taaffe (along with the Barony of Ballymote). Under the Titles Deprivation Act, the successors to the peerages may petition the Crown for a reinstatement of the titles; so far, none of them has chosen to do so (the Taaffe and Ballymote peerages would have become extinct in 1967).

Nothing prevents a British peerage from being held by a foreign citizen (although such peers cannot sit in the House of Lords, while the term foreign does not include Irish or Commonwealth citizens). Several descendants of George III were British peers and German subjects; the Lords Fairfax of Cameron were American citizens for several generations.

A peer may also disclaim a hereditary peerage under the Peerage Act 1963. To do so, the peer must deliver an instrument of disclaimer to the Lord Chancellor within 12 months of succeeding to the peerage, or, if under the age of 21 at the time of succession, within 12 months of becoming 21 years old. If, at the time of succession, the peer is a member of the House of Commons, then the instrument must be delivered within one month of succession; meanwhile, the peer may not sit or vote in the House of Commons. Prior to the House of Lords Act 1999, a hereditary peer could not disclaim a peerage after having applied for a writ of summons to Parliament; now, however, hereditary peers do not have the automatic right to a writ of summons to the House. Irish peerages may not be disclaimed. A peer who disclaims the peerage loses all titles, rights and privileges associated with the peerage; his wife or her husband is similarly affected. No further hereditary peerages may be conferred upon the person, but life peerages may be. The peerage remains without a holder until the death of the peer making the disclaimer, when it descends normally.

Merging in the Crown

A title held by someone who becomes monarch is said to merge in the Crown and ceases to exist, for the Sovereign cannot hold a dignity from himself. The Dukedom of Cornwall and of Rothesay, and the Earldom of Carrick, are special cases, which when not in use are said to lapse to the Crown: they are construed as existing, but held by no one, during such periods. These peerages are also special because they are never directly inherited. The Dukedom of Cornwall was held formerly by the eldest son of the King of England, and the Dukedom of Rothesay, the Earldom of Carrick, and certain non-peerage titles (Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland) by the eldest son of the King of Scotland. Since those titles have been united, the dukedoms and associated subsidiary titles are held by the eldest son of the monarch. In Scotland, the title Duke of Rothesay is used for life. In England and Northern Ireland, the title Duke of Cornwall is used until the heir-apparent is created Prince of Wales. At the same time as the Principality is created, the Duke is also created Earl of Chester. The earldom is a special case, because it is not hereditary, instead revesting or merging in the Crown if the Prince succeeds to the Crown or predeceases the monarch: thus George III was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester a month after his father's death.

The Dukedom of Cornwall is associated with the Duchy of Cornwall; the former is a peerage dignity, while the latter is a private estate held by the Duke of Cornwall with certain privileges under the law. For example, the duchy is exempt from the provisions of the Town and County Planning Act 1990. Therefore, the planning laws of England and Wales do not apply to the duchy. This was evidenced in 2002 when Kerrier District Council objected to duchy plans to commence development on one of its properties. Income from the Duchy of Cornwall goes to the Duke of Cornwall, or, when there is no duke, to the Sovereign (but the money is then paid to the heir to the throne under the Sovereign Grant Act 2011). The duchy is now considered to be a private estate and conveys to the Prince of Wales the majority of his income. The only other Duchy in the United Kingdom is the Duchy of Lancaster, which is also an estate rather than a peerage dignity. The Dukedom of Lancaster merged in the Crown when Henry of Monmouth, Duke of Lancaster became King Henry V. Nonetheless, the Duchy of Lancaster still continues to exist, theoretically run by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Normally, however, the Chancellor does not exercise any actual duties related to the Duchy, so he is normally available as a Minister without Portfolio. The Duchy is the inherited property that belongs personally to the monarch, rather than to the Crown. Thus, while income from the Crown Estate is turned over to the Exchequer in return for a civil list payment, the income from the Duchy forms a part of the Privy Purse, the personal funds of the Sovereign.

Writs of summons

At the beginning of each new Parliament, each peer who has established his or her right to attend Parliament is issued a writ of summons. Without the writ, no peer may sit or vote in Parliament. Writs of summons generally follow the same form. Firstly, they set out the titles of the Sovereign, and then those of the recipient. Next, they note the date for Parliament's calling and the reason for its calling. This portion of the writ differs based on whether Parliament is at the time sitting, or prorogued, or dissolved. Then, after commanding the recipient to attend, the writ indicates that the Sovereign him or herself witnesses it. The form of writs issued while Parliament is dissolved is as follows:

Elizabeth the Second by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Our other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, To Our right trusty and well beloved XXXX Chevalier Greeting.

