"Lord" is a title with various meanings. It can denote a prince or a feudal superior (especially a feudal tenant who holds directly from the king, i.e., a baron). The title today is mostly used in connection with the peerage of the United Kingdom or its constituent countries, although some users of the title do not themselves hold peerages, and use it 'by courtesy'. The title may also be used in conjunction with others to denote a superior holder of an otherwise generic title, in such combinations as "Lord Mayor" or "Lord Chief Justice". The title is primarily taken by men, while women will usually take the title 'lady'. However, this is not universal, as the Lord of Mann and female Lord Mayors are examples of women who are styled 'lord'.
In religious contexts Lord can also refer to various different gods or deities. The earliest uses of Lord in the English language in a religious context were by English Bible translators such as Bede. This reflected the Jewish practice of substituting the spoken Hebrew word 'Adonai' (which means 'My Lord') for YHWH when read aloud.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, the etymology of the word can be traced back to the Old English word 'hlāford' which originated from 'hlāfweard' meaning 'bread keeper' or 'loaf-ward', reflecting the Germanic tribal custom of a superior providing food for his followers. Lady, the female equivalent, originates from a similar structure, believed to have originally meant 'loaf-kneader'.
Five ranks of peer
exist in the United Kingdom
, in descending order, these are: duke
, and baron
. The title 'Lord' is used most often by barons who are rarely addressed with any other. The style of this address is 'Lord (X)', for example, Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson
, is commonly known as 'Lord Tennyson'. The ranks of marquess, earl and viscounts commonly use lord as well, with viscounts using the same style as used for baron. However, marquesses and earls have a slightly different form of address where they can be called either the 'Marquess/Earl of (X)' or 'Lord (X)'. Dukes also use the style, 'Duke of (X)', but it is not acceptable to refer to them as 'Lord (X)'. Dukes are formally addressed as 'Your Grace', rather than 'My Lord'. In the Peerage of Scotland
, the members of the lowest level of the peerage have the title 'Lord of Parliament
' rather than baron.
For senior members of the peerage, the title lord also applies by courtesy to some or all of their children; for example the younger sons of dukes and marquesses can use the style 'Lord (first name) (surname)'. The titles are courtesy titles in that the holder does not hold a peerage, and is, according to British law, a commoner.
House of Lords
In the UK, the House of Lords (known commonly as 'the Lords') forms the upper house of Parliament. Here all peers are treated as lords but there are three different classifications:
- Most lords who hold peerages created before the passage of the Life Peerages Act 1958 (and a handful who hold peerages created after then) are hereditary peers, who until 1999 constituted the most numerous category of lords sitting in the House. There are in excess of 700 lords whose titles may be inherited, however since the House of Lords Act 1999, they are no longer guaranteed a seat in the Lords and instead must take part in an election for a total of ninety-two seats. All male peers of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom were before 1999 entitled to sit in the House of Lords by virtue of their title. Peeresses were granted the right to sit in 1963. Peers of Scotland and Ireland, however, historically had limitations on their right to sit at Westminster. Between 1707 and 1963, Scottish peers participated in elections to determine which of them would take the sixteen seats allocated to them. Elections were abolished in 1963, and from that time until 1999 all Scottish peers and peeresses were entitled to sit. Irish peers participated in similar elections between 1801 and 1922, when the Irish Free State was established. Since 1922, Irish peers have not had a right to sit at Westminster by virtue of their Irish peerages. However, many Irish peers also hold peerages of Great Britain and the United Kingdom.
- The importance of hereditary lords has declined steadily following the increase in the appointment of life peers. These peers are entitled to sit in the House of Lords for the duration of their life, but cannot transfer their titles to their heirs. They are rarely above the rank of baron. The first life peers were appointed to assist the House of Lords in exercising its judicial functions under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. Widespread appointment of life peers was enabled by the passage of the Life Peerages Act 1958. Since that Act was passed, some 1,086 life peers have been created. The only hereditary privilege associated with life peerages is that children of life peers are entitled to style themselves 'The Honourable (firstname) (surname)'.
- These first two groups are collectively termed Lords Temporal as opposed to the third type of lord sitting in the House known as Spiritual Peers or Lords Spiritual. This group consists of twenty-six Church of England bishops who are appointed in order of superiority. Unlike Lords Temporal, who can be appointed from any of the four nations of the UK, only bishops with English Sees are eligible to sit in the Chamber. Bishops of the Church of Scotland traditionally sat in the Parliament of Scotland but were excluded in 1638 following the Scottish Reformation. There are no longer bishops in the Church of Scotland in the traditional sense of the word, and that Church has never sent members to sit in the Westminster House of Lords. The Church of Ireland ceased to send bishops to sit after disestablishment in 1871. The Church in Wales ceased to be a part of the Church of England in 1920 and was simultaneously disestablished in Wales. Accordingly, bishops of the Church in Wales were no longer eligible to be appointed to the House as bishops of the Church of England.
