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Feudal Baronies – Why be a Baron?

Kenneth Cameron has been involved in a number of cases involving the purchase of Baronies and the subsequent matriculation of Arms in the Lyon Court

Feudal Barons

The personal dignities of Feudal Baron, Lord and Earl are uniquely Scottish titles which have survived recent feudal abolition, though now disconnected from the land to which they were originally attached.

Historical background

Until feudal abolition on 28 November 2004 a Barony, and the superior titles of Lordship and Earldom, were estates of land held directly from the Crown. Historically the erection of land to baronial status secured the allegiance of the vassal directly to the Crown and was granted in return for military service. The introduction of standing royal armies was one of the factors in the late middle ages that led to the decline of feudalism. Although a grant in liberam baroniam was essentially a feudal creation barons may have existed in the Gaelic Kingdom of Dalriada (fifth to ninth centuries AD).

Baronies were created by a Crown Charter which was recorded in the Register of the Great Seal of Scotland and until 1874 every new baron was confirmed by the Crown in a Charter of Confirmation.

A holding “in baroniam” transformed the landed estate into a new and clearly defined legal and administrative unit, described by the a previous Lord Lyon, as “a peaceful self-governing social unit”. As well as significant commercial benefits the Crown grant also conferred important legal privileges, including the right to use the title of “baron” and the right of jurisdiction within the barony. Some barons courts exercised the right of “pit and gallows” and were able to impose the death sentence for cases of theft and manslaughter. Barons were also entitled to sit as Lords Temporal in the Scottish Parliament.

The powers enjoyed by the barons were significantly reduced after the failure of the ’45, though theoretically they retained a right of civil and criminal jurisdiction until formally abolished by the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc (Scotland) Act 2000.

Over time baronies lost their economic as well as their legal significance as estates were sold off or broken up, often to pay death duties in the years following the two World Wars. Furthermore, with the termination of entails (a legal device to ensure succession to a designated line of heirs) “conveyancers all too often consigned baronies to history, and neglected to convey them with the land to which they were attached. Thus many have fallen through cracks in the floorboards of lax conveyancing, making proof of good title often torturous and sometimes impossible.” (Hugh Peskett, Burkes Peerage, 107th Edition). Stripped of their legal and economic benefits baronies were of little value to their holders.

Dignities and feudal abolition

Interest in baronies was revived by the then Lord Lyon, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, (1945 to 1969). As a result of this renewed interest and the development of a small, but active, market in baronies they were accorded special treatment in the 2000 Act. In terms of Section 63(1) of the Act barony titles were converted into personal titles with no powers or responsibilities. In addition feudal abolition has not affected the ability of the holder of a dignity to sell, gift or bequeath the title which is preserved as incorporeal property separate from the ownership of land:

As dignities can no longer be registered in the Sasine or Land Register, ownership of the Barony is completed by delivery of the deed of Assignation transferring ownership.


Modern legal procedures

Prior to feudal abolition the right to adopt the title of baron was attached to the ownership of the caput or head place of the barony. The caput was often a castle or mansion house. Although the dignity has now been separated from the land, a purchaser should usually require a Scottish solicitor to assist with the examination of the title deeds and the conveyancing formalities. The process will include studying the Title deeds from the last Crown Charter. All being well the seller and buyer will enter into a contract and on completion of the remaining procedures, , the dignity of Baron will be transferred to the new owner.


Why be a Baron?

There are numerous reasons. For many, it is a privilige in owning piece of Scottish history. Others wish to connect with their Scottish roots, fr for others it is a way of enhancing their social or professional standing, while for others it is a passport into the glittering and fascinating “science” of Scottish heraldry.


The grant of Arms is a matter within the discretion of the Lord Lyon, who is the Crown’s representative in all heraldic matters in Scotland. The holder of a Scottish barony can petition the Lord Lyon for a grant of Arms with additaments appropriate to a baron as long as the holder falls within Lord Lyon’s jurisdiction and is a virtuous and deserving person. Until recently foreign petitioners, although holders of a Scottish barony, were precluded from petitioning as they fell outwith Lyon’s jurisdiction. In 2009 the Lord Lyon confirmed that he would officially recognise barons who meet certain conditions.