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000001b British nobility
Wikipedia on British nobility

The British nobility is made up of the peerage and the (landed) gentry. The nobility of its four constituent home nations has played a major role in shaping the history of the country, although the hereditary peerage now retain only the rights to stand for election to the House of Lords, dining rights there, position in the formal order of precedence, the right to certain titles, and the alleged right to an audience (a private meeting) with the monarch. More than a third of British land is in the hands of aristocrats and traditional landed gentry.

Main article: Peerages in the United Kingdom

The British nobility in the narrow sense consists of members of the immediate families of peers who bear courtesy titles or honorifics. Members of the peerage carry the titles of duke, marquess, earl, viscount or baron. British peers are sometimes referred to generically as lords, although individual dukes are not so styled when addressed or by reference.

All modern British honours, including peerage dignities, are created directly by the Crown and take effect when letters patent are issued, affixed with the Great Seal of the Realm. The Sovereign is considered to be the fount of honour and, as "the fountain and source of all dignities cannot hold a dignity from himself," that is cannot hold a British peerage.

Landed gentry
Main article: Landed gentry

Descendants in the male line of peers and children of women who are peeresses in their own right, as well as baronets, knights, dames and certain other persons who bear no peerage titles, belong to the landed gentry, deemed members of the non-peerage nobility below whom they rank.

The untitled nobility consists of all those who bear formally matriculated, or recorded, armorial bearings. CILANE (the European Commission of the Nobility {"Commission d'information et de liaison des associations nobles d'Europe"} was established in Paris in April 1959) and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta[5] both consider armorial bearings as the main, if not sole, mark of nobility in Britain.

Other than their designation, such as Gentleman or Esquire, they enjoy only the privilege of a position in the formal orders of precedence in the United Kingdom. The largest portion of the British aristocracy has historically been the landed gentry, made up of baronets and the non-titled armigerous landowners whose families hailed from the medieval feudal class (referred to as gentlemen due to their income solely deriving from land ownership).

Non-hereditary nobility

It is often wrongly assumed that knighthoods and life peerages cannot grant hereditary nobility. The bestowal of a peerage or a knighthood is seen as due reason for a grant of arms by Garter King of Arms or the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and thus, those who make use of it attain hereditary nobility. The eldest son of a Knight and his eldest sons in perpetuity attain the rank of Esquire.

The only form of non-hereditary nobility in Great Britain is that associated with certain offices, which give the rank of Gentleman for the duration of tenure, or for life. Some offices and ranks also give the rank of Esquire for life.


The Monarch grants Peerages, Baronetcies and Knighthoods (nowadays mostly Life Peerages and Knighthoods) to citizens of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Realms at the advice of the Prime Minister. Honours lists are published regularly on important occasions.

Untitled nobility, i.e. gentility, being identical to armigers, falls into the jurisdiction of the College of Arms and Lyon Court. Part of the Monarch's fons honorum—the power to grant arms—has been de facto devolved to Garter King of Arms and Lord Lyon King of Arms, respectively. A grant of arms is in every regard equivalent to a patent of nobility on the Continent; depending on jurisdiction and circumstances it can be seen as either an act of ennoblement or a confirmation of nobility.

Thus, along with Belgium and Spain, the United Kingdom remains one of the few countries in which nobility is still granted and the nobility (except for the hereditary peerage and baronetage) does not form a closed, purely "historical" class.

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