Welcome to the Scotland Project's Scottish Nobility Team.
Coordinator: Mark Sutherland-Fisher
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What is Scottish Nobility?
Ask 3 genealogists or historians and they will give you 4 answers!
People often mix up "nobility" and "aristocracy". In the United Kingdom and specifically within Scotland we have the "titled nobility" and the "untitled nobility". The titled nobility generally coincides with what most people call the aristocracy.
Historically Scotland and England tended to use different titles to reward/recognise individuals for some great service or identify status through birth/marriage.
Across the United Kingdom there are 5 ranks within the Peerage.
1) "Duke" (very few of them were created in Scotland before Charles II's use of the title to elevate his many illegitimate sons)
2) "Marquis" (Scottish Marquess) rarely used in Scotland
3) "Earl" the most common elevated title often granted by the Scottish kings to their younger sons and the more powerful nobles, usually related to the Crown
4) "Viscount" like Marquis rarely used in Scotland and more common in the 19th and 20th centuries as a reward to distinguished military leaders and politicians
5) "Lord" the most common title i.e. Lord of Parliament the equivalent of an English Baron
These titles were until 1963 almost always Hereditary titles but in Scotland they didn't simply pass from father to son or nearest male relative under the rules of Primogeniture, but could pass to a daughter and even in some cases to a son-in-law. The rules applying to succession for any title were set out in the original "Letters Patent" the charter from the Crown which originally granted the title to its first holder.
Many of the older Hereditary titles have been created on more than one occasion and not always to the same family each time. In such cases it is appropriate in the biography of an individual to note that "X was the 4th Earl of Y in its Second Creation.
Although not thought to have been created until after 1963, Life Peerages were occasionally granted and other than the fact the title could not pass to the normal heir-at-law, would be referred to and conferred the same rights as a Hereditary Peerage.
However beyond the traditional aristocracy, in Scotland there were many others who would have been considered "Nobility".
There are those who had the rank of knighthood conferred on them. Such title would only apply to the individual. However James VI of Scotland and I of England introduced the "Knights Baronet". These were hereditary knighthoods which would ordinarily pass from generation to generation in the same way a Peerage would do.
In Scotland the most common category of Baronet was the Baronets of Nova Scotia, introduced to help pay for the establishment of Scottish settlements in Canada. A few years later James introduced the general rank of Knight Baronet across Great Britain to help pay for the Plantation of Ulster by Lowland Scots.
Now we move on to the less well known ranks of Nobility.
There were the 10,000 or so holders of Baronial titles, those with "of" after their names and whose wives would usually have the courtesy of "Lady [husband's property name]". These were the owners of estates and the condition for holding the title was ownership of a particular house or castle at the centre of a particular estate. The initial holder of each Baronial title would almost certainly have matriculated his (occasionally her) coat of arms, recognising the new status. In the days before the court system we recognise today, many of these Barons would have a limited right to dispense "justice" within his or her territory. Many of these Barons would also hold the rank of "Sheriff" within their region. (Please note in Scotland a Sheriff is a judge not a law enforcement officer as in North America).
In addition, the judges of the Court of Session (Scotland's highest civil court) on appointment were give the courtesy title "Lord" during his lifetime and his wife would be known as "Lady".
Lairds and Clan Chiefs were known by a whole collection of titles such as "Mackintosh of Mackintosh", "Caberfeidh" (Chief of Clan Mackenzie), "the MacShimmie" (Chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat), "of that Ilk" etc and these would include the thousands of Tacksmen who were usually younger sons and minor members of the leading family.
The "untitled nobility" would also include people who were holders of his/her own Coat of Arms under Letters Patent and the correct category of men referred to as "Esquire".
It might also include the Merchant class and Burgesses of the Burghs and Royal Burghs, especially those who held the distinction of being a Lord Lieutenant as in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Certain categories of lawyers who were Writers to the Signet, Solicitors to the Supreme Court or Advocates in Aberdeen within the solicitor branch or Queen's/King's Counsel or Sheriff within the advocate (Scottish equivalent of barrister) branch might also fall within the wider definition of "nobility" because in many cases either they separately fitted into another category above or were younger sons of those who did.
Finally, if you are not already confused enough, the Aristocracy fits into several different categories depending on the date of creation of each title held.
Pre-1603 the Scottish Royal family and aristocracy was separate and distinct from that in England and Wales although many members of one held titles in the other too. Ireland was a separate Kingdom which came under the control of the English Crown.
During the period 1603-1707 all 3 Kingdoms (Scotland, England and Ireland) shared the same Royal family but as the Parliaments remained separate, each preserved its own aristocracy.
During the period 1707-1800 the same Royal family remained but with the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, within the aristocracy a new category of Great Britain titles was created. Ireland retained its own Peerage.
Finally from 1801 to the present day the current category of United Kingdom has applied to all new Peerages, both in Great Britain and Ireland and from the creation of the Irish Free State, Northern Ireland.
The primary purpose of this category is to identify profiles for Scots who were or are considered to be "noble".
The aim is to properly record on a profile the distinction or mark of nobility held by an individual enabling him or her to be linked to others holding the same or a similar rank of nobility such as ancestors and descendants where relevant and applicable.
If you are in any doubt about whether a profile should be marked indicating the individual falls within the category of "Scottish Nobility" please contact Mark or any other Team Member.
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