A laird (//) is a member of the Scottish gentry, who bears the designation Laird of X, where X is the place name. In the non-peerage table of precedence, a laird ranks below a Baron and is the equivalent to the English rank Esquire. The Lord Lyon, who exercises Her Majesty's prerogative in respect of determining succession to titles and dignities in Scotland, has recently produced the following guidance:
|“||The term ‘laird’ has generally been applied to the owner of an estate, sometimes by the owner himself or, more commonly, by those living and working on the estate. It is a description rather than a title, and is not appropriate for the owner of a normal residential property, far less the owner of a small souvenir plot of land. It goes without saying that the term ‘laird’ is not synonymous with that of ‘lord’ or ‘lady’.||”|
Historically, the term bonnet laird was applied to rural, petty landowners, as they wore a bonnet like the non-landowning classes. Bonnet lairds filled a position in society below lairds and above husbandmen (farmers), similar to the yeomen of England.
The word laird, known to have been used as far back as the 15th century and further, is a shortened form of 'laverd', which is an old Scottish word that shares a similar root to an Anglo-Saxon term meaning lord and the Middle English word 'lard' also meaning lord; however the terms lord and lady have since become words chiefly associated with peerage dignities in Scotland, so the term laird has come to have a separate meaning.
History and definition
A laird is a member of the landed gentry; historically lairds rank below a baron and above an esquire in the non-peerage table of precedence in the Statutes of 1592 and the Baronetcy Warrants of King Charles I. The designation is used by and about the owner of a substantial and distinctive landed estate in Scotland, not part of a village or town, that lies outwith a burgh.
In the 15th-16th centuries the designation was used for land owners holding directly of the Crown, and therefore were entitled to attend Parliament. Lairds reigned over their estates like princes, their castles forming a small court. Originally in the 16th and 17th centuries the designation was applied to the head chief of a highland clan and therefore was not personal property and had obligations towards the community. The laird may possess certain local or feudal rights. A lairdship carried voting rights in the ancient pre-Union Parliament of Scotland, although such voting rights were expressed via two representatives from each county who were known as Commissioners of the Shires, who came from the laird class and were chosen by their peers to represent them. A certain level of landownership was a necessary qualification (40 shillings of old extent). A laird is said to hold a lairdship. A woman who holds a lairdship in her own right has been styled with the honorific "Lady".
Although "laird" is sometimes translated as lord and historically signifies the same, like the English term lord of the manor "laird" is not a title of nobility. The designation is a 'corporeal hereditament' (an inheritable property that has an explicit tie to the physical land), i.e. the designation can not be held in gross, and cannot be bought and sold without selling the physical land. The designation does not entitle the owner to sit in the House of Lords and is the Scottish equivalent to an English squire, in that it is not a noble title, more a courtesy designation meaning landowner with no other rights assigned to it. A laird possessing a Coat of Arms registered in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland is a member of Scotland's minor nobility. Such a person can be recognised as a laird, if not a Chief or Chieftain, or descendant of one of these, by the formal recognition of a territorial designation as a part of their name by the Lord Lyon. The Lord Lyon is the ultimate arbiter as to determining entitlement to a territorial designation, and his right of discretion in recognising these, and their status as a name, dignity or title, have been confirmed in the Scottish courts.
Several websites, and internet vendors on websites like Ebay, sell Scottish lairdships along with small plots of land. The Court of the Lord Lyon considers these particular titles to be meaningless because it is impossible to have numerous “lairds” of a single estate at the same time, as has been advertised by these companies.
A contemporary popular view of Lairdship titles has taken a unique twist in the 21st century. Millions of sales of souvenir land plots from buyers who show no interests in the opinions of the Registry of Scotland or of the Court of Lyon. They see their contract purporting to sell a plot of Scottish souvenir land as bestowing them the informal right to the title Laird. This is despite the fact that the buyer does not acquire ownership of the plot because registration of the plot is prohibited by Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012, s 22 (1)(b). As ownership of land in Scotland requires registration of a valid disposition under Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012, s 50 (2) the prohibition on registration of a souvenir plot means the buyer does not acquire ownership, and accordingly has no entitlement to a descriptive title premised on landownership.
Forms of address
- Formally, a laird is styled as "The Much Honoured [Forename] [Surname] of [Lairdship]" or "The Much Honoured The Laird of [Lairdship]" or "The Much Honoured [Forename] [Surname], Laird of [Lairdship]
- The wife of a laird or a woman who holds a lairdship in her own right is normally styled "Lady" and is formally styled as "The Much Honoured [Forename] [Surname] of [Lairdship]" or "The Much Honoured The Lady [Lairdship]" or "The Much Honoured [Forename] [Surname], Lady [Lairdship]"
- The male heir apparent of a lairdship is entitled to use the courtesy title "The Younger" (abbreviation Yr) at the end of his name, and the eldest daughter, if heir apparent, is entitled to use the courtesy title "Maid of [Lairdship]" at the end of her name. Neither are titles of nobility or peerage.
- The younger children of a laird are styled as "Mr [Forename] [Surname]" if male, and "Miss [Forename] [Surname] of [Lairdship]" if female
- "The Court of the Lord Lyon: Lairds". 15 May 2012. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
- Perelman, p.141 ( ch. 7 )
- Adam, F. & Innes of Learney, T. (1952). The Clans, Septs, and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands (4th ed.). Edinburgh & London: W. & A.K. Johnston Limited.
- "How to address a Chief, Chieftain or Laird". Debrett's Forms of Address. Debrett's. Retrieved 14 July 2010.
- Adam, F. & Innes of Learney, T. (1952). The Clans, Septs, and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands (4th ed.). Edinburgh & London: W. & A.K. Johnston Limited. p. 401 ("Scottish law and nobiliary practice, like those of many other European realms, recognise a number of special titles, some of which relate to chiefship and chieftaincy of families and groups as such, others being in respect of territorial lairdship. These form part of the Law of Name which falls under the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and are recognised by the Crown. [...] As regards these chiefly, clan, and territorial titles, by Scots law each proprietor of an estate is entitled to add the name of his property to his surname, and if he does this consistently, to treat the whole as a title or name, and under Statute 1672 cap. 47, to subscribe himself so").
- "OPINION OF THE COURT delivered by LORD MARNOCH". Court of Session. Retrieved 2011-07-29.
- "Scottish Highland Titles". www.faketitles.com. Retrieved 18 June 2009.
- Cramb, Auslan (11 Dec 2004). "How to lord it over your friends for only £29.99". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 20 June 2009.
- The Ludicrous “Scottish Laird” Scams
- New Internet Con Selling Phoney Lairdships
- Perelman, Michael The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation Published by Duke University Press, 2000 ISBN 0-8223-2491-1, ISBN 978-0-8223-2491-1