One of England's Noblest Daughters - An Unique Honour - The Cromartie Romance - A Singular Story - Rights and Privileges - How Marriage Causes Loss of a Title - The Youngest Peeress - Anecdotes of Lady Burton - A Talented Family - Lord Byron's Great-granddaughter - Two Peeresses in their Own Right in One Family
In 1906-to be exact, on December 30 of that year - died one of England's noblest daughters - the Baroness Burdett-coutts. Her great work on behalf of suffering humanity, and the generous manner in which she utilised her vast wealth for the benefit of the community at large, had endeared her to the hearts of thousands of people at home and abroad, and made the story of her life familiar in almost every home.
The Baroness Burton, who succeeded under special remainder to the barony of her father, the late Lord Burton
The fact, however, is generally overlooked that the Baroness Burdett-coutts was really the only lady on whom a title has been conferred on account of her own individual public services, although it is an open secret that a similar honour was offered to the late Miss Florence Nightingale, but was declined. It will thus be seen that, although it is possible for a woman to become a peeress in her own right by reason of some great personal work, the honour is jealously reserved.
There are numerous instances, however, of peerages being bestowed upon the wives and widows of distinguished men. The best-known instance is that of Mrs. Disraeli, the wife of the great statesman, who, in 1868, was raised to the peerage as Viscountess Beacons-field on the occasion of Disraeli's resignation of the premiership in that year. " The perfect wife," as Disraeli once designated the Viscountess, only enjoyed the honour for three years , and the bestowal of the title upon her is unique on account of the fact that it was not until 1876 - five years after his wife's death D that Disraeli himself was called to the Upper House as Earl of Beaconsfield.
There are at the time of writing (1911) two peeresses who bear titles that were conferred upon themselves on account of the distinguished services rendered to the country by their husbands - namely, Viscountess Hambleden, widow of that distinguished politician, the Rt. Hon. W. H. Smith, who died in 1891, in which year his widow was created a Viscountess, and Baroness Macdonald of Earnscliffe, widow of Sir-john Macdonald, Prime Minister of Canada, who died in the same year as Mr. W. H. Smith, and in recognition of whose services this peerage was bestowed upon his widow. Of these two peeresses, perhaps the better known is Viscountess Hambleden, who has five daughters and one son, the Hon. W. F. D. Smith, who married Lady Esther Gore, and who will in due course inherit the title. Lady Macdonald is a daughter of Hon. T. J. Bernard, of Jamaica. She married the Canadian Premier in 1867, but has no heir.
Apart from these peeresses, however, there are fourteen others bearing titles in their own right, that have come to them by regular inheritance in lines which are open to females in default of males. That is to say, if there is no direct male heir to the title, it descends to the female next in succession. Thus it happens that some of the peeresses now upon the list have male heirs who will succeed them in ensuing generations and take their seats by strict right in the House of Lords, while, on the other hand, several peerages now occupied by males will fall to the other sex, and thus for a time take leave of that House.
Take, for instance, the case of the Countess of Cromartie, a peeress in her own right, who will be succeeded in due course by her son, Viscount Tarbat, who was born in 1904. The Cromartie title has had a very strange history. It was first bestowed upon the second Baronet Mackenzie of Tarbat, but forfeited by the third Earl, who, for his share in the rebellion of 1745, was condemned to death and imprisoned in the Tower.
The Baroness Clifton, the youngest peeress in her own right, who, at the age of two, was present at the coronation of King Edward VII.
His Countess, Isabel Gordon of Inver-gordon, was expecting her youngest child at that time, and petitioned George II. for her husband's life. "Lady Cromartie presented her petition to the King last Saturday," writes Horace Walpole. ' He was very civil to her, but would not at all give her hopes. She swooned away as soon as he was gone." George II. did reprieve the Earl, but the Countess had gone through such anguish that her baby (afterwards Lady Augusta
Thus it came about that the title lay in abeyance until 1861, when it was bestowed upon Lady Cromartie's grandmother, the wife of the third Duke of Sutherland , with remainder in the first instance to her second son, Francis. The latter left no son, and on his death, in 1893, the title again fell into abeyance, until, two years later, it was bestowed upon his eldest daughter, Sibell, the present Countess, by Queen Victoria. Lady de Ros also is a peeress in her own right. She succeeded to the title in 1907, and, in 1908, four years after her marriage to the Duke of Norfolk, the Duchess became Baroness Herries. It is interesting to note that if a peeress in her own right marries a commoner she still retains her rank and her right to be tried by her peers. If she is only a peeress by marriage, however, then by a second marriage, with a commoner, she loses her dignity; for, as by marriage it is gained, by marriage it is also lost. Peeresses in their own right or by marriage, it might be mentioned, cannot be arrested in civil proceedings, but they have no exemption in cases of treason, felony, or breach of the peace.