Whereas by the advice and assent of Our Council for certain arduous and urgent affairs concerning Us, the state, and defence of Our United Kingdom and the Church, We have ordered a certain Parliament to be holden to Our City of Westminster on the XX day of XX next ensuing and there to treat and have conference with the Prelates, Great Men, and Peers of Our Realm. We strictly enjoining Command you upon the faith and allegiance by which you are bound to Us that the weightness of the said affairs and imminent perils considered, waiving all excuses, you be at the said day and place personally present with Us and with the said Prelates, Great Men, and Peers to treat and give your counsel upon the affairs aforesaid. And this as you regard Us and Our honour and the safety and defence of the said Kingdom and Church and dispatch of the said affairs in nowise do you omit Witness Ourself at Westminster the XX day of XX in the XX year of Our Reign.

In the case of writs issued when Parliament is prorogued, the form of the first sentence of the second paragraph changes:

Whereas by reason of certain arduous and urgent affairs concerning Us the State and defence of Our United Kingdom and the Church We did lately with the advice and consent of Our Council ordain Our present Parliament to be holden at Our City of Westminster on the XX day of XX in the XX year of Our Reign which Parliament hath been from that time by several adjournments and prorogations adjourned prorogued and continued to and until the XX day of XX now next ensuing at Our City aforesaid to be then there holden. We strictly enjoining Command ...

In the case of writs issued during a session of Parliament, the form of the first sentence of the second paragraph changes:

Carolus I
Charles I (pictured) attempted to withhold a writ of summons for John Digby, 1st Earl of Bristol in 1626.

Whereas Our Parliament for arduous and urgent affairs concerning Us the state and defence of Our United Kingdom and the Church is now met at Our City of Westminster We strictly enjoining Command ...

It is established precedent that the Sovereign may not deny writs of summons to qualified peers. In 1626, King Charles I ordered that the writ of summons of John Digby, 1st Earl of Bristol not be issued. Lord Bristol had been charged with treason, but was never tried. He complained to the House of Lords, which resolved that the denial of a writ to an eligible peer was without precedent and that the Sovereign should immediately issue a writ of summons, which did occur.

Baronies by writ

By modern English law, if a writ of summons was issued to a person who was not a peer, that person took his seat in parliament, and the parliament was a parliament in the modern sense (including representatives of the Commons), that single writ created a barony, a perpetual peerage inheritable by male-preference primogeniture. This was not medieval practice, and it is doubtful whether any writ was ever issued with the intent of creating such a peerage. The last instance of a man being summoned by writ without already holding a peerage was under the early Tudors; the first clear decision that a single writ (as opposed to a long succession of writs) created a peerage was in Lord Abergavenny's case of 1610. The House of Lords Act 1999 also renders it doubtful that such a writ would now create a peer if one were now issued; however, this doctrine is applied retrospectively: if it can be shown that a writ was issued, that the recipient sat, and that the council in question was a parliament, the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords determines who is now entitled to the peerage as though modern law had always applied. Several such long-lost baronies were claimed in the 19th and 20th centuries, though the Committee was not consistent on what constituted proof of a writ, what constituted proof of sitting, and which 13th-century assemblages were actually parliaments.[8] Even a writ issued in error is held to create a peerage, unless the writ was cancelled before the recipient took his seat; the cancellation would have been performed by the now obsolete writ of supersedeas.

Peerages created by writ of summons are presumed to be inheritable only by the recipient's heirs of the body. The House of Lords has settled such a presumption in several cases, including Lord Grey's Case (1640) Cro Cas 601, the Clifton Barony Case (1673), the Vaux Peerage Case (1837) 5 Cl & Fin 526, the Braye Peerage Case (1839) 6 Cl & Fin 757 and the Hastings Peerage Case (1841) 8 Cl & Fin 144. The meaning of heir of the body is determined by common law. Essentially, descent is by the rules of male primogeniture, a mechanism whereby normally, male descendants of the peer take precedence over female descendants, with children representing their deceased ancestors, and wherein the senior line of descent always takes precedence over the junior line per each gender. These rules, however, are amended by the proviso whereby sisters (and their heirs) are considered co-heirs; seniority of the line is irrelevant when succession is through a female line. In other words, no woman inherits because she is older than her sisters. If all of the co-heirs but one die, then the surviving co-heir succeeds to the title. Otherwise, the title remains abeyant until the Sovereign "terminates" the abeyance in favour of one of the co-heirs. The termination of an abeyance is entirely at the discretion of the Crown.

