A patent of precedence is a grant to an individual by letters patent of a higher social or professional position than the precedence to which his ordinary rank entitles him.
The principal instance in modern times (*) of patents of grants of this description has been the grant of precedence to members of the English bar. In the days when acceptance of the rank of king's counsel not only precluded a barrister from appearing against the Crown, but, if he was a member of parliament, vacated his seat, a patent of precedence was resorted to as a means of conferring similar marks of honour on distinguished counsel without any such disability attached to it. The patents obtained by Mansfield, Erskine, Scott and Brougham were granted on this ground. After the order of the coif lost its exclusive right of audience in the court of common pleas, it became customary to grant patents of precedence to a number of the serjeants-at-law, giving them rank immediately after counsel of the Crown already created and before those of subsequent creation. Mr Justice Phillimore was, on his appointment as a judge of the queen's bench division (in 1897) the only holder of a patent of precedence at the bar, except Serjeant Simon, who died in that year, and who was the last of the serjeants who held such a patent. See also Precedence.
In Canada patents of precedence are granted both by the governor-general and by the lieutenant-governor of the provinces under provincial legislation which has been declared intra vires. (Att. Gen. for Canada v. Att. Gen. for Ontario, 1898, A.C. p. 247; Todd, Parliamentary Government in Canada, 2nd ed. p. 333).
See Pulling's Order of the Coif.
(* Note that, of course, 'modern times' here refers to the late nineteenth century.)
Being the entry for PATENTS OF PRECEDENCE in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.