BRITISH TITLES - BARONET
baronet: holder of a hereditary title of honour called a baronetcy. This title is unique to the kingdoms of the British Isles that since the 17th century have at different times merged to form the United Kingdom. The collective name for baronets is baronetage, though this can also mean a reference book listing holders of baronetcies (e.g., Burke's Peerage & Baronetage). The order of baronets was invented by JAMES I to raise money. Nominally this was for the upkeep of military forces in Ireland, hence the badge of the Red Hand of Ulster featuring as a baronet's device (except in the case of Nova Scotia creations (see below), where the saltire (see Heraldic Glossary) of Ulster was used instead). At the same time the Red Hand is not invariably shown in a baronet's coat of arms. It was made clear at the time that no order should henceforth be called into existence that was of equal or higher degree than the baronetage yet beneath the lowest rank of peerage.
Many baronets have subsequently been created peers, but the order is wholly distinct from both the knightage (see knight) and the peerage (2) as can be shown by the fact that the 1st and last Lord Barrett of Newburgh was made a baronet after being created a peer. Baronets were originally given the right to be knighted, which would make no sense if they were merely, as is sometimes wrongly asserted, hereditary knights. They also once had the right to have their eldest sons knighted on the latter attaining their majority, a privilege which was bestowed by JAMES I in 1616 after candidates dried up following his ruling that baronets' precedence should be lower than that of barons' younger sons but which was rescinded by GEORGE IV in 1827.
Nevertheless as late as 1842 Sir Richard Broun, 8th Bt (qv), who did not succeed to his father's baronetcy till 1844, started calling himself Sir Richard Broun on the grounds that the right of a baronet's heir apparent to be knighted had not lapsed, though the Lord Chancellor of the day had declined to bring him before QUEEN VICTORIA to be dubbed when he had petitioned for the honour back in 1836. Broun had two years previous even to that occasion tried to get the order to which his father belonged granted certain privileges, among them the right of all baronets to wear a neck badge, one that had been extended back in 1629, but to Nova Scotia baronets only. Although Broun has been widely ridiculed (by no one more than Disraeli, who put him in Sybil as the absurd Sir Vavasour Firebrace), his campaign was not wholly unsuccessful. In 1854 Sir John Kingston James, who was to succeed his father as 2nd Baronet 15 years later (see 1970 edn JAMES, Bt), was knighted, specifically as a baronet's eldest son. In 1874, Ludlow, eldest son of Sir James Cotter, 4th Bt (qv), was knighted on coming of age. (He predeceased his father by 20 years, dying unmarried in 1882.) But when in 1895 Claude, the eldest son of Sir Claude de Crespigny, 4th Bt (see 1949 edn), petitioned to be knighted he was turned down, Lastly, in 1929 Broun won his most significant, if posthumous, victory when all baronets were accorded their own neck badge.
The baronetage of England dates from 22 May 1611, that of Ireland from the following 30 September, that of Nova Scotia or Scotland (so called in the former case because the moneys raised were supposed to go towards establishing the colony of Nova Scotia in North America and applicants received a land grant there; the grants were stopped in 1638) from 28 May 1625, that of Great Britain following the Union of English and Scottish Parliaments in 1707 and that of the United Kingdom following the Union of Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. Nearly all baronetcies are heritable by and through males only. The exceptions are a handful in the baronetage of Nova Scotia, for example the one held (but not used) by the Labour MP Tam Dalyell (qv). There is no mechanism for formally renouncing a baronetcy in the way there is for a peerage (1).
In the 19th century the custom grew up of conferring baronetcies on distinguished men who were deemed by Victorian convention not quite worthy of a peerage, usually because of their calling rather than because of lack of wealth, Engineers were one group frequently so honoured. The other chief group was members of the medical profession, whereas lawyers, who were also members of a profession, tended to be honoured, where they were honoured at all, with peerages. It also became the custom to confer a baronetcy on Lord Mayors of London. The last person so honoured was Sir Ralph Perring in 1963.
An Official Roll of the Baronetage is kept up by the Home Office. Anyone who wishes to be officially recognised as a baronet must prove his succession, as with peers. A royal warrant of 8 February 1910 decreed that no person should be received as a baronet or addressed or mentioned by that title in any civil or military commission, letters patent or any other official document unless his name figured on the Official Roll. But in practice it may take years for a claim to be recognised, even supposing a claim is pursued. Yet the potential new baronet may not even wish to take up the title, either through a reluctance to incur expenditure or through lack of interest. Accordingly, most books of reference, including Burke's Peerage & Baronetage, treat the successor, where clearly indicated, as having established his claim. For example, by the end of 1995 no claim had been made regarding the baronetcy of FitzGerald of Geraldine Place, although the most recent officially recognised holder of the title, the 2nd baronet, had died 38 years previously. Meanwhile his second but eldest surviving son and non-official successor as 3rd baronet had died in 1988. Yet the line of inheritance was perfectly obvious. It was just that both the putative 3rd and 4th baronets were Catholic priests. They were also probably citizens of the Republic of Ireland and may well have deemed it inappropriate to make a claim. They nonetheless appeared as holders of the baronetcy in books of reference. Where the succession is not obvious the baronetcy may have fallen into a state of dormancy.
The Standing Council of the Baronetage, founded as the Honourable Society of the Baronetage in 1898 to protest against the declaration granting sons of life peers superior precedence the year before but renamed in 1903, promotes the interests of the order, in particular by helping claimants.
A baronet is addressed on an envelope as 'Sir John Blank, Bart [or 'Bt', both forms being short for Baronet]', his wife as 'Lady Blank'. The prefix 'Sir' (also used for a knight) derives from the Latin comparative adjective senior, i.e., older or of higher rank. A baronetess, i.e., the female holder of a baronetcy, is addressed on an envelope as 'Dame Anne Blank, Btess'. The form of address in direct speech to a baronet called Sir John Blank is 'Sir John', to his wife 'Lady Blank' and to a baronetess called Dame Anne Blank 'Dame Anne'. Husband of baronetesses and children of baronets or baronetesses have no special form of address.