The Peerage of Scotland comprises those peerage dignities which were granted by the sovereigns of Scotland under the law of Scotland prior to the Act of Union 1707, and is one of the five classes of the British Peerage.

The medieval kingdom of Scotland emerged in the eleventh century as a distinct and separate part of Britain under the Canmore dynasty and from around the twelfth century its rulers awarded their own designations of nobility. Of course, between the years 1603 to 1707 the sovereigns of England and sovereigns of Scotland were the same person, but although the two kingdoms shared the same ruler the kingdoms themselves remained separate, and titles continued to be created in the peerages of both kingdoms.

With the Act of Union of 1707, the kingdoms of Scotland and England were merged into the single United Kingdom of Great Britain. No further creations were therefore possible in the peerages of either England or Scotland; all new titles where thereafter created in the succeeding Peerage of Great Britain.

The Degrees of the Peerage of Scotland

As with the other classes of the British peerage, the Peerage of Scotland is divided into five degrees namely, in descending order of rank, those of Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount and Lord of Parliament. The Peerage of Scotland is however to be distinguished from the other classed in that, whereas in the others the lowest rank is that of Baron, in the Peerage of Scotland the equivalent is a Lord of Parliament. As the Lord Advocate to Charles II, one George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh once remarked, "Barons with them, are Lords with us".

Of course, English barons are also Lords of Parliament and so the titles of baron and lord are generally interchangeable but in Scotland the concept of a feudal barony, that is the idea that someone entitled to be known as Lord of 'somewhere' simply because he owns 'somewhere', has survived and thus it was necessary (and continues to be necessary) to distinguish between a Scottish baron and a Sccotish lord of parliament.

The Origins and History of the Scottish Peerage

The Peerage of Scotland should be distinguished from the so called 'Scottish peerage', that is the earlier pre-feudal degree of nobility, which may or may not have actually existed. (See the Seven peers of Scotland).

The historical peerage as understood in the modern sense began with the eleventh century Norman 'conquest' of Scotland, when a succession of rulers descended from Malcolm Canmore established themselves as Kings of Scots, generally with the English military backing and in opposition to traditional Celtic kingship. These rulers imported the feudal system into Scotland, parceling out land in the form of baronies to reward their supporters, particularly in the lowland districts comprising the former Brythonic kingdom of Strathclyde and former Northumbrian province of Lothian. In such a fashion did the families of Bruce, Comyn, Stewart, Baliol, et al became established in the north.

1. Earls and Barons

Sometime around the year 1115 the Scottish king Alexander I established a religious foundation at Scone and the accompanying charter of Scone was witnessed by a number of individuals who are identified by the designation of 'comes' or 'earl'. This is generally taken as the earliest evidence of something approximating a peerage dignity in Scotland and thus the most ancient of the Scottish peerage titles such as those of the Earl of Mar, Earl of Dunbar and the Earl of Angus date their first creation to the Charter of Scone. Prior to the emergence of these earls Scotland possessed a rank of territorial magnate known as the mormaer and it appears that these mormaers were simply redesignated as earls in accordance with standard Anglo-Norman practice. These Scottish earls therefore differed from their English counterparts in that, for example, the Earl of Mar did indeed hold substantial estates within the territory of Mar.

The Scottish Lords appear to have emerged somewhat later. As noted above in order to strengthen their control of the southern territories of Strathclyde and Lothian the kings of Scotland parcelled out land to various Anglo-Norman immigrants, many of whom who held their estates directly from Crown and held in liberam baroniam, that is in free barony, that is not subject to any intervening lordship. Like their English counterparts these barons came to be regarded as possessing a right to be called to attend the king's councils.

