Scotland has had recognised Peers since the 1100’s, with the oldest being the Earl of Mar, as such the concept remains part of our heritage and should not be abused, nor misinterpreted.
Most Scottish peerages date from the 17th century, although some survive from medieval times. The earldom of Crawford dates from 1398; other earldoms from the 15th century; and various lordships from the same period. There are today some 19 Scottish peerages created before 1600. In 1707 the Scottish peerage numbered 154, compared with 190 English peers.
The Peerage in Scotland are ranked below highest to lowest :
*Lord/Lady (of Parliament).
Interestingly, it wasn’t until 1963 and the Peerage Act, that all Scottish Peers were entitled to sit in the House of Lords, until then Scotland was only represented by 16.
In an attempt to clarify a common misunderstanding which exists regarding our peerage, this piece will explain what is meant by the Scottish title of Lord and what is meant by the Scot’s term of Laird.
For quite a few people this has been confused to mean one and the same thing, as after all this is Scotland so don’t these words have more or less the same meaning.
Sadly but no. These words mean very different things and this article will set out exactly how different these words are, and in Scotland it is important to get it right.
The title of Lord
A Lord in the UK, is one who has a high rank of nobility and is a member of the peerage, and who has been personally confirmed or maintains the hereditary right to the title.
For instance, the hereditary title of an Earl, ie the Earl of Elgin, Chief of Bruce would be passed to his eldest son, who during his lifetime would be called Lord Bruce and addressed as such. In the case of a Clan Chief such as Carruthers of Holmains, his heir is called the Younger of Holmains. Further, in Scotland, Scots Law permits a peerage to be passed to an illegitimate child if legitimised by the parents after marriage.
Unlike most British titles, the peerage of Scotland can also be passed to the eldest daughter if no male heir exists, which prevents the title falling into abeyance. This situation also occurs in the case of Clan Chiefs, where there are quite a few female Chiefs listed here.
If the title is not hereditary but is personally conferred on an individual, that person would receive an appointment to the House of Lords. This can only be achieved through a governmental nomination and confirmation by the British Monarchy.
As such: Before a person may be officially recognised as a peer their name has to be entered in either the Roll of the Peerage established by Royal Warrant given on 1 & 3 June 2004 or in the Official Roll of the Baronetage established by Royal Warrant given on 8 February 1910.
The Peerage in Scotland therefore differs from the rest of the United Kingdom in that it does not recognise the title Baron in its listing. A Baron in Scotland, unlike England, refers to a feudal Barony, of which Carruthers had two in Mouswald and Holmains, and although considered a minor dignity, they are not considered a member of the peerage.
Buying a Lord, Lady or Laird title
For a bit of fun and carrying no credibility whatsoever, the ‘title’ of Laird, Lord or Lady can be purchased for a few pounds or dollars. These companies, some of whom may be registered off shore for tax reasons, state that you will receive personal right to a souvenir plot of land (of a few inches or feet) and the use of a registered trade mark, of which ownership is retained by the company: Laird/Lord/Lady of………………..
The question is, is that an individual right or is it shared by many or does it actually exist as a registered piece of Scotland? Whatever the facts, it definately does not warrant a title nor give the company the legal right to bestow one. The situation is further clarified below.
The Lyon Court, the official heraldic authority for Scotland has clarified that if you bought the title of ‘lord’ or ‘lady’ online, you’re unlikely to qualify for a coat of arms as they carry no legal status. Again as in the case of claims of Chiefdom, recognition and confirmation of the same remains through the auspices of the Lord Lyon King of Arms.
The Court Of The Lord Lyon is the formal legal jurisdiction and heraldic authority for Scotland, dealing with all matters relating to Scottish Heraldry and Coats of Arms and maintains the Scottish Public Registers of Arms and Genealogies. The equivalent in England would be the College of Arms.
This stance is fully supported by the Scottish legal system where, in 1979 a rule was made that put souvenir plots outside the land registration system. This ended the possibility of acquiring ownership of these ‘plots’ and in 2015 Scots lawyers agreed that buying a souvenir plot did not transfer ownership/ So wha6t does that mean: it means what you are actually buying is: ‘a useless piece of paper, with no actual land, nor registered land rights in Scotland and a unrecognised fake title‘.
