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Scottish Laird

Laird is the owner of a large, long-established Scottish estate. In the traditional Scottish order of precedence, a laird ranked below a baron and above a gentleman. This rank was held only by those lairds holding official recognition in a territorial designation by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. They are usually styled [name] [surname] of [lairdship]. However, since "laird" is a courtesy title, it has no formal status in law.

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.

An Internet fad is the selling of tiny souvenir plots of Scottish land and a claim of a "laird" title to go along with it, but the Lord Lyon has decreed these meaningless for several reasons.

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Laird (earlier lard) is the now-standard Scots pronunciation (and spelling, which is phonetic) of the word that is pronounced and spelled in standard English as lord. As can be seen in the Middle English version of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, specifically in the Reeve's Tale, Northern Middle English had a where Southern Middle English had o, a difference still found in standard English two and Scots twa.

The Scots and Northern English dialectal variant Laird has been recorded in writing since the 13th century, as a surname, and in its modern context since the middle of the 15th century. It is derived from the Northern Middle English laverd, itself derived from the Old English word hlafweard meaning "warden of loaves". The Standard English variant, lord, is of the same origin, and would have formerly been interchangeable with laird; however, in modern usage the term "lord" is associated with a peerage title, and thus the terms have come to have separate meanings. In Scotland, however, the title Baron represents a lower rank than it does in England, the rank equal to the English Baron being the Lord of Parliament in Scotland (e.g. Lord Lovat).

History and definition

In the 15th and 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 cannot 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.


A study in 2003 by academics at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen concluded that: "The modern Scottish Highland sporting estate continues to be a place owned by an absentee landowner who uses its 15-20,000 acres for hunting and family holidays. While tolerating public access, he (82% of lairds are male) feels threatened by new legislation, and believes that canoeing and mountain-biking should not take place on his estate at all."

Traditional and current forms of address

Although marketed by those peddling lordship titles, the use of the honorific "The Much Honoured" by lairds is archaic. When it was used in former times, it was normally when the laird also held a barony by Crown charter (e.g. Traquair). Today, "The Much Honoured" is an honorific reserved for feudal barons and earls who are members of the pre-1707 Scots nobility.

In the UK television series Monarch of the Glen (based on the 1941 novel by Compton Mackenzie), the wife of "Hector Naismith MacDonald, Laird of Glenbogle" is typically accorded the courtesy title "Lady of Glenbogle".

King George V and his wife Queen Mary were reported as being "The Laird and Lady of Balmoral" by the Scottish press in the 1920s and 1930s.

Souvenir plots and false titles

A contemporary popular view of lairdship titles has taken a unique twist in the 21st century with sales of souvenir plots from sellers who obtain no legal right to the title. A souvenir plot is defined in the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 as "a piece of land ... of inconsiderable size or no practical utility". Several websites, and Internet vendors on websites like eBay, sell Scottish lairdships along with minuscule "plots of land" — usually one square foot. 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.

However, despite the law and guidance by the Court of the Lord Lyon, the sellers view the contract purporting to sell a plot of Scottish souvenir land as bestowing the buyer with the informal right to the title of 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.

The Lord Lyon, Scotland's authority on titles and heraldry, has produced the following guidance regarding the current concept of a "souvenir plot" and the use of the term "laird" as a courtesy title:

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. The term "laird" is not synonymous with that of "lord" or "lady".

Ownership of a souvenir plot of land is not sufficient to bring a person otherwise ineligible within the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon for the purpose of seeking a grant of arms.

False titles of nobility

False titles of nobility or royal title scams are claimed titles of social rank that have been fabricated or assumed by an individual or family without recognition by the authorities of a country in which titles of nobility exist or once existed. They have received an increasing amount of press attention, as more schemes that purport to confer or sell such honorifics are promoted on the internet. Concern about the use of titles which lack legal standing or a basis in tradition has prompted increased vigilance and denunciation, although under English common law a person may choose to be known by any name they see fit as long as it is not done to "commit fraud or evade an obligation".

Self-styled titles

Outside monarchies, a distinction is drawn between a legitimate historical title which may no longer be recognised by a successor state (such as a republic) but is borne or claimed by a hereditary heir, and an invented or falsely-attributed noble title that is claimed without any historical basis.

Self-assumption of a title is not necessarily illegal; it depends on the law of the place where the title is used. The bearers of some self-assumed titles do not claim that such titles have been recognized by any nation at any time. Where such titles have existed historically, the current bearer may make no claim that its use is pursuant to a hereditary grant to an ancestor by a fount of honor.

Some individuals, associations or corporations purport to grant or transmit a legal or official right to a title, honour, acknowledgement or membership in a self-styled order of chivalry simply in exchange for a payment.

British titles

The British peerage includes the titles of (in ascending order) baron, viscount, earl, marquess and duke. All of these titleholders, except dukes, are (if male) known by the honorific "Lord" (in Scotland the lowest rank in the peerage is "Lord (of Parliament)" rather than "Baron"). No peerage can be sold; such a transaction would be in breach of the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. The British embassy in the United States informs that "the sale of British titles is prohibited".

Scottish feudal baronies are the only British nobility titles that may be passed to any person, of either sex, by inheritance or conveyance.

Baronetcies are hereditary titles granted by the Crown, but are not part of the peerage. Baronets are styled "Sir" with the suffix "Bt." or "Bart." after their surname. Baronetcies can no longer be purchased, and existing ones cannot be bought or sold.

