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Baronets (traditional abbreviation Bart, modern abbreviation Bt) holds an hereditary knighthood, and have only the title "Sir." Barons are either greater or lesser. Barones majores being peers, the Barones minores being gentry possessed of lands erected into a barony, sometimes called Free Barons. A baronet is not a peer of the realm, but a member of the gentry. In the 19th Century Baronets were the lowest grade of the hereditary nobility. One of the very few recent creations is Sir Denis Thatcher, Bt, husband of former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher.

The tenants of the King in capite were enumerated in the Domesday book, and the were in number about seven hundred persons ; and therefore if the lands of England, exclusive of Wales, and of the king's ancient demesne lands, be estimated at 14,000,000 acres, and had been equally divided among them, they would have had about 20,000 acres apiece ; that is, in the ftile of thofe times, each barony would have contained about 20,000 acres. But in fact they were not divided equally among them, but in very unequal quantities, some of the great baronies consisting of an hundred or two hundred thousand acres, and others of only five or six thousand, or fewer acres. Hence arose the distinction between barones majores and barones minores, a distinclion unknown in the reigns of the Conqueror and his two sons. Those barons who still continued to posess whole baronies were called barones majores, and those who held only parts of baronies, especially small parts, were called barones minores. But all had a right to come to parliament.

Crown-tenants varied in power and position from the great earl, who owned the larger share of one or more counties, to the small freeholder with a few hides or acres of his own. A rough division was drawn somewhere in the midst; but the boundary was vague, and this vagueness was probably encouraged by the Crown, whose requirements might vary from time to time. The Crown-tenants on one side of this fluctuating line were barones majores; those on the other, barones minores. The distinction had been recognized as early as the days of Henry II.; but Magna Carta helped to stereotype it, and contributed to the growing tendency to confine the word "baron" to the greater men. The smaller barons grudged the long journeys and the expense of attending Councils whose decisions they were powerless to influence; and they found a more f1tting sphere for their energies in the meetings of the shire.

In the reign of King John an alteration of great importance took place in the rights of the barons and tenants in capite: for only the principal barons, or barones majores, were summoned to attend parliament by particular writs from the King ; and the rest, who acquired the appellation of barones minores, were called by one general summons, from the sheriffs of their respective counties. This practice was recognized and legally established by the Magna Charta of King John, granted by him at Runnymede, by which it was declared, that parliament should in future be summoned in that manner. -Et ad habendum commune concilium regui de ausilio assidendo, aliter quant in tribus casibus pradictis, vel de scutagio assidendo, summoneri faciemus archiepiscopos, episcopos, abbates, comites, el majores barones, sigillatim per iitcras nostras, et praterea faciemus summoneri in generali per vice-comites nostros omnes ilios qui de nobis tenent in capite, &\c. "We shall cause to be summoned, by,our letters, the archbishops, bishops, abbots, and the greater barons of the kingdom, one by one, to assess the. scutage; and besides, we shall cause to be summoned in general assembly, by our sheriff's and bailiffs, all who hold under us De Capite, &c." All Barones majores were called to the king's council, but only a few of the Barones minores, who were very numerous. The general summons expressed neither an urgent desire for their presence, nor yet an intimation that they were not wanted; but merely conformed with established usage, and left with each " minor baron " the decision whether he should come or stay away.

Once in the reign of King John the Barones minores lost the right of individual summons to Parliament, the title of Baronet was afterwards frequently applied to this class of nobility, and is so used in a statute as late as the reign of King Richard II. The Barones minores were summoned to parliament by the county sheriffs, and called 'knights of the shires'; they sat in a different house. Afterwards the great barons obtained a further privilege that none should come to parliament but such as had special writs directed. But it was a general term without any defined application till the reign of James I.

The Honourable Order of Baronets consisted of five distinct Divisions :

  1. The Baronets Of England : First Creation, 1611.
  2. The Baronets Of Ireland : First Creation, 1619.
  3. The Baronets Of Scotland : First Creation, 1625. - styled The Baronets of Nova Scotia,
  4. The Baronets Of Great Britain : First Creation, 1707.
  5. The Baronets Of The United Kingdom : First Creation, 1801.
Since 1801 all Baronetcies created have been of The United Kingdom.

The order was instituted by King James II in 1611, at the suggestion of Sir Robert Cotton, to whom the plan had been submitted by Sir Thomas Sherley of Wiston, it actual inventor. Originally, the creation of this order was merely an expedient to raise money, and the cost of a baronetcy in each case amounted to 1095, exclusive of the fees. The money thus raised was professedly destined for the defence and maintenance of the new plantation in the province of Ulster, bat it actually passed at once Into the king's exhausted exchequer. According to the instructions given to the commissioners appointed for admitting to the new dignity, none were eligible but "men of quality, state of living, and good reputation, worthy of the same, and, at the least, descended of a grandfather (by the father's side) that bore arms, and who have also of certain yearly revenue " - 1000 per annum.

