England, Titled and Landed Families (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Education,Health and Contemporary Documents  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Titled and Landed Families

Many thousands of living people are descended from royal and noble lines but being able to prove descent is far less common than claiming it. Diligent research may establish a link to a gateway ancestor, one of those kings or nobles who had many children, legitimate and illegitimate. It is essential to avoid taking published pedigrees as gospel truth, whether they are the 16th-17th century county visitations, or elegantly printed 18th-19th century volumes containing wish lists of suitable ancestors for the nouveau riches. Many of these pedigrees are based on forged documents, and Peter Cotgreave explains their origins and has references to lists of known forged pedigrees in his article Spence Pedigree Forgeries (Family Tree Magazine Vol 11 #9).

Genealogists often encounter what can only be described as my ancestor came with the conqueror syndrome; it was formerly regarded as an appendage which no gentleman could do without so they were mass-produced! The supposed original list of those who accompanied William, the Battle Abbey Roll was made 300 years later and there are eight different versions.

Perhaps the most detailed studies of royal descendants down to the 19th century can be found in the two works by Marquis of Ruvigny (The Blood Royal of Britain, Being a Roll of the Living Descendants of Edward IV and Henry VII and 'The Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal, Being a Complete Table of All the Descendants Now Living of Edward III, King of England). These are massive but known to be incomplete and many updates have been produced for individual lines; most are noted in Genealogists’ Magazine. Ruvigny did not include the many illegitimate descents; a couple of useful reference works for these are Philip Hall’s article, Charles II’s Noble Descendants: An assessment of the illegitimate children attributed to King Charles II and a roll of the first 200 British and Irish hereditary honours by which they are currently represented, and The Royal Bastards of Mediaeval England by Chris Given-Wilson and Alice Curteis.

There are five classes of peerage (note that England includes Wales):

  • England - created before 1707 union
  • Scotland - created before 1707 union
  • Great Britain (England and Scotland) - created 1707-1801
  • Ireland - created before 1801
  • United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Ireland) -created since 1801 union.

Chart: The Social Hierarch
Chart of Social Hierarchy of England.jpg



Chart: Definitions Concerning Titled and Landed Families Terminology has changed over time so this brief account is only a rough guide.

Aristocracy, aristocrat
From 19th century the term which included all ranks down to gentry. Gentry who do not hold land have frequently been excluded from the group.
Armigers
Someone entitled to bear a coat-of-arms, an esquire.
Armorial
Book pertaining to heraldic arms
Armorial bearings
An heraldic charge or device,; coat of arms
Baron
Lowest rank of the peerage
Baronet
A hereditary rank created by James I in 1611 for a fee of £1,095 which was used for troops in Ulster. Abbreviation after name is Bart. or Bt.
Baronetage
Baronets collectively. Also a manual containing a list of baronets with genealogy.
Baronetcy
Baronet’s patent or rank
Barony
The domain of a baron. In Ireland the division of a county. In Scotland a large freehold estate or manor.
Coat of arms
Heraldic device granted to an individual. There is no such thing as a family coat of arms.
College of Heralds aka College of Arms

Corporation which records pedigrees etc. and grants armorial bearings.
Duke
Person holding highest hereditary title of nobility outside the royal family
Earl
The oldest English title and rank and now considered above the ranks of baron and viscount.
Esquire
17th -18th centuries a man with a coat of arms who was a superior gentleman. During 19th century was used to address any gentleman, and later any man.
Gentleman / Gentry
Superior in rank to a yeoman but have no title, and some have no land. In 19th century excluded from nobility but included as lowest rank of aristocracy. In common parlance ‘one who does not work with his hands’ so included urban professionals as well as richer rural people.
Herald
Officer who, among other duties, regulated the use of armorial bearings
Heraldry
Science of armorial bearings carried out by a herald.
Heralds’ Visitations
County surveys carried out by the heralds.

King of Arms
Chief Herald
Knight
Knighthood was a personal honour not an hereditary one. Originally one who fought with William the Conqueror and was rewarded with land which was held in return for knight service or money. One who did not take the knighthood because of the expense remained an esquire. After 1662 a knight was a person, usually of noble birth who had served as page and squire, elevated to this honourable military rank. Later conferred as reward for personal merit or service to crown or country.
Landed family
Families who owned land, generally gentry and above in rank.
Landed gentry
Gentlemen who owned land.
Marquess or marquis
Rank of nobility between duke and earl; may be carried as a courtesy title by the heir to a dukedom.
Nobility
Originally all ranks down to gentry, later divided into hereditary nobility (peers) and lower noble ranks. Many modern nobles have no landed estates.
Peer(s), Peerage
Hereditary nobility who sat in the House of Lords until the end of the 20th century. The term peerage is also used for a list or manual of genealogy of the peers.
Sir
The title of baronets and knights and, until the Reformation, of a priest who was not a university graduate.
Titled family
Family having a title of nobility down to level of baronet.
Visitations
County surveys carried out by the heralds.


Additional Information

See: England Heraldry

See: Herald's Visitations


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Education,Health and Contemporary Documents offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.