A writ of acceleration is a type of writ of summons that enables the eldest son of a peer to attend the House of Lords using one of his father's subsidiary titles. The title is strictly not inherited by the eldest son, however; it remains vested in the father. A writ may be granted only if the title being accelerated is a subsidiary one, and not the main title, and if the beneficiary of the writ is the heir-apparent of the actual holder of the title. A total of ninety-four writs of acceleration have been issued since Edward IV issued the first one, including four writs issued in the twentieth century. The only individual who recently sat in the House of Lords by writ of acceleration is Viscount Cranborne in 1992, through the Barony of Cecil which was actually being held by his father, the Marquess of Salisbury. (Viscount Cranborne succeeded to the marquessate on the death of his father in 2003.)

There are no Scottish peerages created by writ; neither can Scottish baronies go into abeyance, for Scots law does not hold sisters as equal heirs regardless of age. Furthermore, there is only one extant barony by writ in the Peerage of Ireland, that of La Poer, now held by the Marquess of Waterford. (Certain other baronies were originally created by writ but later confirmed by letters patent.)

Letters patent

More often, letters patent are used to create peerages. Letters patent must explicitly name the recipient of the title and specify the course of descent; the exact meaning of the term is determined by common law. For remainders in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, the most common wording is "to have and to hold unto him and the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten and to be begotten". Where the letters patent specifies the peer's heirs male of the body as successors, the rules of agnatic succession apply, meaning that succession is through the male line only. Some very old titles, like the Earldom of Arlington, may pass to heirs of the body (not just heirs-male), these follow the same rules of descent as do baronies by writ and seem able to fall into abeyance as well. Many Scottish titles allow for passage to heirs general of the body, in which case the rules of male primogeniture apply; they do not fall into abeyance, as under Scots law, sisters are not treated as equal co-heirs. English and British letters patent that do not specify a course of descent are invalid, though the same is not true for the letters patent creating peers in the Peerage of Scotland. The House of Lords has ruled in certain cases that when the course of descent is not specified, or when the letters patent are lost, the title descends to heirs-male.

Limitation to heirs of the body

It is generally necessary for English patents to include limitation to heirs "of the body", unless a special remainder is specified (see below). The limitation indicates that only lineal descendants of the original peer may succeed to the peerage. In some very rare instances, the limitation was left out. In the Devon Peerage Case (1831) 2 Dow & Cl 200, the House of Lords permitted an heir who was a collateral descendant of the original peer to take his seat. The precedent, however, was reversed in 1859, when the House of Lords decided in the Wiltes Peerage Case (1869) LR 4 HL 126 that a patent that did not include the words "of the body" would be held void.

Special remainder

It is possible for a patent to allow for succession by someone other than an heir-male or heir of the body, under a so-called special remainder. Several instances may be cited: the Barony of Nelson (to an elder brother and his heirs-male), the Earldom of Roberts (to a daughter and her heirs-male), the Barony of Amherst (to a nephew and his heirs-male) and the Dukedom of Dover (to a younger son and his heirs-male while the eldest son is still alive). In many cases, at the time of the grant the proposed peer in question had no sons, nor any prospect of producing any, and the special remainder was made to allow remembrance of his personal honour to continue after his death and to preclude an otherwise certain rapid extinction of the peerage. However, in all cases the course of descent specified in the patent must be known in common law. For instance, the Crown may not make a "shifting limitation" in the letters patent; in other words, the patent may not vest the peerage in an individual and then, before that person's death, shift the title to another person. The doctrine was established in the Buckhurst Peerage Case (1876) 2 App Cas 1, in which the House of Lords deemed invalid the clause intended to keep the Barony of Buckhurst separate from the Earldom of De La Warr (the invalidation of clause may not affect the validity of the letters patent itself). The patent stipulated that if the holder of the barony should ever inherit the earldom, then he would be deprived of the barony, which would instead pass to the next successor as if the deprived holder had died without issue.

Amendment of letters patent

Letters patent granting the Dukedom of Marlborough to Sir John Churchill were later amended by Parliament

Letters patent are not absolute; they may be amended or revoked by Act of Parliament. For example, Parliament amended the letters patent creating the Dukedom of Marlborough in 1706. The patent originally provided that the dukedom could be inherited by the heirs-male of the body of the first duke, Captain-General Sir John Churchill. One son had died in infancy and the other died in 1703 from smallpox. Under Parliament's amendment to the patent, designed to allow the famous general's honour to survive after his death, the dukedom was allowed to pass to the Duke's daughters, the Lady Henrietta, the Countess of Sunderland, the Countess of Bridgewater and the Lady Mary, and their heirs-male, and thereafter "to all and every other the issue male and female, lineally descending of or from the said Duke of Marlborough, in such manner and for such estate as the same are before limited to the before-mentioned issue of the said Duke, it being intended that the said honours shall continue, remain, and be invested in all the issue of the said Duke, so long as any such issue male or female shall continue, and be held by them severally and successively in manner and form aforesaid, the elder and the descendants of every elder issue to be preferred before the younger of such issue."

