The Complete Guide to the British Peerage & Baronetage
Deaths of Peers since 2008
British Houses and Palaces
Heraldry and the Peerage
Case Law, Legislation and Other Documents
A peerage is an hereditary dignity derived in origin directly from the Crown, and devolving on a right line of heirs implied or expressed in the instrument of creation. Formerly chief among the privileges which the possession of a peerage conferred was the right to a seat and vote in Parliament, or, in certain cases, by representation. Peerage dignities are of five degrees of rank to which distinctive titles are assigned, namely, Baron, Viscount, Earl, Marquess and Duke. Every peer, however, is the equal, that is to say the peer, of every other, and all enjoy equal rights and privileges, irrespective of the degree of the number of dignities they hold.
Although the modern Lords of Parliament have little in common with the feudal Barons and Earls of the early Middle Ages, they may be regarded as their successors, just as Parliament itself has succeeded the earlier Councils by a gradual process of evolution.
The development of peerages started with the barons-by-tenure, who were the tenants-in-chief of the King, and attended the King's councils. These tenants-in-chief held their lands, according to the feudal system, conditionally upon the performance of certain services to the King, such as personal attendance in the field of battle and the council, and the provision of a stipulated number of full armed knights for the King's wars in proportion to their territorial possessions, reckoned at so many knights' fees. As the etc.
For a very good guide to the Peerage look at Valentine Heywood's British Titles.
Last updated 3 Jul 2012
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