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Issue 48 - Family matters

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 48
December 2009


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Family matters

We look at the colourful world of heraldry.

If you are already a buff on the subject of the Scottish aristocracy, you will know that the Maid of Morvern is the eldest daughter of The MacLean of Duart, and that the Marquess of Tullibardine, heir to the Duke of Atholl, has a son who is the Earl of Strathtay and Strathardle. You will also be aware that the Master of Lovat will one day become Chief of the Lovat Frasers.

Unless you imbibed them with mother’s milk or are a bit of a geek, the subtleties of British titles can be a minefield for the uninformed. In descending order of grandeur, aman who calls himself Lord Brigadoon may be a marquess (or marquis, if the title is pre-dates 1707), an earl, a viscount, a baron, a life peer, or even a judge of the Scottish Court of Session. Lady Brigadoon will be married to a knight or a baronet, a baron, a life peer, a viscount, an earl, a marquess or marquis, but not a duke. Lady Catriona’s father must be a duke, a marquess or an earl, The Honourable Catriona is the daughter of a baron, life peer, or a viscount; But Lord Hamish can only be the younger son of a duke or a marquess (marquis), and if he is the Right Honourable Lord Hamish Brigadoon, he will be a member of the Privy Council and the odds are that he is a rogue because he is probably a politician.

With the continuance of the British House of Lords, you can still earn yourself a peerage and call yourself a baron, but these days this title will only be for your exclusive use during your own lifetime and cannot be passed on to your descendants, unless authorised by Act of Parliament. It is, however, possible to turn yourself into a chief if you do not already hold an established clan name, but you first have to form a quantity of your namesakes into a clan or family association, persuade a sufficiency of their number to invest in obtaining coats of- arms, have them agree to your being their leader, and then spend a few decades persuading the Court of the Lord Lyon, the ultimate Crown authority on such matters, that you qualify for the distinction.

Much less hassle is to simply buy yourself an ancient Scots title that you can bequeath to your descendants, or even, heaven forbid, sell on at a profit. There are a few, very few, feudal earldoms which, if you can find one, will cost you upwards of £500,000, but slightly more affordable is a feudal barony.

In days or yore, a Scots landowner with a substantial estate might administer justice on his lands through a Baron Court.

Usually he dealt with minor infractions , and the old Baron Court books that survive are rich sources for historians. Some Baron Courts had the right of pit and gallows, which meant that they could execute malefactors – the women by drowning in a pit; the men by hanging.

After the 1745 Jacobite Rising, heritable jurisdictions were seen as one of the prime means by which clan chiefs wielded power over their people. They were therefore abolished , and the administration of justice was taken over by the State. As a result, feudal baronies lapsed, and, in some cases, were forgotten. In others, they continued, on paper through the deeds conveying land.

Then, in the middle of the last century, their potential was spotted. Buy land with a feudal barony attached to it, and you could call yourself a baron. You could also add the name of the land and barony to your surname. If , for example, John Doe acquired the barony of Brigadoon, he would become The Much Hon. the Baron of Brigadoon.

Perhaps. more importantly, his wife would be The Much Hon. The Lady Brigadoon, or The Much Hon. The Baroness of Brigadoon.

More informally, he would be entitled to call himself John Doe of Brigadoon, and this could be used on passports, credit cards etc.

In conversation, he would or could be addressed simply as “Brigadoon”.

There are, perhaps, some 2,000 feudal baronies in Scotland. Many are still owned by the owners of the great landed estates. Atholl Estates in Perthshire, for example, has swallowed up many smaller neighbours over the centuries and has a dozen or more baronies attached to it. As feudal relics, it used to be the case that the barony went with land – usually the caput, the original seat of the barony. This could be the castle or the motehill from whence justice was administered. The Caput of Scotland was based at the Motehill of Scone. It meant that the barony could be winkled out of a large estate and sold along with a small patch of land, and this would be entered in the Register of Sasines, later the Land Registry, where property transactions were recorded.

But the feudal system in Scotland was abolished in 2004. After a wobble about the value and survival of baronies, they came through as historical curiosities but no longer appear on the Land Registry. Great care must, therefore, be taken to ensure ownership of any barony that is for sale and it is certainly advisable to employ a specialist lawyer for the purchase of one.

Buy your barony, and you are not yet officially recognised as a baron. This requires a Coat of Arms with ‘baronial additaments’.

The granting of both arms and the additaments come within the jurisdiction of Lord Lyon, King of Arms. He decides, firstly, whether you are a ‘virtuous and welldeserving person’ and worthy to bear arms and then will ensure that you have a legal right to the barony. Your arms will then be adorned with a baronial chapeau (cap of estate), a steel tilting helm garnished with gold, a baronial mantle (robe) ‘gules doubled silk argent, fur-edged of miniver and collared in ermine, fastened on the right shoulder by five spherical buttons or’.

Why should anyone want a barony? The simple answer is that it is great fun. It also allows well-heeled descendants of the Scots diaspora to possess a flamboyant link with the land of their ancestors and its history.

Provided they are willing to trawl through dusty and scarcely legible parchments and vellums, some people are able to discover unclaimed baronies for themselves. Or they can approach one of those estate owners with a string of baronies in their land portfolio and make them an offer.

Specialists exist who deal in baronies, but be warned, obtaining one is never cheap.

Is it a wise investment of anything up to £100,000? There’ is a limited supply; and prices are unlikely to come down.

They don’t issue a dividend, but nor does gold, and the ownership of gold will not entitle you to call yourself “the Much Honourable”.