Number of hereditary peers

The number of peers has varied considerably with time. At the end of the Wars of the Roses, which killed many peers, and degraded or attainted many others, there were only 29 Lords Temporal; but the population of England was also much smaller then. The Tudors doubled the number of Peers, creating many but executing others; at the death of Queen Elizabeth, there were 59.

Creation of English peerage dignities by Stuart monarchs
Sovereign Reign Peers
James I 1603–1625 62
Charles I 1625–1649 59
Charles II 1660–1685 64
James II 1685–1689 8
William III & Mary II 1689–1702 30
Anne 1702–1714 30
Total 1603–1714 253

The number of peers then grew under the Stuarts and all later monarchs. By the time of Queen Anne's death in 1714, there were 168 peers. In 1712, Queen Anne was called upon to create 12 peers in one day in order to pass a government measure,[9][10] more than Queen Elizabeth I had created during a 45-year reign.

Several peers were alarmed at the rapid increase in the size of the Peerage, fearing that their individual importance and power would decrease as the number of peers increased. Therefore, in 1719, a bill was introduced in the House of Lords to place a limitation on the Crown's power. It sought to permit no more than six new creations, and thereafter one new creation for each other title that became extinct. But it did allow the Crown to bestow titles on members of the Royal Family without any such limitation. The Bill was rejected in its final stage in the Lords, but it was passed in the Lords when it was reintroduced in the next year. Nonetheless, the House of Commons rejected the bill by 269 to 177.

George III was especially profuse with the creation of titles, mainly due to the desire of some of his Prime Ministers to obtain a majority in the House of Lords. During his 12 years in power, Lord North had about 30 new peerages created. During William Pitt the Younger's 17-year tenure, over 140 new peerages were awarded.

A restriction on the creation of peerages, but only in the Peerage of Ireland, was enacted under the Acts of Union 1800 that combined Ireland and Great Britain into the United Kingdom in 1801. New creations were restricted to a maximum of one new Irish peerage for every three existing Irish peerages that became extinct, excluding those held concurrently with an English or British peerage; only if the total number of Irish peers dropped below 100 could the Sovereign create one new Irish peerage for each extinction.

There were no restrictions on creations in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. The Peerage continued to swell through the 19th century. In the 20th century, there were even more creations, as Prime Ministers were eager to secure majorities in the House of Lords. Peerages were handed out not to honour the recipient but to give him a seat in the House of Lords.

Current status

The National Archives UK - CO 1069-1-17(cropped)
In 1984 Harold Macmillan, a former Prime Minister, was the last non-royal recipient of a hereditary peerage, the Earldom of Stockton.
Matt Ridley at Thinking Digital 2009 (cropped)
Matt Ridley, well-known popular science writer and conservative journalist, is the Viscount Ridley

Since the start of the Labour government of Harold Wilson in 1964, the practice of granting hereditary peerages has largely ceased (except for members of the royal family). Only seven hereditary peers have been created since 1965: four in the Royal Family (the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex, the Duke of Cambridge, and the Duke of Sussex) and three additional creations under Margaret Thatcher's government (the Viscount Whitelaw, the Viscount Tonypandy and the Earl of Stockton). The two Viscounts died without male heirs, extinguishing their titles. Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton received the Earldom often awarded to former Prime Ministers after they retired from the House of Commons.

There is no statute that prevents the creation of new hereditary peerages; they may technically be created at any time, and the government continues to maintain pro forma letters patent for their creation. The most recent policies outlining the creation of new peerages, the Royal Warrant of 2004, explicitly apply to both hereditary and life peers.[11] However, successive governments have largely disowned the practice, and the Royal Household website currently describes the Queen as the fount of honour for "life peerages, knighthoods and gallantry awards", with no mention of hereditary titles.[12]


Until the coming into force of the Peerage Act 1963, peers could not disclaim their peerage in order to sit in the House of Commons, and thus a peerage was sometimes seen as an impediment to a future political career. The law changed due to an agreement that the Labour MP Tony Benn having been deprived of his seat due to an inadvertent inheritance was undemocratic; and the desire of the Conservatives to put their choice of Prime Minister (ultimately Alec Douglas-Home) into the House of Commons, which by that time was deemed politically necessary.

