BRITISH TITLES - BARON
baron: holder of lowest rank of dignity, called a barony, in the peerage (2) of England, Great Britain, Ireland or United Kingdom (but almost never of Scotland, for which see lord). A related term is the now obsolescent 'baronage', meaning either the collective noun for the order of barons or a reference dealing with them.
In early medieval society in England a baron was a man who held land directly from a sovereign. The sovereign not necessarily the king. He might be a Count Palatine, for instance the Earl of Chester, or a Palatine Bishop, for instance that of Durham (see VERNON, B. for an example of a holder of baronial rank in such circumstances), both of whom at that time wielded massively devolved powers because of the important positions of their domains on the borders with Wales and Scotland respectively. But on a national scale barons comprised not just the body of men who were later to become barons in the sense of holders of a peerage (1) title of that rank but also every earl, or strictly speaking every such earl as held land directly from the King (which in practice amounted to all of them), for an earl at that time was primarily an official rather than a nobleman who possessed a personal dignity with a certain rank in the peerage.
The term baron later came to be applied to the more important magnates, that is to say those who were issued by the Crown with a writ of summons to the councils of the realm that developed into Parliament, specifically its Upper House. Since the heirs of such magnates tended to be of similar substance the practice grew up fitfully of repeating a writ of summons to a man's son, grandson and so on, though this was not invariably done and the consensus of scholarly opinion nowadays is that the creation of a specifically hereditary peerage (1) was not intended by the issue in early times of such a writ.
The wording of a writ was predominantly to a dominus, or lord in Latin. That is how the custom arose of addressing or referring to all peers below the rank of duke, but particularly those of baronial rank, as 'Lord Blank' (or in print as 'The Lord Blank' or 'The Rt Hon The Lord Blank' in ascending degrees of formality), hence also the Burke's Peerage & Baronetage policy of putting the word 'Baron' in parentheses in such cases. Indeed to refer in the third person to any baron in the peerage (2) of England, Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland or the United Kingdom as 'Baron Blank' rather than 'Lord Blank' is a solecism, though most female holders of a barony (but not Scottish lordships of Parliament) seem to prefer to be both addressed and referred to in the third person as 'Baroness Blank', while holders of a barony in foreign nobilities should invariably be addressed and referred to as 'Baron Blank'.
From the late 14th century a baron might also be so created by letters patent, that is to say by the King's express wish. His qualification for the rank of baron did not now depend on the extent of his lands or the degree of sovereignty wielded by the person he held them from, only by his favour with the monarch. Later, letters patent took over almost entirely from writs of summons as a mode of creating titles. From roughly the 18th century on, the monarch tended to be supplanted as chief mover in the award of baronies, indeed all titles of honour, by politicians, principally the prime minister, though the monarch could and did protest in private (but often to no avail) at what he or she considered unsuitable choices. The monarch retained the right of nominating his or her own choice of persons for ennoblement but this was sparingly exercised. Nevertheless the official 'fount of honour' remains the Crown.
A baron's wife should be referred to in print as 'Lady Blank', 'The Lady Blank' or 'The Rt Hon The Lady Blank' in ascending order of formality and a baron's divorced wife as 'Jane Lady Blank'. A baron's children are addressed on an envelope as 'The Hon [short for 'Honourable' and sometimes still, if in rather old fashioned style, only partly shortened to Hon.ble] Adam/Eve Binks' (where Binks is the name of the family holding the barony of, e.g., Blank). They have no special form of address in direct speech. A baron would normally be addressed to his face as 'Lord Blank', his wife, whether current or divorced, and widow as 'Lady Blank'. Some peers and peeresses do not use the prefix Rt Hon on the grounds that it more properly belongs to Privy Counsellors: Lady Grimthorpe is one such among wives of barons. The form of second person address 'My Lord'/,My Lady', formerly in use even by those who felt themselves the social equal (or even the social superior) of the holder of the barony or his wife/former wife/widow, would now tend to be used only by domestic servants (if any), estate workers (if any), tenants (if any) and tradesmen in a small way of business.
In Ireland the term barony could have three meanings: ( 1) a title of honour; (2) an administrative unit of territory, smaller than a county, roughly equivalent to a hundred in England (3) a feudal status involving the administration of local law courts and imposition of certain dues. The last of these was roughly equivalent to the original meaning attached to barons in early medieval England in that they usually appertained to land holdings held 'in chief'; in short, other, lesser holdings, were held from them. A feudal barony might be, but was not necessarily, co-terminous with an administrative one. A few feudal baronies developed into peerages of Parliament, notably Delvin (see WESTMEATH, E), and thus, confusingly, became baronies in the sense of (1). The rest tended to be used in an increasingly honorific sense, though they were not passed on when the territorial holdings with which they had once been associated changed ownership. The market in Irish baronies that has grown up in the late-20th century appears therefore to rest on a confusion over the three meanings of the term.
In Scotland the term baron means broadly a holder of a feudal territorial entity. He had originally to hold his territorial barony directly of the Crown and to have been at some point, either ab initio or by the later erecting of his lands into barony, endowed with jurisdictional powers in civil and criminal cases. As in England a distinction developed between barons and greater ones. Unlike in England this was codified in a law, passed in 1428. The greater baron continued to attend Parliament and developed into the holder of a peerage called a lord of Parliament. This came about since barony was a type of land tenure; a large agglomeration of lands held in baroniam could result in the holder being recognised as of higher rank, that is to say a lord of Parliament, and on a still more extensive scale as an earl. A very few lordships of Parliament have been created in the Scottish peerage involving the wording 'baron' and it has sometimes been argued that the Barony of Renfrew which is one of the PRINCE OF WALES's Scottish titles such by virtue of a law of 1469 settling it on the eldest son of the King of Scots or by virtue of the union of English and Scottish crowns in 1603. Another school argues that it is fundamentally a territorial designation, still subsidiary to the Dukedom of Rothesay.
Barons of the Exchequer were judges who presided in certain types of revenue litigation. They were abolished in 1875.