Scotland Nobility

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Scotland Nobility

The Scottish nobility is a minority of the population, although many (if not most) Scots will have aristocratic ancestry at some point in the past. Scotland's nobility and heraldry are qualified and decided by the Lord Lyon, King of Arms.

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Introduction[edit | edit source]

The nobility is a class of people who had special political and social status. Nobility is inherited or granted by the crown as a reward to persons who perform a heroic deed, have a notable achievement, or hold a prominent government position. The noble class forms less than five percent of Scotland’s population.

British nobility has a well-defined order. The highest noblemen are Peers which include the titles (in descending rank):

  • Duke
  • Marquis
  • Earl
  • Viscount
  • Baron

This is followed by the gentry, Whose titles are:

  • Baronet
  • Knight
  • Esquire
  • Gentleman

Both peers and gentry are entitled to bear coats of arms. Younger sons had the right to use the father’s coat of arms altered with cadency, a mark showing birth order. "Lord Provost" and "Laird" are courtesy titles in Scotland.


Scotland limited the growth of the noble class. The eldest son inherits the father’s title, and younger sons may or may not have lesser titles. When a nobleman dies without sons, the title lapses unless the crown awards the title to a daughter’s husband.

Most family traditions of having a noble ancestor are not true since most noblemen did not emigrate. Contrary to popular belief, few nobles were disowned by family members for unacceptable behavior. Thus, most traditions of an ancestor being "erased" or "eliminated" from all records are unfounded.

Illegitimate children were not entitled to noble status and are often not shown in family pedigrees. They may, however, have been granted a title and variation of the father’s coat of arms.

The records of peerage creations and related documents are kept at the Lyon Office (see Scotland Heraldry).

Historic titles[edit | edit source]

Historic titles in Scotland include the following:

  • Righ or ri (Gaelic, literally "king") - the sovereign of the nation was the Ard-Righ or High King. Sub-national Lords were also known as "righ" sometimes, such as the Lords of Galloway
  • Mormaer or High Steward- a regional or provincial ruler, theoretically second only to the King of Scots, and the senior of a Toiseach (chieftain). This term was generally superseded by earl.
  • Steward or Stewart - ruler of a stewartry (maoirne or mearns)
  • Thane - In Scotland this was sometimes used as the equiv
  • Toiseach - a chief or chieftain. This was often the ruler of a clan or family group, especially in the Highlands.
  • Laird - the landowner of a large estate. This is generally a courtesy title.
  • Bonnet laird - a minor landowner.

Clan titles[edit | edit source]

  • Chief of the name and arms - a paramount chief
  • Clan chief (Gaelic: ceannard cinnidh)
  • Chieftain (Gaelic: ceann-cinnidh) - runs a sept or branch.
  • Cadet
  • Duniwassal (Gaelic: duine uasal) - a gentleman.

Accessing the Records[edit | edit source]

There are many original records for noble families. These documents often are not available to the public, but you can accomplish most nobility research in secondary sources.

Family Histories[edit | edit source]

Noblemen were anxious to preserve their identity. Therefore, many kept records of their ancestry, some of which have been published. A number of published family histories also contain information about Scottish nobility. Many of these family histories are available at the Family History Library. Use the Surname Search of the FamilySearch Catalog to find references to these family histories. Some have been digitized made available online, but most are only available in book form at the Library.

Another source for information on Scottish families is:

Paul, Sir James Balfour, ed.The Scots Peerage, 9 vols. Edinburgh, Scotland: David Douglas 1904. (Family History Library book 941 D22p). This book has been digitized.

Peerage[edit | edit source]

The Scots Peerage[edit | edit source]

The Scots Peerage is a book series (nine volumes) of the Scottish nobility published from 1904 to 1914. It is a comprehensive history of the Scottish peerage.[1] All of the volumes have been digitized and made available online.

Burke's Peerage[edit | edit source]

Burke's Peerage was established in London in 1826 as the "definitive guide to the genealogy and heraldry of the Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Landed Gentry of the United Kingdom."[2] While some of these books can only be accessed in print, many have been digitized and are available online.

The Family History Library also has some of these books, although they are only available in print. To find the film numbers, look in the Keyword Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Other Records[edit | edit source]

The Family History Library has many records of noble families other than family histories. To find these, use the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog and search:


See also Scotland Heraldry and Scotland Genealogy.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wikipedia contributors, "The Scots Peerage," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,, accessed 2 August 2018.
  2. Burke's Peerage, "Burke's Peerage," 2018,, accessed 2 August 2018.