In 1999, the House of Lords Act abolished the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. Out of about 750 hereditary peers, only 92 may sit in the House of Lords. The Act provides that 90 of those 92 seats are to be elected by other members of the House: 15 by vote of the whole house (including life peers), 42 by the Conservative hereditary peers, two by the Labour hereditary peers, three by the Liberal Democrat hereditary peers, and 28 by the crossbench hereditary peers. Elections were held in October and November 1999 to choose those initial 90 peers, with all hereditary peers eligible to vote. Hereditary peers elected hold their seats until their death, resignation or exclusion for non-attendance (the latter two means introduced by the House of Lords Reform Act 2014), at which point by-elections are held to maintain the number at 92.

The remaining two hold their seats by right of the hereditary offices of Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain. These offices are hereditary in themselves, and in recent times have been held by the Dukes of Norfolk and the Marquesses of Cholmondeley respectively. These are the only two hereditary peers whose right to sit is automatic.

The Government reserves a number of political and ceremonial positions for hereditary peers. To encourage hereditary peers in the House of Lords to follow the party line, a number of Lords-in-Waiting (government whips) are usually hereditary peers. This practice was not adhered to by the Labour government of 1997–2010 due to the small number of Labour hereditary peers in the House of Lords.

Modern composition of the hereditary peerage

Hatfield House
Many hereditary peers are associated with famous estates such as Hatfield House; many notable estates are open to the public.

The peerage has traditionally been associated with high gentry, the British nobility, and in recent times, the Conservative Party. Only a tiny proportion of wealthy people are peers, but the peerage includes a few of the very wealthiest, such as Hugh Grosvenor (the Duke of Westminster) and Lord Salisbury of Hatfield House. Most of the largest stately homes belong to the National Trust due to forms of estate tax. A few peers own one or more of England's largest estates passed down through inheritance, particularly those with medieval roots: until the late 19th century the dominant English and Scottish land division on death was primogeniture.

However, the proliferation of peerage creations in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century resulted in even minor political figures entering the ranks of the peerage; these included newspaper owners (e.g. Alfred Harmsworth) and trade union leaders (e.g. Walter Citrine). As a result, there are many hereditary peers who have taken up careers which do not fit traditional conceptions of aristocracy. For example, Arup Kumar Sinha, 6th Baron Sinha is a middle-class computer technician working for a travel agency; Matt Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, is a popular science writer; and Peter St Clair-Erskine, 7th Earl of Rosslyn is a former Metropolitan Police Service Commander. The Earl of Longford was a socialist and prison reformer, while Tony Benn, who renounced his peerage as Viscount Stansgate (only for his son to reclaim the family title after his death) was a senior government minister (later a writer and orator) with solidly left-wing policies.

Gender distribution

As the vast majority of hereditary peerages can only be inherited by men, the number of peeresses is very small; only 18 out of 758 hereditary peers by succession, or 2.2%, were female, as of 1992.[13] From 1963 (when female hereditary peers were allowed to enter the House of Lords) to 1999, there has been a total of 25 female hereditary peers.[14]

Of those 92 currently sitting in the House of Lords, only one – Margaret of Mar, 31st Countess of Mar – is female. Originally there were five female peers elected under the House of Lords Act 1999 (all of them Crossbenchers), but four of these have since died or resigned,[15] and no female has won a by-election to a vacant Lords seat since 1999.[16]

See also


  1. ^ "Members of the House of Lords". UK Parliament. 2012. Archived from the original on 2013-01-03.
  2. ^ Counting those listed in the article Peerage of Ireland.
  3. ^ House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Rules of Royal Succession: Eleventh Report of Session 2010–12, 7 December 2011.
  4. ^ "Ranks of the Peerage". Debrett's. Retrieved 11 November 2006.
  5. ^ "Forms of Address for use orally and in correspondence". Ministry of Justice (information formerly managed by the Department for Constitutional Affairs). The Crown Office. June 2003. Archived from the original on March 6, 2007. Retrieved 11 November 2006.
  6. ^ Sanders, I.J. English Baronies, Oxford, 1960, preface, vii
  7. ^ "Burke's Guide to British Titles: Courtesy Titles". Burke's Peerage and Gentry. 2005. Archived from the original on 11 July 2006. Retrieved 13 November 2006.
  8. ^ Complete Peerage, Vol IX, Appendix B; the date of the last writ issued to an uncertain, since the records of the House of Lords for most of the reign of Henry VIII are lost. There is a solitary fifteenth century writ summoning a man and his heirs male; this would now be a patent.
  9. ^ Harry Graham, The Mother of Parliaments (Little, Brown & company, 1911), p. 33
  10. ^ Justin McCarthy. The Reign of Queen Anne, Vol. 2 (Chatto & Windus, 1902) p. 115.
  11. ^ Article 9, Royal Warrant 2004
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 16, 2013. Retrieved November 29, 2012.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Adonis, Andrew (1993). Parliament Today (2nd ed.). p. 194.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Myrtle Robertson, 11th Baroness Wharton, Cherry Drummond, 16th Baroness Strange, Davina Ingrams, 18th Baroness Darcy de Knayth and Flora Fraser, 21st Lady Saltoun
  16. ^