Together the Earls and Barons formed the Baronage of Scotland1, one of the orders of the 'Three Estaits' of the Scottish Parliament2. During the first half of the fifteenth century, a number of these barons came to be regarded as in possession of the personal dignity of 'Lord of Parliament', and these Lords of Parliament, or greater Barons (Barones majores) came to be distinguished from the mere feudal Barons, known as the lesser barons (Barones minores). In 1587 the lesser barons were relieved of the right to sit in the Scottish Parliament and are therefore not now regarded as holding peerage titles. These Scottish baronies continue in existence but unlike peerage titles they are not a personal dignity but are attached to the land and therefore may be freely sold and purchased.

2. Dukes, Marquesses and Viscounts

The dignity of Duke is the highest rank in the Peerage of Scotland, and was first introduced into Scotland by Robert III who, on the 13th April 1398, granted the title of Duke of Rothesay to his son David, and that of the Duke of Albany to his uncle Robert. The Dukedom of Rothesay was later reserved for the heir apparent to the crown of Scotland, and is today similarly reserved for the heir apparent to the crown of the United Kingdom.

For the next two centuries the Scots appeared quite happy with a peerage that consisted of the three degrees of Duke, Earl and Lord of Parliament. The two additional degrees of Marquess and Viscount being introduced by James VI at the turn of the sixteenth century. Since James anticipated becoming King of England as well as Scotland it seems as if he was seeking to standardise the peerage across both his kingdoms. (And given James' unfulfilled ambition of uniting his two kingdoms into the single entity of Great Britain this is very likely.)

Although the rank of Marquess first appeared in 1488 when the title of Marquess of Ormond was conferred by James III on his second son James Stewart, Duke of Ross, this was only as a subsidiary title. We have to wait a further century before the first non royal creations emerged in 1599 when James VI promoted both the Earl of Huntly and the Earl of Arran to the status of Marquesses on the 17th April 1599.3

Viscount was last of the five degrees to emerge, the first such example being the title Viscount of Fenton, created on 16th March 1606, a title which is now held by the Earl of Mar. The most senior Scottish Viscount is now regarded as the Viscount of Falkland, created in 1620, which was oddly enough conferred upon an Englishman named Henry Carey.4

3. The period of the two kingdoms

In 1603 James VI of Scotland also became James I of England thus uniting the two kingdoms under one crown. The subjects of England and Scotland were now regarded as having the capacity to be lawful heirs in both countries. Which meant that English titles could be awarded to Scotsmen and vice versa.

Whereas English peers were prevented from sitting in the English House of Commons by virtue of their being members of the House of Lords, there was no such restriction on Scottish peers. It is for this reason that we find the Englishman Henry Carey, created Viscount of Falkland in the Peerage of Scotland in 1620, also sitting in the English House of Commons as the member for Hertfordshire in the years between 1620 and 1622. There were a further eighteen instances of Scottish peers who held seats in the Commons until the passing of the Act of Union in 1707. (Presumably it would also have been possible for English peers to have obtained a seat in the Scottish parliament, but there appears to have been no recorded case of one so doing.)

4. The Union of England and Scotland

As noted above after the union, no further creations were made in the Peerage of Scotland but it nevertheless remained a distinct and separate body. However unlike their English counterparts they did not, under the terms of the Act of Union, gain the right to a seat in the new British House of Lords. At the time of the union there were almost as many Scottish peers as they were of the English variety and to have permitted all the Scottish peers to take a seat in the new House of Lords would have given them a disproportionate voice in government, and thus it was decided to limit the number of Scottish peers entitled to sit in the House.

