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The Baronetage is of far more ancient origin than many people may think. The term baronet is believed to have been first applied to nobility who for one reason or another had lost the right of summons to Parliament. The earliest mention of baronets was in the Battle of Barrenberg in 1321. There is a further mention of them in 1328 when Edward III is known to have created eight baronets. Further creations were made in 1340, 1446 and 1551.
At least one of these, Sir William de la Pole in 1340, was created for payment of money, presumably expended by the King to help maintain his army. It is not known if these early creations were hereditary but all seem to have died out.
The present hereditary Order of Baronets in England dates from 22nd May 1611 when it was erected by James I who granted the first Letters Patent to 200 gentlemen of good birth with an income of at least £1000 a year. His intention was two fold. Firstly he wanted to fill the gap between peers of the realm and knights so he decided that the baronets were to form the sixth division of the aristocracy following the five degrees of the peerage. Secondly, and probably more importantly, he needed money to pay for soldiers to carry out the pacification of Ireland.
Therefore those of the first creation, in return for the honour, were each required to pay for the upkeep of thirty soldiers for three years amounting to £1095, in those days a very large sum.
In 1619 James I erected the Baronetage of Ireland and laid plans for a further new Baronetage with the object of assisting the colonisation of Nova Scotia. However in 1624 he died before this could be implemented. In 1625 Charles I took up the previous plans and erected the Baronetage of Scotland and Nova Scotia. The new baronets were each required to pay 2000 marks or to support six settlers for two years. Over a hundred of these baronetcies, now known as Scottish baronetcies, have survived to this day. The Duke of Roxburghe is the Premier Baronet of Scotland by his Baronetcy of Innes-Ker of Innes created in 1625.
As a result of the union of England and Scotland in 1707 all future creations were styled Baronets of Great Britain. With the union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801 new creations were styled as Baronets of the United Kingdom. The position at 1 January 2020, including baronetcies where succession was dormant or unproven, was that there were a total of 1,245 baronetcies divided into five classes of creation included on the Official Roll. Of these there were:
- 142 of England,
- 60 of Ireland,
- 116 of Scotland,
- 125 of Great Britain
- 802 of the United Kingdom.
The Premier Baronet is Sir Nicholas Bacon, 14th Baronet of Redgrave created in 1611.
254 of these titles are held by peers. Approximately 200 currently have no holder entered on the Official Roll.
Under the two Royal Warrants of 1612 and 1613 issued by James I certain privileges were accorded to baronets of England.
Firstly, no person or persons should have place between baronets and the younger sons of peers. Secondly, the right of knighthood was established for the eldest sons of baronets, this was to be revoked by George IV in 1827, and thirdly baronets were allowed to add the Arms of Ulster as an inescutcheon to their armorial bearings. This last consisted of “in a field Argent, a hand Geules, or a bloudy hand”.
These privileges were extended to baronets of Ireland and, less the Arms of Ulster, to baronets of Scotland. They continue to this day for all baronets of Great Britain and the United Kingdom created subsequently.
An interesting analysis of the current state of Baronetage, by Stephen Kershaw, can be viewed using the following link –https://www.baronetage.org/media/1254/baronetslist1jan2022.docx