Baron is a specific title of nobility. The word baron comes from Old French baron, itself from Old High German and latin (liber) baro meaning "(free) man, (free) warrior"; it merged with cognate Old English beorn meaning "nobleman."
Western European feudal and modern titles
Barons in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth
In the British peerage
rank below viscounts
, and form the lowest rank in the peerage. A female of baronial rank has the honorific baroness
. A baron may hold a barony
), if the title relates originally to a feudal barony by tenure, although such tenure is now obsolete in England and any such titles are now held in gross
, if they survive at all, as very few do, sometimes along with some vestigial manorial rights
, or by grand serjeanty
William I introduced "baron" as a rank in England to distinguish the men who had pledged their loyalty to him (see Feudalism). Previously, in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England, the king's companions held the title of earls and in Scotland, the title of thane. All who held their barony "in chief of the king" (that is, directly from William and his successors) became alike barones regis (barons of the king), bound to perform a stipulated service, and welcome to attend his council. Before long, the greatest of the nobles, especially in the marches, such as the Earls of Chester or the Bishops of Durham, might refer to their own tenants as "barons", where lesser magnates spoke simply of their "men" (homines).
Initially those who held land direct of the crown by military service, from earls downwards, all alike bore the title of baron, but under Henry II, the Dialogus de Scaccario already distinguished greater (who held in baroniam by knights' service) or lesser baronies (generally smaller single manors). Within a century of the Norman Conquest, as in Thomas Becket's case (1164), there arose the practice of sending to each greater baron a special summons to the council that evolved into the House of Lords, while the lesser barons, Magna Carta (1215) stipulated, would receive summons only in general, through the sheriffs. Thus appeared a definite distinction, which eventually had the effect of restricting to the greater barons the rights and privileges of peerage.
Later, the sovereign could create a new barony in one of two ways: by a writ of summons directing someone to Parliament, or by letters patent. Writs of summons featured in medieval times, but creation by letters patent has become the norm. Baronies thus no longer directly relate to land ownership, following the Modus Tenendi Parliamenta (1419), the Feudal Tenure Act (1662), and the Fines and Recoveries Act (1834) which enabled such titles to be dis-entailed.
In the twentieth century Britain introduced the concept of non-hereditary life peers. All appointees to this distinction have taken place at the rank of baron.
In addition, Baronies are often subsidiary titles, thus being used as courtesy titles by the eldest sons of earls.
, the rank of baron is a rank related to feudal nobility of Scotland and refers to a holder of a feudal barony, a feudal superiority over a proper territorial entity erected into a free barony by a Crown Charter, and not a rank of Peerage
. The Scottish equivalent of an English baron is a Lord of Parliament
Style of address
Normally one refers to or addresses Baron [X] as Lord [X]
and his wife as Lady [X]
. In the case of women who hold baronies in their own right, they can be referred to as Baroness [X]
as well as Lady [X]
. In direct address, they can also be referred to as My Lord
or My Lady
. The husband of a Baroness in her own right does not receive a style. Children of Barons and Baronesses in their own right, whether hereditary or for life, have the style The Honourable [Forename] [Surname]
. After the death of the father or mother, the child may continue to use the style Honourable
Scottish feudal barons style their surnames similarly to Clan Chiefs, with the name of their barony following their name, as in John Smith of Edinburgh. Most formally, and in writing, they are styled as The Much Honoured Baron of Edinburgh. Their wives are styled Lady Edinburgh, or The Baroness of Edinburgh. The phrase Lady of Edinburgh is wrong, if the lady in question does not hold a Scottish barony in her own right. Verbally, Scottish barons may be addressed with the name of their barony, as in Edinburgh or else as Baron without anything else following, which if present would suggest a peerage barony. Informally, when referring to a Scots feudal baron in the third person, the name Laird of [X] is used or simply [X].
Non-Scottish barons are styled The Right Honourable The Lord [Barony]. Barons' wives are styled The Right Honourable The Lady [Barony]. Baronesses in their own right are either titled The Right Honourable The Baroness [Barony] or The Right Honourable The Lady [Barony], mainly based on personal preference (cf, Margaret, Lady Thatcher and Brenda, Baroness Hale hold the same title). Note the order of the names. 'Lady Margaret Thatcher' would denote that she was the daughter of an earl, marquess or duke. Right Honourable is frequently abbreviated to Rt Hon. When referred to by the Sovereign in public instruments, The Right Honourable is changed to Our right trusty and well-beloved, with counsellor attached if they are a Privy Counsellor.