Article XXII of the Treaty of Union therefore stated;

That, by virtue of this Treaty, of the Peers of Scotland at the time of the Union, sixteen shall be the number to sit and vote in the House of Lords

and further stated;

that when Her Majesty, her heirs or successors, shall declare her or their pleasure for holding the first or any subsequent Parliament of Great Britain, until the Parliament of Great Britain shall make further provision therein, a writ do Issue under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom, directed to the Privy Council of Scotland, commanding them to cause sixteen Peers, who are to sit in the House of Lords, to be summoned to Parliament

The election of Scottish representative peers was therefore a regular feature of the constitution for the next three hundred and fifty years. However, over the course of time many Scottish titles became extinct whilst other Scots peers succeeded in obtaining an additional British title which did confer the right to a seat in the Lords. Although it was frequently the case that a Scottish Duke or Earl would obtain a British Barony and therefore be known under one title when at home on his estates and an entirely different one whilst attending the House of Lords. So the Campbells might well be Dukes of Argyll north of the border, but sat in the House of Lords for most of the nineteenth century under the rather less august title of Baron Sundridge.

By the middle of the twentieth century the number of Scottish peers entitled to be selected under the system of representative peers was scarcely more than the sixteen seats on offer and it was therefore decided to dispense with the whole rigmarole. Section 4 of the Peerage Act 1963 therefore held that;

The holder of a peerage in the peerage of Scotland shall have the same right to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords, and to sit and vote in that House, as the holder of a peerage in the peerage of the United Kingdom; and the enactments relating to the election of Scottish representative peers shall cease to have effect.

Therefore since 1963 there has been no distinction made between Scottish Peers and their English and British equivalents.

Destinations and Heirs

Scottish peerage titles differ from their English counterparts in that the general rule is that they descend to heirs general, that is women may inherit titles. (Which is comparatively rare in England with the exception of a few of the older baronies and the Duke of Marlborough.) Although in any generation males are preferred to females, women can and do inherit. Most Scottish titles created before 1603 tend to descend to heirs general but after that date there was a tendency to revert to the English model and restrict descent in new titles to the male line.

By tradition the heir apparent or indeed the heir presumptive to a Scottish peerage title is traditionally known as 'The Master of', or if the heir happened to be female as the 'The Mistress of'. For reasons that are not too difficult to imagine, the use of 'mistress' in this context has declined somewhat in recent years, but even Master is now only used by strict Scottish traditionalists. Historically speaking however we do find for example, Henry Stuart heir to the title Earl of Lennox who was known as the 'Lord Darnley' south of the border, whilst the Scots referred to him as the Master of Lennox.

One of the curiosities of Scottish Law was that the eldest son of a peer could also be a Lord of Parliament and thus entitled to take a seat in the Scottish Parliament under one of his father's subsidiary titles. The heirs apparent of Scottish Earls, Marquesses and Viscounts were therefore to be found sitting alongside their fathers in the Scottish Parliament but it also had the curious effect of preventing the eldest sons of Scottish peers from sitting in the House of Commons for Scottish constituencies after the Act of Union.

Hence the example of John Campbell, later the 5th Duke of Argyll who sat in the House Commons as the Member of Parliament for Glasgow from 1744 to 1761. In 1761 his grandfather the 3rd Duke died; his father succeeded as the 4th Duke and John became known as the Marquess of Lorne. He was thus forced to resign his Scottish seat, put promptly got himself elected to represent the English constituency of Dover. (He continued as the member for Dover until 1766, when he was created Baron Sundridge in the Peerage of Great Britain which, of course, gave him a seat in the House of Lords and forced his resignation from the Commons.)


1 Until the First Scottish War of Independence forced men to pick one side or the other, the Scottish Baronage and the English Baronage were very closely interlinked. Individuals often held land both north and south of the border and were thus members of both and in any event intermarried without any particular regard to 'national' boundaries.
2 Commoners and Clergy were the other two, and unlike the English Parliament they all sat together in a single chamber.
3 The holders of Scottish marquessates differ from their English and British equivalents in that they often prefer to use the French style of Marquis rather than the anglicised 'marquess'.
4 Generally speaking Scottish Viscounts use the prefix 'of' in their titles, unlike English Viscounts who do not.


  • Malcolm Innes Peers and Heirs
  • The Origins of the Peerage
  • The Chronological Peerage of Scotland
  • Glossary - Burke's Guide To British Titles

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