Armigerous Families of Great Britain

The Commission and Association for the Armigerous Families of Great Britain was established in 1996, with the agreement of the Duke of Norfolk as Earl Marshal of England, and with the support of the English and Scottish Kings of Arms, as a means of enabling the participation of the British nobility in CILANE.

This is achieved through a commission, functioning as a standing committee, whose membership is periodically renewed, and to whom other associations with a more limited scope, such as the Standing Council of the Baronetage, the Irish Peers’ Association and the Hereditary Peerage Association are invited to send representatives. The President is the Duke of Norfolk.

All those families with a right to arms recorded at the College of Arms, London, at the Court of the Lord Lyon, Edinburgh or, up to 31 March 1943 at Ulster Office, Dublin Castle are in principle eligible to take part, and to participate in the periodic renewal of the Commission. Peers must either (1) be in receipt of a writ of summons, or have been so before 1999, or (2) be on the list of those eligible to take part in by-elections pursuant to the House of Lords Act 1999, or (3) have established their succession with the Crown Office. For successions not established prior to 2004, they must have been placed on the Roll of the Peerage established in that year. Baronets must have been placed on the Official Roll of the Baronetage.

The Delegation to CILANE is named in consultation with the Duke of Norfolk as Earl Marshal and with the Kings of Arms.

Historical Background and Statistics

Classically, nobility in England is divided into greater nobility, nobilitas maior, indicating the peers of the realm with a right to sit in parliament, and lesser nobility, nobilitas minor, the baronets, knights and untitled gentry with the right to arms. Since titles pass by primogeniture, this includes the cadets of peerage families. Conversationally, however, the term nobility tends to be used in two senses in Britain. One sense indicates simply possession of a title, especially the peerage titles (duke, marquess, earl, viscount, baron). The untitled nobility are then normally termed gentry. However, the older sense of nobility is that of a quality, identical with gentry. Arms are legally ensigns of nobility, that is, gentility.

There are currently some 870 hereditary peers and several hundred life peers. A new official role of the peerage was established under Royal Warrant of 1 June 2004. There are some 1,150 families with the hereditary title of baronet, first created in 1611, and the official role of the baronets is governed by the terms of Royal Warrants of 8 February 1910 and 10 March 1922. The untitled noble families, the gentry, are distinguished simply by the right to a coat of arms. They include some 1,700 families of landed gentry, families currently or formerly in possession of a landed estate, as well as families from a professional background. Knighthood continues to be conferred by dubbing, as in the medieval period. It may also be given as part of an order of chivalry. The title is for life.

The hereditary peers lost their right to sit in the House of Lords in 1999 except for 90 representative peers and the two hereditary great officers (the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal). The majority of the House of Lords is therefore now composed of life barons created under the Life Peerages Act of 1958. In addition, a number of senior judges, the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, sit in the House as life barons under arrangements dating from 1876. The shire counties were from the thirteenth century required to send two knights to Parliament as their representatives, sitting with the representatives of the towns in the House of Commons on behalf of their communities. From 1445, the shires were formally required to elect knights or notable esquires capable of becoming knights: this remained the position in practice until the Reform Act of 1832 and was only formally repealed in 1872.

English coats of arms from the medieval and early modern period were officially recorded primarily in the heraldic visitations which took place between 1530 and 1688, when all those styled baronet (after 1611), knight, esquire or gentleman were required to prove their right to arms and record their arms and genealogy. Royal commissions for visitation were issued to the kings of arms, whose oath of office required them to have knowledge of all the noble gentlemen within their marches. Early grants of arms survive from the fifteenth century, and the present unified register of grants dates from 1673. The subsequent pedigrees form a distinct record, within which peers’ pedigrees and baronets’ pedigrees are separate categories. In addition, there is an important series containing records of heraldic funerals and, later, royal licenses authorising changes of name and arms. In Ireland, the Ulster Office records are broadly similar in scope, but with a much smaller number of visitations. In Scotland, the current public register of all arms and bearings was established in 1672.

