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In England shortly after the Norman invasion William the Conqueror controlled wealth and land through the Barons who in turn extracted a significant income in exchange for arms, political support and cash passing to the Royal coffers. The ancient Baronies across England and Scotland brought entitlement, responsibility and wealth with the catch that what was given could be taken away. The monarchy needed families like the Sinclairs and the Ruthvens to keep them in power, but that loyalty was at times not reciprocated in the interests of wealth, power or dynasty.

The Sinclairs held ancient pre conquest titles and lands. At one time it was difficult to travel across Scotland without being in sight of a Sinclair castle. The Sinclairs chose their friends wisely and whilst passing on lands to the Reiver and merchant Trotters they held faith with the Stuarts who laid the foundation of a dynasty that survives in the archives at least across Europe today.


The Ruthvens  the Sinclairs and the Herberts placed themselves and their families in serious jeopardy by actively trying to rescue, hide or physically assist the Stuarts over many centuries. They and the Trotters were active Jacobite financiers, raising money, giving money and lending money to the Stuarts. They were rewarded with titles and lands in the good times but in the bad times they were rewarded with prison, banishment and loss of a family name, (The Gowrie conspiracy). The Ruthvens, the Sinclairs and the Trotters fared well or badly very much mirroring the fortunes of the Stuarts.

James 1 of Scotland and England refined manipulation of the Baronies and the Peerage for power. The Stuarts made an art form of sourcing money from lucrative Manors and Baronies. The Manors and the Baronies became vehicles of status and income in society. The industrial revolution and socialisation of politics greatly diminished the wealth of the privileged families until the turn of the 20th century when Parliament recognised that those old titles were obsolete in modern society and were in successive legislation split from their lands which had developed into vast estates with properties requiring unrealistic and unsustainable funding to maintain. The property and the title were separated into manageable land holdings and unencumbered titles that serve historic tradition and family ties.

It would then be several hundred years before Parliament became the force and the law makers of society and several hundred more before the same conditions were seen in Eastern Europe. Some countries today remain well short of universal basic rights. Despite the promises of democracy, communism, free markets, enlightened dictators or monarchies it is likely that no country has ever achieved sustainable equal rights, status, social condition or wealth for all, but that’s another long story. 


William the Conqueror declares all land belongs to the Crown, and parcels it out to barons and the Church, while keeping an estate for the monarchy. Twenty years later, the Domesday Book forms the first record of land ownership in England, and the only one for the next 800 years.


Land used by commoners for grazing and subsistence once covered around 30% of England, but its enclosure by the aristocracy and gentry reduced it to just 3% of the country today.

1649 Aftermath of Civil War

In the aftermath of the Civil War and execution of King Charles I, the Diggers movement, led by Gerard Winstanley, aimed to overturn ideas about the private ownership of land, declaring the Earth to be a “common treasury for all”.

1873 The Victorians’ ‘Second Domesday’

The Return of Owners of Land, reveals that 4,000 lords and gents own half of England, sparking calls for land reform.

Late 1800s – early 1900s Statutory right for food growing

Land reformers bring in legislation that creates statutory right to an allotment for growing food and sets up the first County Farms to help smallholders into farming. First council houses built.

1919 Timber shortage

Foundation of the Forestry Commission, after the First World War causes a timber shortage. War and rise of the modern state leads to military acquiring large swathes of land for training and weapons testing.

1947 Establishment of modern planning system nationalises development rights over land.

For 20 years after the Second World War, councils are allowed to buy land cheaply, sparking the boom in council-house building, but landowners succeed in changing land compensation rules.1979 Publicly owned land starts to be sold off

2000 Right to Roam

Countryside and Rights of Way Act creates a partial Right to Roam over around 10% of England and Wales, mostly in uplands and around coasts.

2003 Right to Roam across Scotland and Community Right to Buy

First Scottish Land Reform Act creates a full Right to Roam across Scotland and brings in Community Right to Buy, enabling many communities to buy back land from absentee landowners.

A government body dedicated to recording land ownership, the Land Registry, has existed since 1862, yet 157 years later, it’s still not finished the job: 17% of land remains unregistered, the landowners mysteriously declining to reveal themselves.

Just over 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of central London’s super-prime real estate belongs to the Crown, the Church, and four wealthy aristocratic estates. Over 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of the English uplands are tied up in huge grouse-moor estates owned by around 150 people. The Duke of Northumberland, whose family lineage stretches back to Domesday, owns 40,468 hectares (100,000 acres) – a tenth of his home county.Land has been used throughout the past 2 Millenia as a source of both subsistence living and collective wealth. Through the feudal and manorial system land was used as a tool to manage or control the country.

Today we see land almost as a human right, to own our own piece of ground. Along the way land was distributed and held in the hands of managers; Lords, Barons and the like. It is true that a few people in the Crown and the aristocracy   took possession of those lands and  there remains  a belief that too much land is owned by too few people whose gain was not entirely earned (in the Marxist meaning of work being the means of living unaffected by status or privilege).


The link between Land and Title is one of reward and unfairness, privilege and power. Inevitably there will be debate about the injustice of it all. But we are not about to change history to meet 21st century social ideals. Civilisation has done many great things and many abhorrent things. We live in OUR times and the irrelevance of apologising for injustices that were at the time considered as valid seem to be a gesture that simply trashes the past. Better to accept and look at the now and the future. 


Certain titles carry with them the status of membership of the Peerage and can only be given by royal assent and in general were hereditary remaining within a family line and mostly, but not always, through the direct male line only. 


  • King, Queen.

  • Prince, Princess.

  • Duke, Duchess.

  • Marquess, Marchioness.

  • Earl, Countess.

  • Viscount, Viscountess.

  • Baron, Baroness, (Baronetcy.)

These hereditary titles form part of the peerage in the United Kingdom. As of 2019 there are;


814 hereditary peers:


31 dukes (including 7 royal dukes);


34 marquesses,


193 earls,


112 viscounts, 


444 barons.


Only seven hereditary peers have been created since 1965, four of them members of the British royal family


There remain non-peerage titles, some hereditary and still held by their original families, some traded or sold with or without land and some recovered from the disintegration of the Feudal and Manorial system. Most of those titles were at one time or another in the possession of the crown of the day who once retained personal ownership of all land.  Some aristocrats held multiple titles at times up to 100 Manors or Baronys as they gathered up land. There were Manorial holdings by the church (up to the abolition of the monasteries) and the Knights Templar (latterly the Hospitallers). As Industrialisation progressed land became less and less profitable and many titles were simply abandoned, encumbered with responsibilities that were soaking up cash. Others were handed down or traded down as the wealth in land declined. Many titles remain hereditary property passed from family to family. 


As incorporeal property these titles can be returned to the families who in some cases had been awarded them as an honour or for merit or for giving direct support to the monarchy of their day.


The legitimate role of those non-peerage non-encumbered titles today is twofold.


Firstly, to be saved and restored to the families whose lives were linked to the titles.  


Secondly to ensure that the unique history of each title, its family links, community and social legacy are saved, warts and all. 


With these non-peerage titles there is no coming of wealth, privilege or material gain.

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