Persons who have been enrolled in an order of chivalry or dubbed are knights or dames, and are thus entitled to the prefix of "Sir" or "Dame". These titles cannot be bought or sold either.

The holder of a peerage, baronetcy or knighthood may not lawfully transfer those titles or any title associated with them to another individual. If a peerage is renounced, it devolves automatically upon the heir-at-law, usually based upon primogeniture. The incumbent has no right to designate a successor to the title.


Several websites and Internet vendors on websites such as eBay "sell" Scottish lairdships along with small plots of land, known as souvenir plots. However, they create no legal right of ownership or legal right of heraldry in Scots law.

The Court of the Lord Lyon (the heraldic court tasked with the award and regulation of heraldry) considers souvenir plot titles to be meaningless as the registration of numerous "lairds" of a single estate would pose too great an administrative burden. The opinion of the Lord Lyon has been criticised as the UK government allows the usage of Manorial Titles in British passports of the form: "THE HOLDER IS THE LORD OF THE MANOR/LAIRD OF [X]" (brackets added). However, as a matter of Scots property law, souvenir plots cannot competently create a real right of ownership in Scots law. The Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 forbids the registration of deeds relating to souvenir plots in the Land Register of Scotland.: s. 22 This means that the Buyer obtains no legal right of or to ownership of the souvenir plot in any event,: s. 50 so the evidence threshold required by HM Passport Office to use the Manorial Title will be unlikely to be met. Evidence of ownership of property would typically be the production of a Title Sheet to the property or a formal and valid disposition, which the souvenir plot documents are unlikely to contain.

Richard Bridgeman, 7th Earl of Bradford, estimates these sellers having an income of US$2,918,520 per acre (about US$7.2 million per hectare) of poor land, which he suggests could probably be purchased for about US$100. Some of these sellers enclose with the invalid deed a coat of arms; this is not authorised by the Lord Lyon, and so it is unlawful in Scotland to use it. The most recent advice from the Lord Lyon specifically states that the award of a coat of arms is not appropriate to the owner of a souvenir plot, such as sold in these schemes.

Manorial lordships

The title lord of the manor is a feudal title of ownership and is legally capable of sale. The owner of a Lordship of the Manor is known as [personal name], Lord/Lady of the Manor of [place name]. According to the style guide Debrett's a person owning a title of Lord of the Manor (or its Scottish equivalent — Laird) is properly titled "The Much Honoured" and simply referring to them as Mr and Miss is "incorrect".

There are three elements to a manor: 1. lordship of the manor, 2. manorial land, 3. manorial rights.

These three elements may exist separately or be combined; however the lordship of a manor may be held in moieties and may not be subdivided; this is prohibited by the Statute of Quia Emptores 1290, preventing subinfeudation (except in Scotland, where feudal rights resulting from subinfeudation were extinguished only with the Abolition of Feudal Tenure etc. (Scotland) Act 2000). However the second and third elements can be subdivided.

In many cases, the title of lord of the manor may no longer be connected to land or other rights. In such cases, the title is known as an "incorporeal hereditament". Before the Land Registration Act 2002 it was possible to register lordship titles; most did not seek to register. Since 13 October 2003 one cannot apply for first registration of a title of a manor; however, dealings in previously registered titles remain subject to compulsory registration with HM Land Registry. A frequent criticism of the lordships sold at auction is that statutory declarations are relied upon to substitute for missing historical deeds and transfer documents which would, in some cases, demonstrate that the manor in question either no longer exists, can no longer be identified definitively or is not available for sale.

According to John Martin Robinson, Maltravers Herald Extraordinary and co-author of The Oxford Guide to Heraldry, "Lordship of this or that manor is no more a title than Landlord of The Dog and Duck" ("The Dog and Duck" being a stereotypical name for a pub, with "landlord" being the usual term for someone who runs such an establishment). However, the journal Justice of the Peace & Local Government Law advises that the position is unclear as to whether a lordship of the manor is a title of honour or a dignity, as this is yet to be tested by the courts. Technically, lords of manors are barons, or freemen; however, they do not use the term as a title. John Selden, in Titles of Honour, wrote in 1672, "The word Baro (Latin for 'baron') hath been also so much communicated, that not only all Lords of Mannors have been from ancient time, and are at this day called sometimes Barons (as in the stile of their Court Barons, which is Curia Baronis, &c. And I have read hors de son Barony in a barr to an Avowry for hors de son fee) But also the Judges of the Exchequer have it from antient time fixed on them."

Some companies claim to be selling manorial lordships when in fact they are actually selling nothing more than a trademark.[citation needed] For this reason, careful legal advice should be sought before entering into any transaction purporting to be selling a lordship of a manor.

Changes of name

Some companies sell individuals a title when in fact they do no more than offer them the facility to change their name. Such an individual adopts the purported title, e.g. "Sir" or "Lord", as a forename rather than receiving any formal title. This practice is lawful so long as no claim of noble title, knighthood etc. is made as, in British law, a person may adopt any name provided its purpose is not fraudulent. HM Passport Office is aware of this practice and will place an official observation in the individual's passport stating that the purported title is a name rather than the person's title.

Question and Answer (Q & A)

Is Laird a Nobility Title?
No not true. We see the title Scottish Laird more as a fan article about Scotland, a souvenir or a gift idea.

What is the female form of laird/lord?
The feminine form of Laird/Lord is Lady, and that is how it is entered on the deed.

Will I be entered in the land register as the owner?
No, because that would go beyond the scope and would hardly be affordable. With the certificate issued, you become a co-owner of our lands. Notarization not required.