The basic heraldic administration of the three kingdoms was never unified, so that the College of Arms in London (with three Kings of Arms, Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy, six heralds and four pursuivants) and Lyon Court in Edinburgh (under Lord Lyon King of Arms) remain separate. The jurisdiction of Ulster Office in respect of the six counties of Northern Ireland was transferred to Norroy King of Arms and so brought within the College of Arms in 1943. The position regarding peerage titles and baronetcies is somewhat different. Scottish titles were no longer conferred after the Union of Parliaments in 1707, and subsequent peerages and baronetcies created from then until 1800 were technically of Great Britain. However, Irish peerages continued to be created, although in decreasing numbers, after the Union of Parliaments with Ireland in 1801, although otherwise all subsequent titles have been on the United Kingdom. Many families with English, Scottish or Irish titles will also have GB or UK titles, and a number of English families have Scottish or Irish titles: however, their arms will normally be English, Scottish or Irish, although sometimes formally recorded in the other heraldic jurisdictions.

Peerages and knighthoods are normally granted on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, although knighthoods are automatically given to high court judges on appointment, and the Orders of the Garter and the Thistle, and the Royal Victorian Order, remain in the personal gift of the sovereign. Hereditary peerages and baronetcies have since 1965 only been very rarely conferred. The procedure for grants is outside the political system, and the agreement of the Earl Marshal is required for each new English grant of arms. However, those who have been newly granted a title are normally considered eligible on application.

Confusion is sometimes created by the survival of elements of feudal property in English and Scottish law. Lordships of manors in England and their Scottish counterpart, feudal baronies, remain saleable property. They are not titles of honour, however, and do not constitute the owner a peer or a nobleman; although in Scotland noblemen owning feudal baronies are entitled to certain heraldic privileges. They do not confer any precedence in law on the owner, and their sale is not an offence under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. In England, feudal tenure by barony ceased to exist following the Tenures Abolition Act of 1660, and in Ireland following a similar act of the Irish parliament in 1662.

Requirements for acceptance

The AFGB was established specifically to provide for the participation of the British nobility in CILANE, and this is its main purpose. The following requirements must be met.
The family’s right to arms must be officially recorded at the College of Arms (London), at Lyon Court (Edinburgh), or (up to 1943) at Ulster Office (Dublin), either by registration (in Scotland, matriculation) of the grant or confirmation of arms, or by exemplification, or by a funeral entry with arms, or by the registration of a record pedigree with arms. In the event of any uncertainty, or an undue lapse of time since the last record entry, the individual to be accepted by Armigerous Families of Great Britain must also be shown on a registered pedigree. In the case of a foreign national, the arms must be on record in respect of an ancestor who was at that time a British subject.
Peers must either (1) be in receipt of a writ of summons, or have been so before November 1999, or (2) be on the list of those eligible to take part in by-elections pursuant to the House of Lords Act 1999, or (3) have established their succession with the Crown Office. For successions not established prior to 2004, they must have been placed on the Roll of the Peerage established in that year.
Baronets must have been placed on the Official Roll of the Baronetage.

By way of clarification, lordships of manors in England and former feudal baronies in Scotland are property titles. They are not titles of honour or nobility, although they may, in many cases, still belong to noble families. For that reason, they can be sold without breaching the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 and their holders have no place in official Orders of Precedence. Their ownership is not a mark of nobility.

AFGB being a member of CILANE, applicants who claim or have claimed foreign nobility and are not recognised by the CILANE member association for the country in question cannot be accepted. Similarly, grants of arms to those without British nationality and domicile at the time of the grant can only be accepted as a basis for membership where either (1) the nobility is later formally recognised in public law by the appropriate public authority in the recipient”s own country and followed by membership of that country’s CILANE member association, or (2) the antecedent foreign nobility (where relevant) of the recipient was also formally recognised by the appropriate Kings of Arms in the United Kingdom, or (3) the grantee later acquires British nationality and domicile.
Personal knowledge of the applicant must also be in accordance with, and consistent with, the principles of safeguarding.


Coordinator of AFGB:

Sir Henry Bedingfeld, Bt

Delegation to CILANE

Delegate: Michael Sayer, Esqre, FSA
Vice-Delegate: Lord Abinger / Sir Richard Rowley, Bt
Youth Organiser: Viscount Jocelyn
Youth exchanges (Jugendaustausch): Vacant