The judges of the House of Lords, the final appellate Court of the United Kingdom, hold life peerages, and are addressed accordingly. They are known collectively as the Law Lords
. The title 'Lord' is also used to refer to some judges who are not peers in some Commonwealth legal systems. Some such judges, for instance judges of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales, are called 'Lords Justices', or 'Ladies Justices', as the case may be. Other such judges, for instance judges of Canadian provincial supreme courts, are known only as 'Justices' but are addressed in court as 'My Lord' or 'My Lady' or 'Your Lordship' or 'Your Ladyship'.
Examples of judges who use the title include:
Lord of the Manor
The title of Lord of the Manor
arose in the English
medieval system of Manorialism
following the Norman Conquest
. The title Lord of the Manor
is a titular feudal dignity which is still recognised today. Their holders are entitled to call themselves "[Personal name], The Lord/Lady of the Manor of [Place name]" but, for example, the United Kingdom Passport Agency
does not recognise such titles. The title is not a title of the nobility
The Scottish title Laird is cognate with the English word 'lord'. 'Laird' is a hereditary title for the owner of a landed estate in Scotland. The title of Laird may carry certain local or feudal rights, though unlike a Lordship, a Lairdship has never carried voting rights, either in the historic Parliament of Scotland or, after unification with the Kingdom of England, in the British House of Lords.
Various high offices of state may carry the cachet of honorary lords, such as the titles of Lord High Chancellor
or Lord Mayor
In feudalism, a lord has aristocratic rank, has control over a portion of land and the produce and labour of the serfs living thereon. Knights or lesser lords would swear the oath of fealty to the lord, and would then become a vassal.
Bishops in the Middle Ages held the feudal rank of lord over their spiritual inferiors, hence today even bishops who do not sit as Spiritual Peers may be addressed as "Lord Bishop". As a reflection of its feudal (and thus territorial) nature, however, the title is generally reserved for diocesan bishops, not assistant or coadjutor bishops.
As part of the heritage of feudalism, lord can generally refer to superiors of many kinds, for example landlord. In many cultures in Europe the equivalent term serves as a general title of address equivalent to the English 'Mister' (French Monsieur, Spanish Señor, Portuguese Senhor, Italian Signore, Dutch Meneer/Mijnheer/De Heer (as in: to de heer Joren Jansen), German Herr, Hungarian Úr, Greek Kyrie or to the English formal "you" (Polish Pan). See also gentleman.
People have often used the term 'lord' in religious contexts, where, The Lord refers to God in Judaism or Islam, or to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit in Christianity. In many Christian Bibles (such as the King James Version), the Hebrew name YHWH (the Tetragrammaton) is rendered LORD (all caps) or (small caps). This usage follows the Jewish practice of substituting the spoken Hebrew word 'Adonai' (translated as 'Lord') for YHWH when read aloud. Following practice in Hebrew, the Septuagint mainly used the Greek word Kyrios (Κύριος, meaning 'lord') to translate YHWH. As this was the Old Testament of the Early Church, the Christian practice of translating the divine name as 'Lord' derives directly from it.
Other religious uses of the word Lord include:
- Ba'al, or Baal, is a Northwest Semitic title meaning 'lord', used for various gods and local spirit-deities. In some texts, the term refers to Hadad, the lord of the divine assembly whose name only priests were allowed to speak. References to Baal in the Hebrew Bible, such as the prophet Elijah's confrontation with Baal's priests, usually correspond to local gods rather than to Hadad.
- Bel meaning 'Lord' is a common title of the Babylonian deity Marduk.
- En meaning 'Lord' as in Sumerian deities Enki and Enlil.
- In Buddhism it refers to the Buddha and in Jainism to the Mahavira.
- The name of the god Adonis may derive from the Hebrew word for 'lord'.
- In the Pagan religion Wicca, the male god is also referred to as 'The Lord' and the female as 'The Lady'.
- A Dark Lord is a title is usually used in religion, mythology or associated fiction (see Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter) to refer to the Devil and other demons, or evil gods. In Christian religion, "Dark Lord" refers to "Satan".