UK Legislation

Alistair Campbell

Alistair or Alastair Campbell may refer to:

Alastair Campbell (cricketer) (1890–1943), English cricketer

Alistair Campbell (academic) (1907–1974), Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford

Alistair Campbell (poet) (1925–2009), New Zealander

Alastair Campbell (bioethicist) (born 1938), British bioethicist

Alastair Campbell, Lord Bracadale (born 1949), Scottish jurist

Alastair Campbell, 4th Baron Colgrain (born 1951), British hereditary peer

Alastair Campbell (born 1957), British political aide and Labour Party strategist associated with Tony Blair

Ali Campbell (Alistair Ian Campbell, born 1959), British singer formerly with UB40

Alistair Campbell (cricketer) (born 1972), Zimbabwean test cricketer

Baron Russell of Liverpool

Baron Russell of Liverpool, of Liverpool in the County Palatine of Lancaster, is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created in 1919 for Sir Edward Russell. He served as editor of the Liverpool Daily Post for almost fifty years and also briefly represented Glasgow Bridgeton in the House of Commons as a Liberal.His three sons predeceased him. His grandson, the second Baron, was a prominent lawyer and author who earned the Military Cross in the First World War. As Deputy Judge Advocate General to the British Army of the Rhine he was one of the chief legal advisers during the war crimes trials held in Nuremberg and Tokyo at the end of the Second World War.As of 2017, the title is held by his grandson, the third Baron, who succeeded in 1981. He serves as an elected hereditary peer in the House of Lords having been elected at a by election in December 2014. He sits as a Crossbencher.

Baron Trevethin and Oaksey

Baron Trevethin, of Blaengawney in the County of Monmouth, is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created in 1921 for the prominent judge Sir Alfred Lawrence, Lord Chief Justice of England from 1921 to 1922. The first baron's eldest son and heir, Hon. Clive Lawrence, predeceased him; he had been HM Procurator General and Treasury Solicitor from 1923 until his death in 1926. Hence, on the first baron's death, the title passed to his second son, Charles. His third son the Hon. Geoffrey Lawrence was also a noted jurist and served as the main British judge at the Nuremberg trials. In 1947 he was himself raised to the peerage as Baron Oaksey, of Oaksey in the County of Wilts. In 1959 he succeeded his elder brother Charles as third Baron Trevethin, although he continued to be known as Lord Oaksey. As of 2012 the titles are held by his grandson, the fifth Baron Trevethin and third Baron Oaksey, who succeeded in 2012. He is a QC who sits in the House of Lords as a Crossbench excepted hereditary peer following a by-election in 2015.

Charles Hay, 16th Earl of Kinnoull

Charles William Harley Hay, 16th Earl of Kinnoull (born 20 December 1962), styled as Viscount Dupplin until 2013, is a British hereditary peer and crossbench member of the House of Lords.

Daniel Finch-Hatton, 17th Earl of Winchilsea

Daniel James Hatfield Finch-Hatton, 17th Earl of Winchilsea, 12th Earl of Nottingham (born 7 October 1967) is a British hereditary peer and descendant of the American Vanderbilt family and the Hungarian Széchenyi family.

Graham Wellesley, 8th Earl Cowley

Garret Graham Wellesley, 8th Earl of Cowley (born 30 March 1965), styled Viscount Dangan from 1975 to 2016, is a British hereditary peer and businessman. Previously an entrepreneur in derivatives and foreign exchange trading, he is the founder and CEO of UK alternative lender Wellesley & Co.

John Boyle, 15th Earl of Cork

John Richard Boyle, 15th Earl of Cork and 15th Earl of Orrery (born 3 November 1945) is a British hereditary peer and a member of the House of Lords, where he sits as a Crossbencher. Boyle was an officer in the Royal Navy before inheriting his titles in 2003.