Courtesy barons are styled simply Lord [Barony], and their wives are Lady [Barony]. The style of Right Honourable is not used for them.
An English Peerage baron is entitled to a coronet
bearing six silver balls (or pearls) around the rim. The actual coronet is mostly worn on certain ceremonial occasions, but a baron can bear his coronet of rank on his coat of arms
above the shield.
Scottish feudal barons are entitled to a red cap of maintenance (chapeau) turned up ermine. The chapeau is identical to the red cap worn by an English baron, but without the silver balls or gilt. This is sometimes depicted in armorial paintings between the shield and the helmet. Additionally, if the baron is the head of a family he may include a chiefly coronet which is similar to a ducal coronet, but with four strawberry leaves.
During the Ancien Régime
, French baronies were very much like Scottish ones. Feudal landholders were entitled to style themselves baron
if they were nobles; a roturier
) could only be a seigneur de la baronnie
(lord of the barony). Theses baronies could be sold freely, until the abolition of feudalism in 1789. The title of baron was actually assumed by many petty nobles who did not hold baronies. Napoléon
created a new empire nobility
, in which baron was the second lowest title. The titles followed a male-only line of descent and could not be purchased. In 1815, King Louis XVIII
created a new peerage system
based on the British model. Baron-peer was the lowest title, but the heirs to pre-1789 barons could remain barons, as could the elder sons of viscount-peers and youngest sons of count-peers. This peerage was abolished in 1848, though some titles still exist today.
In pre-republican Germany
all the knightly families (sometimes distinguished by the prefix "von") eventually were recognised as of baronial rank. Families which had always held this status were called Original Nobility, or Uradel
, and were heraldically entitled to a seven pointed coronet. Families which had been ennobled at a definite point in time had only five points on their coronet. These families held their titles from their lord. The holder of an allodial
(i.e. free-standing) barony was thus called a Free Lord
, or Freiherr
, and its many variations occupied the same rank as a foreign Baron, exclusively (as in the Holy Roman Empire
) or concurrently.
Today there is no legal privilege associated with hereditary titles. The offspring of holders of original titles may choose to distinguish themselves from a later-ennobled family by abbreviating "von" as "v.", however, many baron surnames do not contain any such prefix. Generally, all male members of a baronial family inherited the title Baron equally, and were so called from birth. As a result, it was much easier to inherit a German title than, say, a French or English one.
In Spain the title is immediately inferior to "Vizconde". The wife of a Baron carries the title of "Baronesa". The term Baronesa is also used for a woman who has been granted the title in her own right. In general the title of "Baron" previous to the nineteenth century corresponds to the nobility originating from the Crown of Aragon. The title lost territorial jurisdiction around the middle of the nineteenth century and from then on it has been used only as an honorific title.
In other languages
The title was quite common in most European countries, in various languages (whether Germanic, Romance
or other), often in a slightly modified form.
Like other major Western noble titles, Baron is sometimes used to render certain titles in non-western languages with their own traditions, even though they are necessarily historically unrelated and thus hard to compare, which are considered 'equivalent' in relative rank.
This is the case with China's Nan (男), hereditary title of nobility of the fifth rank (男爵), as well as its derivatives and adaptations:
- the Korean Namjak (男爵) or Chamise
- the Japanese equivalent Danshaku (男爵)
- the Vietnamese equivalent Nam tước
- the Manchu equivalent ashan-i hafan
In some republics of continental Europe, the unofficial title of "Baron" retains a purely social prestige, with no particular political privileges.
In the Polynesian island monarchy of Tonga, as opposed to the situation in Europe, barons are granted this imported title (in English), alongside traditional chiefly styles, and continue to hold and exercise some political power.
Furthermore it is customary in Western languages to use the word Baron to render somewhat 'equivalent' ranks in non-related aristocratic hierarchies in exotic cultures.
- Sanders, I. J. English Baronies: A Study of their Origin and Descent, 1086–1327. Clarendon Press, 1960.
- The Royal Ark