Last week, I was deep into the final pages of the next Unexpected Magic book (with no sign of a title in sight, I might add!) and still had no clear idea of how I’d resolve all the details of my conflict. You might say I’m a pantser—someone who writes by the seat of her pants. I like to be as surprised as the reader when I reach the end. Yeah, I know, stupid. But man, has that taught me how to edit!
But the point is—I had a brilliant brainstorm that would cap everything off so very nicely, except it involved all sorts of research. All writing came to a screeching halt as I dug into the origins of a baronetcy, who inherits, how, can a king just hand one to anyone he feels like, what are the requirements, can land be attached… Argh!
So now, you are the beneficiaries of my research, because I don’t have any time left to come up with another blog. I will graciously spare you the really nitty gritty details if you'll bear with me.
First off, baronets are not peers, not considered noble, and can’t vote in the Lords, although they can be considered aristocrats. Their rank is higher than knight but beneath barons. Unlike a knight, the title is hereditary. A baronet is addressed as Sir and his wife as Lady, although she is not considered a baronetess (probably because no one could pronounce it, although maybe because in Scotland, women could sometimes be a baronetess in her own right).
My real concern was in the land, because baronets are created with territorial designations. So if my guy doesn’t own land, can he still be made a baronet? How can he be made Sir Whatever of Howsomever-on-the-Rye unless he owns land there? So far, I’ve not found a real answer to this except in the history of the baronetcy itself, which falls laughably close to my character’s opinion on politics—everything can be bought.
The first baronets were created in the 1300s to help Edward III pay for his army—fork over enough cash, provide a league of soldiers, and you, too, can be called Sir. Those original titles eventually died out—I’m guessing a title without land attached isn’t something the family fights over.
Jolly good King James I had a similar problem, too many battles to fight—those belligerent Irish simply wouldn’t stay in their place—so he decided to bring baronetcies back. In this case, he offered titles to 200 gentlemen of good birth with an income of at least £1,000 a year. These fine aristocrats were required to pay for thirty soldiers for three years in exchange for adding Sir to their names—or maybe it was their wives who wished to be Ladies. No mention is made of needing land to earn the title, although a thousand pounds a year was a princely sum in those times, and land would have been the main means of earning that kind of income. But if land wasn’t actually required… my guy might have an opportunity.
There were a lot of unclaimed baronetcies in the 1800s that could be tossed around. Over the years, the keepers of the registry had a hard time keeping up with all those minor titles, and they kind of lost track of what belongs to whom. So my guess is that the title does not pass down with a particular piece of land, because it’s pretty easy to track land, whereas people tend to propagate or die off with regularity. And even though I’ve still not found it stated anywhere, I’m concluding the reason baronets are not considered peers who can vote in the House of Lords is because that right is reserved for landowners.
(image is Sir Robert Peel, 1st baronet, a mill owner who became heavily involved in politics before he was made baronet.)
So yay me! My guy may win his own title, if I can beat this plot into line. When I first started writing Regencies, I thought my head would spin off my shoulders trying to figure out how titles worked. When you read about our romantic aristocrats, do you pay attention if we get the details right? Or do you just shrug and figure it doesn’t matter as long as the heroine gets her man?