John Thurso

John Archibald Sinclair, 3rd Viscount Thurso, (born 10 September 1953), known also as John Thurso, is a Scottish businessman, Liberal Democrat politician and hereditary peer.Thurso is notable for having served in the House of Lords both before and after a period in the House of Commons. He first joined Parliament in the Lords as a hereditary peer between 1995 and 1999. Most hereditary peers were removed from Parliament following the House of Lords Act 1999. Subsequently, he was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross from the 2001 election until he was defeated in the 2015 election by SNP candidate Paul Monaghan. He was the fifth generation of the Sinclair family to represent the Caithness area in the House of Commons. In 2016, he returned to the House of Lords after winning a by-election to fill a vacancy among the remaining Liberal Democrat hereditary peers.

List of elected hereditary peers under the House of Lords Act 1999

This is a list of hereditary peers elected to serve in the House of Lords under the provisions of the House of Lords Act 1999 and the Standing Orders of the House of Lords. The Act excluded all hereditary peers who were not also life peers except for two holders of royal offices plus ninety other peers, to be chosen by the House.

Before the passing of the Act, the House approved a Standing Order stating that the remaining hereditary peers shall consist of:

2 peers to be elected by the Labour hereditary peers

42 peers to be elected by the Conservative hereditary peers

3 peers to be elected by the Liberal Democrat hereditary peers

28 peers to be elected by the Crossbench hereditary peers

15 peers to be elected by the whole House

The holders of the offices of Earl Marshal (the Duke of Norfolk) and Lord Great Chamberlain (currently the Marquess of Cholmondeley) to be ex officio membersThe total number and sub-composition set out above reflects a compromise to ensure passage of the Act through the House reached between then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and the most senior Conservative in the Lords, Viscount Cranborne (known since his father's death in 2003 as the Marquess of Salisbury), a descendant of the last Prime Minister to sit in the Lords. The number elected by each group reflected the relative strengths of the parties among hereditary peers at that time. Historically, the Conservatives had predominated in the House since 1890; it was this entrenched position which led to the removal of the absolute power of veto from the House of Lords by the Parliament Act 1911 and was the chief catalyst for the removal of most hereditary peers in 1999.The fifteen peers elected by the whole house were intended to provide a group of experienced members ready to serve as Deputy Speakers or other officers.

The initial elections took place before the House of Lords Act took effect; therefore all hereditary peers could vote in those elections. From the end of the 1998–1999 session of parliament until the following session, vacancies (usually triggered by death) were to be filled by runners up in the initial elections. Two Crossbench peers, Lord Cobbold and Lord Chorley, returned to the House this way, having sat before 1999. Since then, vacancies among the group of 15 peers have been filled through by-elections, with all members of the House entitled to vote. The Procedure Committee has recommended that any peer elected at a by-election in this category should not be expected to serve as a Deputy Speaker. In by-elections to fill vacancies in the political groups, only hereditary peers of that group sitting in the House may vote.

As of January 2018 there are 4 dukes, 1 marquess, 26 earls, 17 viscounts and 44 barons among the 92 hereditary peers entitled to sit in the House of Lords.

Members of the House of Lords

This is a list of members of the House of Lords, the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Nicholas Trench, 9th Earl of Clancarty

Nicholas Le Poer Trench, 9th Earl of Clancarty, 8th Marquess of Heusden (born 1 May 1952), is an Irish peer, as well as a nobleman in the Dutch nobility. He serves as an elected Crossbench hereditary peer in the British House of Lords. He was educated at Westminster School.

Oliver Eden, 8th Baron Henley

Oliver Michael Robert Eden, 8th Baron Henley, 6th Baron Northington PC (born 22 November 1953), is a British hereditary peer and politician, who is a Conservative member of the House of Lords. He serves as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Lord Henley served as a Minister of State at the Home Office with responsibility for Crime Prevention and Anti-Social Behaviour Reduction, a role in which he succeeded Lady Browning in September 2011 to September 2012.

Peer of the realm

A Peer of the Realm is a member of the highest aristocratic social order, outside the ruling dynasty of the kingdom.

Notable examples are:

a member of the peerage in the British Isles who is a hereditary peer or a life peer

the English rendering of a member of a similar order in other monarchies, derived from the French noble style of pair as used in

the French kingdom

the crusader state kingdom of Jerusalem

nobility proper of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth who enjoyed hereditary paritas: those who would sit by hereditary right in Land Parliaments, or be Royal Electors, enjoy personal immunity, and the right to be judged only by the King's Court or the Court of Peers; also the exclusive right to be granted State or Land dignities and titles. The Skartabelli who were middle-nobility in law were not peers, whilst noblemen who were not direct barons of the Crown but held land from other Lords were not peers de facto as they would not enjoy full noble privileges.

a member of the Portuguese Chamber of Most Worthy Peers, upper house of the Cortes Gerais, during the constitutional monarchy of the Kingdom of Portugal

Philip Kent Grey, 7th Earl Grey

Philip Kent Grey, 7th Earl Grey (born 11 May 1940) is a British pilot and hereditary peer.His great-great-grandfather George (1809–1891) was the fourth son of Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He had an elder brother, Richard, who succeeded to the peerage in 1963. Their father, Albert Harry George Campbell Grey, had served Canadian Armoured Corps when he was killed in 1942.Philip Grey succeeded his brother in 2013, becoming the 7th Earl Grey.In 1968, he married Ann Catherine Applegate, with whom he has two children: Alexander Edward, Viscount Howick (born 20 December 1968) and Lady Vanessa Catherine (born 1975).

