Hereditary Titles and the Peerage Explained
Hereditary titles are those that pass from one generation to the next, usually in direct succession. Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts, Barons, and Baronets are usually hereditary in nature. The way they pass from one member of the family to the next is all dependent upon how the titles were originally granted.
Every hereditary title is granted with a 'remainder' or instructions as to whom the title passes when the original holder dies. Remainders can be rather general, such as "To heirs whatsoever" - which would allow the title to pass to either male or female descendants; or very specific, such as "To heirs male of the first son, failing that, to heirs male of the third son." (A remainder like this was given to the Duchess of Cleveland by Charles II because there was a question regarding who was the father of her second child.)
The Peerage is the collective of all the Lords of the Kingdom or persons raised in class to be considered "Peers of the Monarch".
Lords Spiritual, Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts, Barons, Scottish Lords, and Life Barons are all part of the Peerage.
Until recently, the Peerage could be easily defined as those who held a seat in the House of Lords (part of the Parliamentary system in Britain). Today, that is not the case as most of the hereditary Peers have been removed from the House under recent reforms. Click here to view the House of Lords Act 1999.
For the purposes of a well rounded discussion, Lords Spiritual, Life Barons, Knights, Esquires, and Gentlemen (none of which are hereditary titles) are described here.
Click on the navigation buttons to the left and each title will be briefly described.