However, if you feel that having paid a small amount of monies for your title entitles you to apply for arms; the process of a formal petition to The Court of the Lord Lyon, must carry supporting proofs, genealogies and formal documentation and a certificate you bought simply won’t cut it. This supporting documentation is extensive, detailed and thorough without which the petition is likely to fail. Many petitioners use the detailed and tenacious research often involving accredited members of ASGRA – the Association of Scottish Genealogists & Researchers in Archives.
The Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (ASGRA) is the only accrediting body for professional genealogists in Scotland. The organisation promotes the highest standards in the profession of genealogy and historical research with Members undergoing rigorous assessment before being accepted as full members of the association.
So accepting all this, can you use the title on your credit cards, cheque books, legal documents, well if you do and your claims relate to Scotland and in the same vein as claiming to be a Scottish clan chief, you are committing fraud. It is simply taking things too far it seems. In fact in a Guardian Newspaper article of 2016 titled ‘You might be a ‘Scottish Lord’ on paper-but you won’t get a coat of arms’, they describe those who do this as ‘ weird frauds with ideas far above their station’ and the Daily Record Newspaper only the year before, calls them ‘wannabes’ and legally these statements are very true
The use of the term Laird (taken in part from here)
According to the Dictionary definition, a Laird in Scotland is someone who owns a large area of land.
The Lyon Court itself again states that the term “laird” has generally been applied to the owner of an estate, sometimes by the owner himself or, more commonly by those living and working on the estate.
There are a number of well-known examples where the owners of an estate have styled themselves as “Lairds of …” but it must be noted this is not a formal hereditary title nor is it a recognised term in Scottish nobility. So this, in Carruthers terms would cover Jamie Carruthers of Dormont who is still on the ancestral lands and is and importantly recognised by the local population as the Laird of Dormont. Above and left is the former hereditary Chief and 12th Laird of Holmains, John Carruthers, 8th Baron and 21st of his line who died in 1809 and is the 4 x great grandfather of our current Chief, Peter Carruthers of Holmains. He was not, and never claimed to be a Lord.
The term Laird is therefore a ‘description’ of the landowner and would be tied to a physical property such as a small Scottish shooting estate. It would not be appropriate for the owner of a normal residential property, far less the owner of a small souvenir plot of land to adopt this term.
It goes without saying, as mentioned above that the term “laird” is not synonymous with that of “lord” or “lady”. In England for example the equivalent use would be that of a local squire or land owner.
Interestingly, these Lairds, if their lands were large enough would carry a territorial designation if the petitioned for arms, but no title of nobility.
An excellent example is if someone called John Smith owned ie Bonshaw Tower, the ancient seat of the Border Irvings, he could style himself John Smith of Bonshaw Tower (and if applying for arms, would possibly get a territorial designation ed). The difficulty arises when the estate owner has the same surname as the clan chief.
For people not aware of the facts, the family that now owns Bonshaw Tower has the same surname of Irving as the clan itself. If they wished to style themselves as Lairds, it would be correct that the property owner is known as Laird of Bonshaw Tower, being the property owner of the tower and house. However, they would not be ‘of Bonshaw’ as otherwise there could easily be confusion with the Clan Chief & Chief of the Name & Arms of Irving of Bonshaw – Rupert Irving of Bonshaw, and that is not viable.
Further, if petitioning for arms the Irving family who live in and own Bonshaw Tower, as is the case for all armigers, would be required to difference their arms at least twice from those of the Chief of the Irvings of Bonshaw itself. This ensures that, at least in the eyes of Scottish heraldry one retains the root within the clan hierarchy. As such and only if they are an armiger with arms granted by the Lord Lyon, a Laird may wear one feather in his bonnet while a clan chief will wear three ed.
In a case such as this, to avoid confusion in the eyes of the Scottish and overseas public, the differences would have to be made absolutely clear. The last thing one wants to find out is that someone is not who they really are, as is the case of the sadly mis-informed American, who is claiming to be the Chief of Carruthers.
The distinction between Lord and Laird should be pretty clear by now, and the legality of their usage better undertstood. At the end of the day, those claiming pride in their Scottish heritage would not be willing to embarrass themselves, their family and clan or their cultural identity by making false claims. However, there are those who by accident or design, putting personal ego or agenda first, obviously will.
Thankfully, due to social media they are becoming much easier to spot.
Promptus et Fidelis