Everything you need to know about Peerage in the United Kingdom.
The five titles of peerage and nobility , in descending order of precedence, or rank, are: duke, marquess, earl, viscount, baron. The highest rank of the peerage, duke, is the most exclusive.
This hierarchy of titles becomes further complicated by the fact that an individual peer can hold several peerages of different rank, created and conferred, or inherited, at different times over the centuries.
The precedence that any one peer has among those of his own degree (rank) is dependent upon the antiquity of the peerage in question. That is to say, the older the title, the more senior the title-bearer.
The Life Peerage Act of 1958 allowed the government to create life peerages (all baronies). Normally the Prime Minister chooses only peers for his own party, but he also permits the leaders of opposition parties to recommend peers from their own parties. Life peers, sometimes referred to as ‘working peers’, represent the various political parties and are expected to regularly attend the House of Lords. ‘People’s peers’ are non-political appointments and recommended by the non-statutory House of Lords Appointments Commission set up in 2000.
The Knightage is the collective term for Knights Bachelor, and Knights and Dames of the Orders of Chivalry.
Knights and Dames are titles conferred by The Crown, and are for life only. A knight may use the title ‘Sir’ before his name (ie Sir John Smith), and a dame may use the title ‘Dame’ before her name (ie Dame Mary Jones).
Records of these honours are held at the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, St James’s Palace, London SW1A 1BH.
All knights and dames were recorded in Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage up to and including the 1973-74 edition, but by this date the numbers of honours being created made their continued inclusion unfeasible.
Today there are in the region of 3,000 living knights and dames!
A peer of the realm is someone who holds one (or more) of five possible titles (duke, marquess, earl, viscount, baron) inherited from a direct ancestor or bestowed upon him by the monarch.
Tracing its origins to feudal times, peers were vassals of the monarch (servants who swore an oath of loyalty in exchange for protection or a fief – a bequest of land or money). These barons were periodically summoned to the Counsel or Parliament, forming the origins of the House of Lords.
Historically the peerage formed a tightly knit group of powerful nobles, inter-related through blood and marriage in successive generations, and highly protective of their lands and rights. Their fortunes rose and fell according to the stability of the kingdom and their favour with the Sovereign. The Tudors, for example, executed, imprisoned or suppressed almost every nobleman who had any Plantagenet blood in his veins, and instead created a new aristocracy from the lesser branches of old families, and from the gentry and knightly classes.
Subsequent changes made by the royal houses of Stuart, Hanover and Windsor have similarly brought new blood and new titles to the peerage. The ranks of the peerage were further enlarged by the passing of the Life Peerages Act of 1958.