The Complete Guide to the British Peerage & Baronetage
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The State Opening of Parliament - Victorian oil painting
Life Peerages under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876
Life Peerages under the Life Peerages Act 1958
As is shown in the extract's from Heywood's "British Titles", there has been at times some considerable confusion over the legality of life peerages.
Peerages created for life are far from unknown in English peerage history. They became an anachronism, however, to the extent that in 1856 in the Wensleydale (Peerage) Case the Committee for Privileges was led to declare that the letters patent of a life peer could not entitle him to sit in the Lords, not even when the writ of summons was annexed to the letters patent. Yet no less than 29 instances can be collected of the grant of a life peerage, including several made in Parliament with the assent of Lords and Commons:
16 Jul 1377 - Earldom of Huntingdon, granted for life to Guichard d'Angle
1 Dec 1385 - Marquessate of Dublin, granted for life to Robert [de Vere], Earl of Oxford
13 Oct 1386 - Dukedom of Ireland, granted for life to Robert [de Vere], Earl of Oxford
25 Feb 1390 - Earldom of Rutland, granted to Edward of York during the lifetime of his father
29 Sep 1397 - Dukedom of Norfolk, granted for life to Margaret, Countess of Norfolk
16 May 1414 - Dukedom of Bedford, etc., granted for life to John, 3rd son of Henry IV
16 May 1414 - Dukedom of Gloucester, etc., granted for life to Humphrey, 4th son of Henry IV
18 Nov 1416 - Dukedom of Exeter, granted for life to Thomas [Beaufort], Earl of Dorset
1 Feb 1514 - Earldom of Surrey, granted for life to Lord Thomas Howard
1 Jul 1618 - Earldom of Buckingham, granted for life to Mary, widow of Sir Thomas Compton
21 Apr 1641 - Earldom of Rivers, granted for life to Elizabeth, Viscountess Savage
23 May 1644 - Dukedom of Dudley, granted for life to Alice, wife of Sir Robert Dudley
29 May 1660 - Earldom of Chesterfield, granted for life to Katherine, widow of Jan van der Kerchhove
14 Jul 1660 - Earldom of Guildford, granted for life to Elizabeth, Dowager Viscountess Boyle of Kinalmeaky
19 Aug 1673 - Dukedom of Portsmouth, etc., granted for life to Louise Renée de Penancoet de Kéroualle
17 Mar 1674 - Viscountcy of Bayning, granted for life to Anne Murray
1 Apr 1674 - Barony of Belasyse, granted for life to Susan Belasyse
23 Oct 1679 - Viscountcy of Corbet, granted for life to Sarah, widow of Sir Andrew Corbet
6 Sep 1680 - Earldom of Shepey, granted for life to Elizabeth, widow of David Walter
20 Jan 1686 - Earldom of Dorchester, etc., granted for life to Catherine Sedley
5 Oct 1688 - Earldom of Stafford, granted for life to Mary, Baroness Stafford
13 Dec 1688 - Barony of Shelburne [I], granted for life to Elizabeth, widow of Sir William Petty
18 Jul 1716 - Dukedom of Munster, etc. [I], granted for life to Ermengarde Melusina, Baroness von der Schulenberg
19 Mar 1719 - Dukedom of Kendal, etc., granted for life to Ermengarde Melusina, Baroness von der Schulenberg
11 Sep 1721 - Earldom of Leinster [I], granted for life to Sophia Charlotte, Countess von Platen und Hallermund
6 Apr 1722 - Earldom of Darlington, etc., granted for life to Sophia Charlotte, Countess von Platen und Hallermund
7 Apr 1722 - Earldom of Walsingham, granted for life to Ermengarde Melusina, Baroness von der Schulenberg
24 May 1740 - Earldom of Yarmouth, etc., granted for life to Amelia Sophia de Walmoden
15 Sep 1758 - Earldom of Brandon [I], granted for life to Ellis, widow of Francis [Bermingham], Lord Athenry
This refusal to accept the life peerage of the Barony of Wensleydale conferred on Sir James Parke, one of the Barons of the Exchequer, was described as being "in defiance of law, in defiance of history, in defiance of the clear rights of the Crown, and of the manifest expediency of the case." The validity of such creations has been declared by such authorities as Coke, Comyns, Doderidge, Blackstone, and, not least, by the House of Lords' Report on the Dignity of a Peer. Consequently it is hard to see how in the face of the numerous precedents listed above the action of the House of Lords in 1856 could have been justified.
Twenty years later in 1876 the Appellate Jurisdiction Act became law. This established a body of very senior judges, the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (colloquially known as "the Law Lords") who were to be granted life peerages on appointment. The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary together with the Lord Chancellor hear cases when the House of Lords is carrying out its judicial function as the ultimate Court of Appeal from all courts in Great Britain and Northern Ireland (except criminal courts in Scotland) for all cases except those concerning the interpretation and application of European Community law, including preliminary rulings requested by British courts and tribunals, which are decided by the European Court of Justice. On 1 October 2009 the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 was repealed by Schedule 18 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 due to the creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. As a result, the power to create new "law lords" lapsed, although the validity of existing creations is not affected. Since 2009 Supreme court judges have been ennobled under the Life Peerages Act 1958.
In 1958 the Life Peerages Act also became law. This put onto a statutory basis the undoubted right of the Crown to create life peerages. Hereditary peerages continued to be granted until the end of 1964 but since that date all peerage creations (with a handful of notable exceptions) have been life peerages. All creations under either Act have so far been restricted to the rank of Baron or Baroness.
Last update 11 Jul 2010
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