The Scottish Style of "Master"


A peculiarity of the Scottish peerage is the use of the style "Master of" applied to the heir apparent or heir presumptive to a peerage.  Thus the elder son of Lord Lovat is known as the Master of Lovat, and the elder son of Lord Glamis (second heir to the Earldom of Strathmore) as the Master of Glamis.  The first is heir apparent, the second heir presumptive.


The origin of the style is "wropt in mystery".  John Riddell, the eminent Scots genealogist and peerage lawyer, ascribed it to French influence and drew an anology from the fact that under the ancien regime the next collateral heir to the Throne was known as "Monsieur".  Certainly many Scots Court and baronial customs did originate in France.  At one time the daughter of a Scots Sovereign was solemnly proclaimed "Dochtour of Scotland" by Lord Lyon King of Arms at her baptism - analogous to the style "Enfants de France" borne by the French Royal children and "Infantes and Infantas de Espagne" (again clearly under the influence of France) still borne by Spanish Royal children.


Whatever its origin, the style of Master is of considerable antiquity.  There is plenty of evidence of its customary use as a style for the heirs of Scots peers in the earliest years of the fifteenth century, and the presumption is that it dates back much earlier than that.


There is a certain amount of misapprehension about the style south of the Border.  In some reference books it is described as a courtesy title and placed in the same category as the purely courtesy titles enjoyed by the eldest sons and grandsons of English and British peers.  That is incorrect.  It can be a courtesy style in the case of grandsons, but in the case of an eldest son it is a substantive dignity in itself conferred directly in the patent of peerage as one to be borne by the eldest son.  There is ample evidence indeed that the dignity is one which in the past was regarded as part, as it were, of the peerage itself.  For a time bearers of the style were entitled to sit in Parliament, though merely to hear and not to speak or vote;  records of such sittings are to be found in the Roll of the Parliament of Scotland.  This right persisted until the Scots Parliament ceased to exist with the Union of the two Kingdoms in 1707.


Another fallacy, also sponsored by some reference books, is that the style is borne only by the eldest sons of Scots viscounts or barons.  The evidence is clear that it applies to sons of all peers of Scotland, whatever their rank.


Its use has fallen unto desuetude in the case of dukedoms and marquessates because, since the beginning of the seventeenth century, the eldest son and his eldest son have borne courtesy titles in the ordinary "peerage" form.  But it is still indisputably the legal right of the eldest son of any Scots peer.  For instance, the eldest son of a Duke of Argyll is known as the Marquess of Lorne.  The first of the line to be raised to the peerage bore the title of Lord Campbell, and his son was unquestionably known as the Master of Campbell.  If by some impossible series of events a Duke of Argyll were to lose all his Scottish titles except his Marquessate of Kintyre and Lorne (his dukedom is a United Kingdom one), his eldest son would beyond all doubt be entitled to the style of Master of Campbell - or, it may be, of Kintyre and Lorne - not as a matter of courtesy but as a legal right.


So far as the eldest sons of earls are concerned the style has also been abandoned, for even if there was a case where no secondary title were available as courtesy style for the eldest son, one would be "invented" on the lines already dealt with in a previous section.  There is at least one case where the heir was known by both styles.  That was the seventh Earl of Glencairn - a title now extinct - who during his heir apparancy was known as Lord Kilmaurs and Master of Glencairn - a quaint example of the use of both courtesy and de jure.


But the style is still in use in connection with earldoms as one for the eldest son of the heir apparent.  Thus, as I have already noted, the grandson of the Earl of Strathmore is known as the Master of Glamis ; the grandson of the Earl of Crawford  and Balcarres as the Master of Lindsay; and the grandson of the Earl of Southesk as the Master of Carnegie.


In such cases as these, however, the style is not a dignity but purely a courtesy style.  As a dignity it is vested in the heir apparent himself.


The legal style of the eldest son of every viscount and lord on the roll of Scots peers is thus "Master of", with the name of his father's peerage attached.  The only variations are in the cases of the Lordships of Balfour of Burleigh and Belhaven and Stenton.  In the former the heir is known as the Master of Burleigh and in the latter as the Master of Belhaven.


I remember some twenty years ago being involved in a little controversy (in print) on this style of "Master" with the late Lord Strathspey, who insisted on his son and heir being styled the "Master of Grant".


The facts were these.  When the late Earl of Seafield died leaving an only daughter, she succeeded to the earldom, two viscountcies and two lordships, all in the Scottish peerage and heritable by females;  but his United Kingdom Barony of Strathspey and the family baronetcy went to his brother, his next male heir, who also became 31st Chief of the Clan Grant.


Forthwith Lord Strathspey began to style his son the Master of Grant.  When I ventured to question the correctness of this in the case of a non-Scottish peerage, Lord Strathspey replied:


The term, "Master of Grant", has nothing to do with the Earldom or Barony, but is applied to the eldest son of the Chieftain of the Clan, and I am 31st Chief of the Clan Grant.


This extension of the use of the term Master was new to me, and, I think, to everyone else.  The Hon. Donald Grant of Grant (the heir's real style) would not, I argued, be accorded the style of Master of Grant by the College of Arms, the Lord Chamberlain's department or any other official source.  However, I put the point specifically to the one authority above all others entitled to give judgement, the Court of Lyon King of Arms in Edinburgh.  Mr. Francis J Grant, Rothesay Herald (now Sir Francis Grant, and, until recently, Lord Lyon King of Arms), replied, stating categorically:


The title is borne only by Scottish peers' sons, and I know of no Highland chieftain whose son is entitled to be so designated.


That would appear to have settled the question, but I believe Lord Strathspey persisted to the end in his lonely point of view.


The position as I have so far set it out explains the modern usage in regard to the style "Master" - i.e. that as a dignity as distinct from a courtesy style it is a legal right vested in the heir apparent to a Scots peerage, whether son or grandson.


But there is plenty of evidence that in the past the style was also borne, with equal legality, by heirs presumptive.  Thus James Sinclair of Murchill, second son of the fourth Earl of Caithness, was termed Master of Caithness when his elder brother succeeded to the earldom.  James Cranstoun, younger brother of the second Lord Cranstoun, was styled Master of Cranstoun;  and when he died in the lifetime of his brother the style was borne by his son as heir presumptive to his uncle.  Similar examples can be quoted in connection with the Earldoms of Glencairn, Cassillis and Gowrie, and the Lordships of Lovat and Glamis.


The then Albany Herald, Mr. Thomas Innes of Learney (now Sir Thomas, and Lyon King of Arms), who made some research into the subject about the time of my little controversy with Lord Strathspey, came to the conclusion that the style could be assumed by any heir presumptive to a Scots peerage, whether brother, uncle or nephew, and that such assumptions would legally be sound according to the principles of Scots peerage law.  But it is clear that the dignity would have to be surrendered in the event of any heir apparent coming on the scene, which is probably why the practice appears to have fallen into desuetude.


Modern usage has confined the style to heirs apparent, and it is many years since an heir presumptive assumed it, except in the courtesy styles of grandsons to which I have referred.


The wife of a Master is not termed "Mistress of", but "the Hon. Mrs." prefixed to her husband's surname.  Thus, to recall an example famous not so many years ago in political circles, the correct reference to the then Viscount Elibank's son and heir and his wife was "the Master of Elibank and the Hon. Mrs. Murray".


Occasionally in the past one came across reference to "the Mistress of" this or that applied to the eldest daughter of a peer in the absence of a son, but Sir Francis Grant informs me that there was never any warrant for the adoption of this style by an heiress presumptive.