The most important exception to what has for long been the general rule of succession is provided by what are held to be the most ancient of English peerages, baronies by writ. These date back to times anterior to the practice of creations by Letters Patent, a form of creation which enabled the line of descent to be presribed in definite terms. They are held to have been created solely by the original holder receiving a writ of summons to attend Parliament from the Sovereign. In subsequent decisions in peerage claims by the House of Lords it was finally settled that proof of a writ of summons, followed by an actual sitting in Parliament, is evidence of the creation of a peerage.
Such baronies by writ have, by statements of the law laid down by the House of Lords during and since Stuart times, been held to be heritable by and through females as well as males. This fact accounts for the frequent occurrence of an ancient barony being carried from one noble house to another by the marriage of its heiress and submerged in a higher title, often to be "liberated" again at a later date when a subsequent holder died without male issue, in which case his daughter has succeeded to the barony while his other honours have gone to the next male heir.
Perhaps the most notable example of this is the de Ros Barony, the oldest on the roll of the English peerage, which, starting with the family of de Ros, has been carried in turn to the Manners (twice), the Cecils, the Villiers, and the Fitzgeralds. It devolved on the late Baroness, who died in 1939, through no fewer than eight families - those of de Ros, Manners, Willoughby, Jones, Coningsby, Williams, Boyle, and Fitzgerald. Adding Cecil and Villiers to these eight, it had thus passed through no fewer than ten families.
Its most recent abeyance was terminated in favour of the last Earl of Dartrey's eldest daughter, Lady Una, who married a Ross of Co. Down. Lady Una is paternally a Dawson, which adds another to the list, and the next generation, paternally Ross, will bring the number to a round dozen.
An ancestor who was one of the twenty-five barons appointed to enforce the observance of Magna Carta married a natural daughter of William the Lion, King of Scotland, as a result of which his great-grandson, Robert, second Baron de Ros, preferred an unsuccessful claim to the Scottish Throne when Edward I of England was called on to adjudicate between the candidates.
The barony continued in the male de Ros line until 1508, when it has been held that it probably fell into abeyance between the three sisters of the eleventh Baron. It went eventually to his nephew, George Manners, father of the first Earl of Rutland, and remained with the Manners until the third Earl left an only daughter, who carried it to the Cecils by marrying the second Earl of Exeter.
Her son, however, died without issue and the barony then reverted to the Manners in the person of the sixth Earl of Rutland. But he also left an only daughter who married James I's favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. But their son, the second Duke, died without children in 1687, when the barony again fell into abeyance between other heirs in the female line of the sixth Earl of Rutland.
This time the abeyance lasted until 1806, when it was determined in favour of Charlotte Boyle-Walsingham, niece of the second Earl of Shannon, and descendant through her mother of one of those heirs. She carried it to the family of Fitzgerald, Dukes of Leinster, by her marriage with Lord Henry, younger son of the first Duke, but resumed by Royal licence the arms and old family name of de Ros.
With her descendants in the male line it remained for a century, but when the twenty-fourth Baron died in 1907 it fell again to a daughter, Mary Frances, who married the third and last Earl of Dartrey. As there were only daughters of this marriage Lord Dartrey's titles became extinct on his death in 1933, and when his widow died in 1939 her barony again fell into abeyance between the three daughters.
Nor does the story end there, for Lady Una Dawson, the eldest daughter, in whose favour the abeyance was terminated, married Arthur John Ross, of Co. Down, who was killed in action during the 1914-18 war. Their elder son, Lieutenant-Commander Peter Ross, R.N., who in turn was killed in action in the recent war, left two daughters. The prospect is, therefore, that on the death of the new Baroness de Ros the barony will again fall into abeyance between her two grand-daughters.
Perhaps the most remarkable result of female inheritance is to be found in the Barony of Lucas of Crudwell, which, in the 279 years of its existence, has figured on the roll of the House of Lords for only 16 years and from the first has always been held in association with other titles.
It was created in 1663 in favour of Mary Lucas, daughter of a Lord Lucas of a previous creation, who was the wife of Anthony Grey, eleventh Earl of Kent, with remainder, in default of male heirs by the Earl, to the heirs of her body by him, but without division. This remarkable remainder, which prevents the barony ever falling into abeyance, is probably unique in the annals of the English peerage.
Their son, the twelfth Earl, was created Marquess and later Duke of Kent, and the first brief appearance of the Lucas barony on the roll of the House of Lords was when his son, the Earl of Harold, was summoned to the House in his father's barony. But five years later he died in his father's lifetime, and the peerage vanished from the roll until 1905.
The next holder was the Duke's grand-daughter, Jemima, who also succeeded to his Marquessate of Grey, and who married the second Earl of Hardwicke. But she also left no sons and was succeeded in the barony by her elder daughter, Anabel, who was in turn created Countess de Grey, the Marquessate having become extinct. Anabel left no children and was succeeded as second Earl and fifth Baron Lucas by her nephew. He left only daughters and the barony then went to the elder of these, who married the sixth Earl Cowper.
Their son, the seventh Lord Cowper, had no issue, and on his death in 1905 the Lucas barony and that of Dingwall (a Scottish barony also inheritable by females) went to his eldest sister's son, Auberon Herbert, a member of the Liberal Government during the Prime Ministership of Mr. Asquith. The barony thus reappeared on the roll of the House of Lords, but not for long, for Lord Lucas was killed in the first world war in 1916, and was succeeded in both baronies by his sister, the present holder. Nor does there seem any near prospect of its figuring on the roll again, for Baroness Lucas has no son and her heiress presumptive is her elder daughter, born in 1919.
Oddly enough, the Dingwall barony which I have just mentioned has a very similar history. Created in 1609, it passed in 1628 to the first baron's only daughter, and has never since had a separate existence. She married James Butler, first Duke of Ormonde, and their son, the second Duke, lost all his honours by attainder for complicity in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. Thus the barony vanished altogether until 1871, when the seventh Earl Cowper, the heir of line, secured the reversal of the attainder. Since his death, as noted above, it has been held in association with the Lucas barony, which, as an English peerage, takes precedence.