When Is a “Baron” Not a Baron?

 A “baron” is defined as the lowest rank of nobility in the British peerage system. It is a title of honor and customarily a hereditary one. That being said, the sticking point of this post is the fact the term “Baron” is not used as a form of address in Britain, barons are usually referred to as “Lord.” In direct address, they can also be referred to as my lord or your lordship. Husband(s) of a Baroness in her own right are not conferred any elevated style in their right. 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 The Honourable. I know this is surprising for many of you. It was for me when I realized how often I had misused this in my novels. 

“In the England, the medieval Latin word bariobaronis was used originally to denote a  tenant-in-chief of the early Norman kings who held his lands by the feudal tenure of “barony” (in Latin per baroniam), and who was entitled to attend the Great Council, which by the 13th century had developed into the Parliament of England. Feudal baronies (or “baronies by tenure”) are now obsolete in England and without any legal force but any such historical titles are held in gross, that is to say are deemed to be enveloped within a more modern extant peerage title also held by the holder, sometimes along with vestigial manorial rights and tenures by grand serjeanty.” (Baron)

According to all of the reference books on titles I researched, the word Baron is used only in peerage books, patents of peerages, and in Parliament where certain seats are designated for barons. A man might be a baron, but he is never addressed or referred to as such. The aristocracy believed that if a person was one of them, then he or she would practice this styling. Using Baron incorrectly proved the person was no one of the elite aristocratic group.

When a woman is named a Baroness that means that she holds her title in her own right. A Baroness in her own right can be addressed either as Baroness or lady title.

 A bit of confusion arises for many of us because the judges of the court of the Exchequer are called Barons. This is even more confusing because the men are Sirs.

ATOHCrop2 Most barons use their family name as their title so the two are the same. But in some cases they are different.  In my A Touch of Honor, John Swenton is Lord Swenton. He is a baron. However, it is possible that I could have styled him as John Swenton, Lord Monroe. Obviously, in an 8-book series, one more name would have been confusing to my readers, but it was an option. More confusion could arise because sometimes there are two barons with the same title name, so if there were two Lord Swentons, one would be Lord Swenton of Swenton Hall, while the other would be Lord Swenton of Nash Manor. In other words, they become known as Lord XXXX of (some place name at or near their seat) to differentiate them, though the ‘of’ is merely a way to keep them straight than an actual part of their title.

 95b7fdcd3e03649edf7f87e1a7c57bb2582dd630 Though one can say “Lord Byron is a baron,” one would never call him Baron Byron.  He would always be “Lord Byron.” One did not say “Baron and Baroness Byron” arrived, entertained, etc. The fact that Byron was a baron was noted in the book of peerage, in his seat in the House of Lords, and when one had to rank men by precedence. Otherwise he is always Lord Byron. His wife is Lady Byron. He would have been styled as The Right Honourable The Lord Byron.

“In the twentieth-century Britain introduced the concept of non-hereditary life peers. All appointees to this distinction have (thus far) been at the rank of baron. In accordance with the tradition applied to hereditary peers they too are formally addressed in parliament by their peers as ‘The Noble Lord.’

“In addition, baronies are often used by their holders as subsidiary titles, for example as courtesy titles for the son and heir of an Earl or higher-ranked peer. The Scottish baronial title tends to be used when a landed family is not in possession of any United Kingdom peerage title of higher rank, subsequently granted, or has been created a knight of the realm.

“Several members of the royal family with the style of Royal Highness are also titled Barons. For example, Charles, Prince of Wales also is The Baron of Renfew. His eldest son Prince William, Duke of Cambridge is also The Baron Carrickfergus. Similarly, Prince Andrew, Duke of York is The Baron Killyleagh. (Baron)

 If a woman is introduced or known as Baroness XXXX, for instance, that meant she held the title in her own right. That is why it is correct to call female life peers “baroness,” but not to do call the  wife of a baron “baroness.”

“Scottish barons style their surnames similarly to Clan Chiefs, with the name of their barony following their name, as in John Smith of Edinburgh orJohn Smith, Baron 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. Orally, 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 Baron of [X] is used or simply [X].

“The United Kingdom policy of using titles on passports requires that the applicant provides evidence that the Lord XXXX has been recognised with a feudal barony, or the title is included in Burke’s Peerage. If accepted (and if the applicant wishes to include the title), the correct form is for the applicant to include the territorial designation as part of their surname ([surname] of [territorial designation]; e.g. Smith of Inverglen). The Observation would then show the holder’s full name, followed by their feudal title e.g. The holder is Brian Smith, Baron of Inverglen.” (Baron)

Foreign  barons can be called Baron. Customarily when one was introduced to a man called Baron YYYY it meant he was of foreign extraction.

The only other baron called  baron was a judge of the Exchequer who was called a baron of the Exchequer — meaning a judge of that court.

British Titles and Orders of Precedence.  from http://www.chinet.com/-laura/html/titles12.html

A baron is the lowest rank to the British peerage. A baron is “Right Honorable” and is styled “My Lord”.  All children of a baron are: “Honorable.”

