In 1790, Lady Henry Fitzgerald (1769 – 1831) claimed the title of the ancient barony de Ros (pronounced roos) by petition to George III. She was opposed in this endeavor by His Grace, the Duke of Rutland, and the matter was referred to the House of Lords.
The Lady versus the Duke. Sounds like a Regency romance in the making.
“I, sir, am Baroness Fairbourne in my own right.”
….Warming to her topic, she continued, “Papa’s lawyer told me that the de Ros barony, which is thought to be the oldest peerage in England, has gone through eight or nine family names. It’s dreadfully complicated. If I had sisters, we would be coheirs to the title, and none of us would be called Lady Fairbourne. The title would be in abeyance, and it would stay that way until all of the claims were concentrated in one person again—for example, if one sister had a child, and the other sisters didn’t. Some baronies by writ have been in abeyance for centuries.”
Seeing Adam’s bemused expression, she said kindly, “It’s all right if you don’t understand. It took the lawyer ages to explain to me.”
“I can understand why,” Adam said dryly. “So, which are you, Lady Antonia or Lady Fairbourne?”
— Carousel of Hearts, by Mary Jo Putney (1989)
I don’t often venture into matters of peerage law, but when I do, I consult William Cruise, who correctly reminds us that:
“…all the degrees of nobility are derived from the king, as the fountain of honor.”
— — “A Treatise on the Origin and Nature of Dignities, or Titles of Honor: Containing All the Cases of Peerage, Together with the Mode of Proceeding in Claims of this Kind” by William Cruise (1823)
Cruise’s Treatise is an excellent source of the law of peerages as it was understood during the Regency period, particularly with regard to the king’s power to make or break titles. Not only does it contain a comprehensive table of cases, it also provides the mode of procedure for acquiring a title–especially helpful when a character in one’s book desires one.
The following blog posts will be concerned with baronies in particular, and how the lady got hers.