Roger Lambart, 13th Earl of Cavan

Roger Cavan Lambart, 13th Earl of Cavan (born 1 September 1944), is an hereditary peer.

Lord Cavan was educated at Wilson's School, Surrey, St Clare's International School and King's College London.

The title Earl of Cavan was created in the Peerage of Ireland in 1647 for Charles Lambart, 2nd Baron Lambart. Lord Cavan holds the subsidiary titles Viscount Kilcoursie, in the King's County (1647), and Lord Lambart, Baron of Cavan in the County of Cavan (1618), both also in the Peerage of Ireland.

The Earl of Cavan inherited the title from his relative, the 12th Earl. He is the descendant of Commander the Honourable Oliver Lambart, a younger son of the 7th Earl. His heir presumptive is Cavan C.E. Lambart (born 1957), a distant cousin. There are also other distant cousins.

Rupert Onslow, 8th Earl of Onslow

Rupert Charles William Bullard Onslow, 8th Earl of Onslow (born 16 June 1967) is a British noble and hereditary peer.

Thomas Lyttelton, 3rd Viscount Chandos

Thomas Orlando Lyttelton, 3rd Viscount Chandos (born 12 February 1953), is a British hereditary peer and politician for the Labour Party.

Tongan nobles

There are 34 traditional noble titles in the modern Kingdom of Tonga. They all are estate holders. Twenty titles were established by Siaosi Tupou I with the Constitution of 1875. In 1880 he added 11 more. Tupou II created the titles Lasike in 1894 and Veikune in 1903. Sālote Tupou III made in 1921 the title of Tupoutoʻa. In the beginning it was forbidden for a noble to have more than one title. Later this was made possible.

Some of the great chiefs who missed out on a noble's title (in 1910) were among others: ʻAlipate Mafileʻo of Kolomotuʻa, SA Sipu of Kolomotuʻa, Iki Lolohea of Haʻapai (but later inherited the Fulivai), Tēvita Tapueluelu of Vavaʻu, SF Tafolo, Tēvita Ula Afuhaʻamango of Vavaʻu, Siosiua Niutupuʻivaha Kaho (but later inherited the Tuʻivakanō).

These unacknowledged chiefs were still lords in the traditional sense. However their influence slowly decreased with each passing generation. Queen Sālote acknowledged this in some of her public speeches by paying respect to the chiefs then a separate respect to the Nobles of the Crown as: «Highly respectful for the Chiefs is also Highly respectful for the nobles in this land».

In the 21st century King George Tupou V created eight new noble titles but with no hereditary lands. This title is to remain with them for their whole life known and is considered equivalent to the United Kingdom's practice of appointing Life Peers.

Ramsay Robertson Dalgety (July 2008)

Tevita Poasi Tupou (July 2008)

Matoto of Tuʻanekivale (30 December 2010)

Tangi of Vaonukonuka (30 December 2010)

Feleti Sevele ʻo Vailahi (30 December 2010)

Madraiwiwi Tangatatonga (4 January 2011)

Sonatane Tuʻa Taumoepeau-Tupou - (deceased)

Taniela Tufui (July 2008 - deceased)

William Hastings-Bass, 17th Earl of Huntingdon

William Edward Robin Hood Hastings-Bass, 17th Earl of Huntingdon, (born 30 January 1948), is an English hereditary peer, and former racehorse trainer to Queen Elizabeth II.

Hastings-Bass (now styled Lord Huntingdon) is from an equestrian family: his father (Peter Hastings-Bass) and grandfather (Aubrey Hastings) were horse trainers; Hastings-Bass's mother, Priscilla Hastings, was also a racehorse owner and among the first women admitted as members of the Jockey Club.

In August 1990, the 16th Earl of Huntingdon died without male issue, thus Hastings-Bass, the great-grandson of the 14th Earl, inherited the title. He was married to Susan Warner from 1989 to 2001, and is the maternal uncle of Clare Balding.

Royal family
Orders of chivalry
Civil bravery
Nursing service
Meritorious service


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