Announced formally or in formal correspondence:  The Right Honorable Lord Featherstone.
Salutation on formal correspondence:    My Lord
Announced informally or addressed on social correspondence: The Lord Featherstone
Salutation on social correspondence: “Dear Lord Featherstone.” or more familiarity: “Dear Featherstone.”
Addressed speech as: “Lord Featherstone: (the first time in conversation, followed by “my lord” (or more familiarity, “Featherstone”
Signature: Featherstone
Baron’s wife:  The Right Honorable, Lady Featherstone.
Saltuation and formal correspondence:  “Madam”.
Announced informally or addressed on social correspondence as  The Lady Featherstone
Salutation on social correspondence; “Dear Lady Featherstone.
Addressed in speech as”Lady Featherstone” the first time in conversation, followed by ‘my lady.”
Referred to in speech as (The) Lady Featherstone (or more familiarly “Sophia Featherstone”.  
Signature: Sophia Featherstone

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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13 Responses to When Is a “Baron” Not a Baron?

  1. dwwilkin says:

    Great article. One of the things that confuses me more, is the next rung lower, a Baronetcy. Seems like it should be a Baron, but it also seems like a foreign term that came to be well after the medieval period of knights. Which had seemed to be the rank below a Baron, and at one time, a rank that a Baron could create when they were all powerful land owners and the rung above them was not a Viscount as that had not existed so long ago.

    Early on I thought of a Baronet as a mini Baron, since it seems to be from the same root, but in practice is is more like a knight on steriods… You are made a Baronet, and your eldest will inherit the title of Baronet most likely. A knighthood from medieval times, with the tapping of a sword on your shoulders, and then the great blow that staggers most new knights I think has evolved as to being an address from one of the many orders of knighthood with their Companions and Grand Orders.

    Is anyone at this time just awarded a simple, non-heriditary knighthood. For instance, Captains of ships in a victorious fleet where the Admiral might be ennobled with a peerage and the title of Viscount?

  2. I did not have baronets so high on the ladder, but I did early so have some of my characters referred to as Baron So-and-So. You might find this post on what does it mean to be a knight helpful. https://reginajeffers.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/being-knighted/

  3. Actually it’s Brian Smith; LordBeariOfBow.com XD

    A baronet is not of the nobility and therefore does not have a seat in the House of Lords, He is/was addressed as Sir William Broun (an actual baronet who was of my acquaintance at one stage, he died in 2007, his wife lady Broun was a delightful lady and we got on very well indeed) his son Wayne became Sir Wayne Broun 14th Baronet upon his fathers death in 07. The wives are of course always referred to as Lady Broun.

  4. Thank you so much for this. A reviewer once chipped me for this, but it’s good to know that I was actually correct! 😀

    • I spoke to a class of advanced placement students last week, and I said it is up to the writer to keep the history accurate in historical fiction. One student said she did not care whether the history was accurate. She preferred the story to come first. But as many current readers are getting their “history” through “historical fiction,” we hold a responsibility for the little details. I do, however, understand how readers become confused. I made this error with the term “baron” earlier on in my writing. Readers see something written incorrectly so long that they think it is correct.

  5. Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
    I couldn’t have put it better myself.

  6. laineslite says:

    Much better to be higher than a baron initially to avoid being the lowest rank on the peerage totem pole per se. But I liked the Baroness bit meaning she herself held the title otherwise a woman was not really much beyond a Lady. Interesting though, and good of you to set us straight. No wonder no mamas wanted a Baron for their daughters except as a last resort to get the girls married off as quick as possible. Barony backgrounds were more feudal based as holding their lords lands for them. Used to reading more medieval books barons then were more important to keep, hold and battle any that would dare take it away from them. Fierce fighting then especially in Scotland and the more rural posts. Today it doesn’t mean much which makes sense but 500 years ago a Baron surely did. Times change as civilazation took ever and feudal land barons are not needed anymore except as a title and even that is not so much. So all you barons sorry it seems you.are reduced to your lordship.

    Following your comments below:
    Viscounts are actually under Earl same as Marquess is under Duke and Baron the lowest rung of all. Baron, Viscount, Marquess, Earl, Duke I believe but may be wrong.

    • Thanks for the background of barons as part of the feudal system. I was aware of it, but some are not.

    • BTW, according to several sources, these are the peerages:
      Peers are of five ranks, in descending order of hierarchy:

      Duke comes from the Latin dux, leader. The first duke in a peerage of the British Isles was created in 1337. The feminine form is Duchess.

      Marquess comes from the French marquis, which is a derivative of marche or march. This is a reference to the borders (“marches”) between England, Scotland, and Wales, a relationship more evident in the feminine form: Marchioness. The first marquess in a peerage of the British Isles was created in 1385.

      Earl comes from the Old English or Anglo-Saxon eorl, a military leader. The meaning may have been affected by the Old Norse jarl, meaning free-born warrior or nobleman, during the Danelaw, thus giving rise to the modern sense. Since there was no feminine Old English or Old Norse equivalent for the term, “Countess” is used (an Earl is analogous to the Continental count), from the Latin comes. Created circa 800–1000.

      Viscount comes from the Latin vicecomes, vice-count. Created in 1440.

      Baron comes from the Old Germanic baro, freeman. Created in 1066. In the Peerage of Scotland alone, a holder of the fifth rank is not called a “Baron” but rather a “Lord of Parliament”. Barons in Scotland were traditionally holders of feudal dignities, not peers, but they are considered minor barons and are recognized by the crown as noble.

      Baronets, while holders of hereditary titles, are not peers since baronetcies have never conferred noble status, although socially they came to be regarded as part of the aristocracy. Knights, Dames and holders of other British non-hereditary chivalric orders, decorations, and medals are likewise not peers.

  7. alinakfield says:

    I just came across your post via The Beau Monde loop. Very helpful. I’m going to go through my latest ms and make sure I haven’t used the term “Baroness” for one of the characters!

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