The first twenty patents were dated 22d May 1611, and begin with that giren to Sir Nicholas Bacon (son of the lord keeper) whose descendant still retains the position of premier baronet of England. Baronets take precedence according to the dates of their patents, conformably to the terms of which no intermediate honor between baron and baronets can be established, and they rank above all knights except those of the Garter. The title or prefix of Sir is granted them by a peculiar clause in their patents, and until 1827 they could claim for themselves and the heirs male of their bodies the honor of knighthood. All baronets are entitled to bear in their coats-of-arms, either in a canton or an escutcheon at their choice. Queen Victoria considered baronetcies useful for 'ennobling the middle classes' without encumbering them with grand peerages.

The Baronets of Ireland were instituted by James I, for the same purpose with the Baronets of England, namely, to raise money for the benefit of the province of Ulster in Ireland.

Nova Scotia Baronets were first created in 1625, for the encouragement of the planting and settlement of Nova Scotia. The order of baronets of Nova Scotia was established on the principle that they should assist the plantation of the province at their own charges. This I infer was founded as an institution connected with the kingdom of Scotland. King Charles the first, by his letter of 19 July, 1625, to the privy council of Scotland, conferred on each knight baronet of Nova Scotia, a space of land three miles wide and six miles long, in New Scotland.

The story of the Foundation of the Dignity of Baronet of Nova Scotia is not one of mere empty titles lightly won, but a record of honours bestowed by a patriotic Sovereign with a fixed object in view and to achieve a definite purpose, viz., the furtherance of a great colonial scheme. Projected by King James the First in 1624; erected by King Charles the First in 1625; continued and strengthened with fresh creations by the successors of these Sovereigns until the last of the Order was created by Queen Anne, in 1707; the Baronets of Nova Scotia are associated entirely with the Royal House of Stuart. Baronets of Nova Scotia were the first subjects of a British Monarch to take a firm hold of this vast territory, a newly acquired land, practically unknown, and unexplored, and to establish a permanent settlement therein, chequered though its fortunes were and shortlived its existence. Every Baronet of Nova Scotia was entitled to have hereditary seat and voice in all the Legislative Assemblies of the Royal Province of Nova Scotia; and it was ordained by His Majesty that the Baronets of Nova Scotia " should be always called, intitled and designed by the name and title of Baronet.

King James I, in 1612, issued a decree, fixing the precedence of the latter next after the former. By this decree the King bound himself, his heirs and successors not at any time to give precedence to any persons beneajth the degree of Lords of Parliament, higher before or equal to the place of baronets, and a similar provision is to be found in the baronets patents of creation. The eldest sons or heirs apparent of baronets whose patents are dated prior to Dec. 19th 1827, have, upon attaining their majority, the privilege of demanding knighthood. This privilege, however, so essentially honourable for the Order, the oldest sons of Baronets universally neglect to avail themselves of, probably conceiving that to be Equites de jure, is equivalent to being so de facto.

Many of the Baronetcies' of Nova Scotia recorded in various works as being extinct are not so, they are merely dormant, the original destination having been to the heir male. A Baronetcy destined to the heir successive of the patentee can likewise never become extinct, though it may become dormant; for, as in the case of the heir male, no person of legitimate birth can be without an heir. It will thus be seen that a man may succeed to a Baronetcy of Nova Scotia without himself being actually descended from the original patentee: and as a matter of fact many of the present Baronets of Nova Scotia are not lineally descended from original patentees, whose heire male, however, they are, and as such they have lawfully and without dispute, succeeded to the dignity.

By modern definition a Baronet is a man holding a British hereditary title of honor reserved for commoners. The baronetage is not part of the peerage, nor is it an order of knighthood. A baronetcy is unique in two ways. It is a hereditary honor but is not a peerage and has never entitled the holder to a seat in the House of Lords. A baronet is styled "Sir", but a baronetcy is not considered an order of knighthood. It ranks above all knighthoods except the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle. The holder of a baronetcy does not receive an accolade and is not dubbed, in contrast to one who receives a knighthood.

During the 14th and 15th centuries, as well as somewhat earlier and later, the main divisions of the army were distributed under the royal and other principal standards, smaller divisions under the banners of some of the greater nobility or of knights banneret, and smaller divisions still under the pennons of knights or, as in distinction from knights banneret they came to be called, knights bachelors. In England banneret was often corrupted to baronet. " Even in a patent passed to Sir Ralph Fane, knight under Edward VI, he is called * baronettus ' for * banecrettus.* " * In this manner it is not improbable that the title of baronet may have been suggested to the advisers of James I when the order of Baronets was originally created by him.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:07:53 ZULU