Baron. This word, of uncertain origin, was introduced into England at the Conquest to denote "the man" (i.e. one who had done him "homage") of a great lord, and more especially of the king. All who held "in chief" (i.e. directly) of the king were alike barones regis, bound to perform a stipulated service, and members, in theory at least, of his council. Great nobles, whether earls or not, also spoke of their tenants as "barons," where lesser magnates spoke of their "men" (homines). This was especially the case in earldoms of a palatine character, such as Chester, where the earl's barons were a well-recognized body, the Venables family, "barons of Kinderton," continuing in existence down to 1679. In the palatinate of Durham also, the bishop had his barons, among whom the Hiltons of Hilton Castle were usually styled "Barons of Hilton" till extinct in 1746. Other families to whom the title was accorded, independently of peerage dignity and on somewhat uncertain grounds, were "the barons of Greystock," "the barons of Stafford," and the Cornwalls, "barons of Burford." Fantosme makes Henry II. speak of "mes baruns de Lundres"; John's charter granting permission to elect a mayor speaks of "our barons of our city of London," and a London document even speaks of "the greater barons of the city." The aldermen seem to have been loosely deemed equivalent to barons and were actually assessed to the poll-tax as such under Richard II. In Ireland the palatine character of the great lordships made the title not uncommon (e.g. the barons of Galtrim, the barons of Slane, the barons of the Naas).
As all those who held direct of the crown by military service (for those who held "by serjeanty" appear to have been classed apart), from earls downwards, were alike "barons," the great difference in their position and importance must have led, from an early date, to their being roughly divided into "greater" and "lesser" barons, and indeed, under Henry II., the Dialogus de Scaccario already distinguishes their holdings as "greater" or "lesser" baronies. Within a century of the Conquest, as we learn from Becket's case (1164), there arose the practice of sending to the greater barons a special summons to the council, while the lesser barons, it is stipulated in Magna Carta (1215), were to be summoned only through the sheriffs. Thus was introduced a definite distinction, which eventually had the effect of restricting to the greater barons the rights and privileges of peerage.
Thus far the baron's position was connected with the tenure of land; in theory the barons were those who held their lands of the king; in practice, they were those who so held a large amount of land. The great change in their status was effected when their presence in that council of the realm which became the House of Lords was determined by the issue of a writ of summons, dependent not on the tenure of land, but only on the king's will. Camden's statement that this change was made by Henry III. after "the Barons' War" was long and widely accepted, but it is now assigned, as by Stubbs, to Edward I., and the earliest writs accepted as creating hereditary baronies are those issued in his reign. It must not, however, be supposed that those who received such summons were as yet distinguished from commoners by any style or title. The only possible prefix at that time was Dominus (lord), which was regularly used by simple knights, and writs of summons were still issued to the lowest order of peers as knights (chevaliers) only.
The style of baron was first introduced by Richard II. in 1387, when he created John de Beauchamp, by patent, Lord de Beauchamp and baron of Kidderminster, to make him "unum parium et baronum regni nostri." But it was not till 1433 that the next "baron" was created, Sir John Cornwall being then made baron of Fanhope. In spite, however, of these innovations, the former was only summoned to parliament by the style of "John Beauchamp of Kidderminster," and the latter by that of "John Cornwall, knight." Such creations became common under Henry VI., a transition period in peerage styles, but "Baron" could not evict "Sire," "Chevalier" and "Dominus." Patents of creation contained the formula "Lord A. (and) Baron of B.," but the grantee still styled himself "Lord" only, and it is an historically interesting fact that to this day a baron is addressed in correspondence, not by that style, but as "the Lord A.," although all peers under the rank of Duke are spoken of as "lords," while they are addressed in correspondence by their proper styles. To speak of "Baron A." or "Baron B." is an unhistorical and quite recent practice.
When a barony, however, is vested in a lady it is now the recognized custom to speak of her as baroness, e.g. Baroness Berkeley.
The solemn investiture of barons created by patent was performed by the king himself, by enrobing the peer in the scarlet "robe of estate" during the reading of the patent, and this form continued till 13 Jac. I., when the lawyers declared that the delivery of the letters patent without ceremony was sufficient. The letters patent express the limits of inheritance of the barony. The usual limit is to the grantee and heirs male of his body, occasionally, in default of male issue, to a collateral male relative (as in the case of Lord Brougham, 1860) or (as in the case of Lord Basset, 1797, and Lord Burton, 1897) to the heirs-male of a daughter, and occasionally (as in the case of Lord Nelson, 1801) to the heirs-male of a sister. Sometimes also (as in the case of the barony of Rayleigh, 1821) the dignity is bestowed upon a lady with remainder to the heirs-male of her body. The coronation robes of a baron are the same as those of an earl, except that he has only two rows of spots on each shoulder; and, in like manner, his parliamentary robes have but two guards of white fur, with rows of gold lace; but in other respects they are the same as those of other peers. King Charles II. granted to the barons a coronet, having six large pearls set at equal distances on the chaplet.
A baron's cap is the same as a viscount's. His style is "Right Honourable"; and he is addressed by the king or queen, "Right Trusty and Well-beloved." His children are by courtesy entitled to the prefix "The Honourable."
Barons of the Exchequer were formerly six judges (a chief baron and five puisne barons) to whom the administration of justice was committed in causes betwixt the king and his subjects relative to matters of revenue. Selden, in his Titles of Honour, conjectures that they were originally chosen from among the barons of the kingdom, and hence their name; but it would probably be more exact to say that they were officers of a branch of the king's Curia, which was theoretically composed of his "barons." The title has become obsolete since 1875, when the court of exchequer was merged in the High Court of Judicature.
Barons of the Cinque Ports (originally Hastings, Dover, Hythe, Romney and Sandwich) were at first the whole body of their freemen, who were so spoken of in royal charters. But the style was afterwards restricted to their mayors, jurats, and (prior to 1831) members of the House of Commons elected by the Cinque Ports, two for each port. Their right to the title is recognized in many old statutes, but in 1606 the use of the term in a message from the Lower House drew forth a protest from the peers, that "they would never acknowledge any man that sitteth in the Lower House to the right or title of a baron of parliament" (Lords' Journals). It was the ancient privilege of these "barons" to bear a canopy over the sovereign at his or her coronation and retain it as their perquisite. They petitioned as "barons of the Cinque Ports" to attend the coronation of Edward VII., and a deputation was allowed to do so.
Baron and Feme, in English law, is a phrase used for husband and wife, in relation to each other, who are accounted as one person. Hence, by the old law of evidence, the one party was excluded from giving evidence for or against the other in civil questions, and a relic of this is still preserved in the criminal law.
Baron and Feme, in heraldry, is the term used when the coats-of-arms of a man and his wife are borne per pale in the same escutcheon, the man's being always on the dexter side, and the woman's on the sinister. But in this case the woman is supposed not to be an heiress, for then her coat must be borne by the husband on an escutcheon of pretence. (See Heraldry.)
The foreign title of baron is occasionally borne by English subjects, but confers no precedence in the United Kingdom. It may be Russian, e.g. Baron Dimsdale (1762); German, e.g. Baron Stockmar, Baron Halkett (Hanoverian); Austrian, e.g. Baron Rothschild (1822), Baron de Worms; Italian, e.g. Baron Heath; French, e.g. Baron de Teissier; French-Canadian, e.g. Baron de Longueil (1700); Dutch, e.g. Baron Mackay (Lord Reay).
(J. H. R.)