Since changes to the law in 2004 a Scottish barony title is a personal dignity; prior to 2004 it was a territorial dignity. Now barony titles are separated from the land to which they formerly belonged. Ownership of a barony title by an individual allows that individual to call themselves ‘John Smith, Baron of X’. It also allows the holder to petition the Lord Lyon, King of Arms for his or her own arms (see our page on heraldry).
We use the word ‘baron’ and ‘barony’ here, but these terms also include the higher dignities of feudal lord and feudal earl, which we are sometimes able to offer for re-assignation.
No new barony titles have been created in Scotland since the mid-19th century. All the titles we offer were originally created hundreds of years ago; rarely they have been in the same families ever since, more usually they have changed hands many times as political and economic fortunes changed.
Since the change of law in 2004, barony titles are not usually sold with land or other rights, although it is sometimes possible to make separate arrangements to purchase land within the former barony area.
Lord Clyde provides a very clear description of a barony title in Spencer Thomas of Buquhollie v Newell
“Before going further I should say something about the nature of a barony in Scots law. A barony is an estate of land created by a direct grant from the Crown. the original grant is said to have ‘erected’ the lands into a liberia baronia, a free-hold Barony (Bell’s Principles, s.750). The right can be conferred only by the Crown and cannot be transmitted by the baron to be held base of himself (Bells’s Dictionary (7th ed.), p.99; Bankton’s Institute, II.iii.86). In feudal classification a barony falls into the class of noble as opposed to ignoble feus. That classification is discussed by Craig (Jus Feudale, I.x.16) and Bankton (II.iii.83). In Scotland the distinction was recognised between the greater barons and the lesser barons, the former acquiring such titles as Duke or Earl. It was at the earliest a territorial dignity as distinct from the later personal peerage. Thus when one was divested of an estate the title of honour ceases (Bankton, II.iii.84). In the feudal system, however, whether the dignity was that of a baron or of the greater dignity of an earldom, the feudal effects were the same (Erskine’s Institute, II.iii.46). As Stair put it (Institutions, II.iii.45): “Erection is, when lands are not only united in one tenement, but are erected into the dignity of a barony; which comprehendeth lordship, earldom, & c. all of which are but more noble titles of a barony; having the like feudal effects”. The grant of barony carried with it the right to sit in Parliament, but as the number of lesser barons increased, steps were taken from 1427 onwards to restrict attendance to a selected number of them (Erskine’s Institute, I.iii.3). The grant in liberam baroniam also carried a civil and criminal jurisdiction (Erskine’s Institute, I.iv.25). But Erskine also states that while such an erection or confirmation is necessary to constitute a baron ‘in the strict law sense of the word’, all who hold lands immediately of the Crown to a certain yearly extent are barons in respect of the title to elect or be elected into Parliament (Institute, I.iv.25).”
A Scottish Barony Title is the only title world-wide that is a noble title, officially recognised and available to purchase. Our authority for this very clear statement is based on decisions in the Scottish Courts, institutional writers (writers whose text is accepted in Scottish courts as an explanation of the law) and by Act of the Scottish Parliament. In Spencer-Thomas v Newell it was held inter alia “(1) that the essential feature of a barony title was the noble quality of the feudal grant.” The Lyon Court, in the Petition of Maclean of Ardgour for a Birthbrieve by Interlocutor dated 26th February 1943, “Finds and Declares that the Minor Barons of Scotland are, and have both in this Nobiliary Court, and in the Court of Session, been recognised as “titled” nobility, and that the estait of the Baronage (The Barones Minores) is of the ancient Feudal Nobility of Scotland”.