Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Peerage Definition:

An artificial dignity associated with nobility, such as an earldom.

Related Terms: Queen's Counsel

Peerage has always been a royal prerogative of the king or queen of England.

In law, a hereditary peerage is "an incorporeal and impartible heriditament, inalieneable and descendible in accordance to the words of limitation contained in the grant (of peerage)".1

This is distinguished from the life peerage which extends to honour only to the person so-named for their lifetime, and does not pass on to his or her descendant(s).

In the Earl of Norfolk Peerage Claim, Justice Halsbury wrote:

"It is settled law that no peer of this realm can drown or extinguish his honour (but that it descend to his descendants) neither by surrender, grant, fine, nor any other conveyance to the King."

Duhaime coat of armsTraditionally, peerage meant that the title holder could sit and vote in the Parliament, House of Lords. It was an entirely birth-right, hereditary asset.

That ended with the House of Lords Act of 1999 where the automatic right of peerage (hereditary) to sit in the House of Lords in England ended ("§1. No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage.").

Needless to say, since the term itself implies a caste system, within peerage itself there is a hierarchy as follows, from highest title to lowest from the reigning Monarch down:

  1. Duke
  2. Marquess
  3. Earl
  4. Viscount
  5. Baron

But England is not alone to have promoted a peerage system. Many European states did so as well, notably France, Italy, Ireland and Scotland. Yet so committed is England, still (2013) to a peerage system that it maintains an official registrar, paid by the tax-payer (of whom only a very few are peers), an officer, the Garter Principal King of Arms and a Lord Lyon King or Arms, both to maintain a formal Roll of the Peerage Registry.

In a peerage system, a coat of arms was also granted by the king or queen to individuals as a further benefit of their patent of nobility.


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