City and Borough/Scotland

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City and Borough  (1889) 
by Edward Augustus Freeman

And now for a word or two about Dundee. As I am not a Scotch lawyer nor a Scotchman at all — though I was once asked on board a steamer bound for America whether I was not a Scotchman, because I looked so intelligent — I will not make so bold as to risk any opinion as to what makes a city in Scotland. In Wilkinson's Atlas, from which I first learned geography, it was said that Scotland had four cities which were also universities, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Saint Andrews. Was this meant to imply that in Scotland the rank of city depended on having an university? Anyhow this rule would cut off all connexion between city and bishopric. For there were several Scottish bishoprics which had no universities, while in Edinburgh the rather modern university was at least older than the still more modem bishopric. But is the list right? Is not Perth a city? And I saw some years back a long argument, by which it was said that Mr. Gladstone had been convinced, to prove that Dunfermline was a city. Into these deep matters I will not pry. I wish only to say a little about the consequence which is supposed to follow on the elevation of Dundee to the rank of a city. It appears that the Provost of Dundee, and many (not all) people in Dundee, believe that, now the burgh has become a city, its Provost has ipso facto become a Lord Provost. I have read the new charter, and it contains not a word about the matter; but I do not at all deny that the Provost of Dundee may very rightly be called a Lord Provost, if mankind in general choose to call him so. The question sets one thinking as to the application of the word "Lord", as a mere complimentary title, to anybody. Is there any law but that of usage which makes a man Lord Provost, Lord Mayor, Lord Bishop, Lord anything, save only the lord of the manor, whose lordship is not an honorary title, but a legal fact? I once wrote an article on "Titles" in another periodical, in which I tried to divide "titles" into three classes. There are those which simply express a fact, the fact that a certain man holds a certain rank or office, as Duke, Bishop, General, Mayor, Provost, any other. There are complimentary periphrases, attributing to the holder of the rank or office some virtue which is supposed to be appropriate to it. Holiness, Majesty, Grace, any other. And there are complimentary adjectives, which do the same thing in another shape, calling him Noble, Honourable, Reverend, anything else. And I tried to show that these two last classes had arisen simply through usage. Men once called a man, specially a powerful man, whom they wished to please anything that they thought would please him; then the thing gradually stiffened by usage; each rank or office got its own complimentary periphrasis and its own complimentary adjective. There was no longer any field for ingenuity in devising something which would please the Prince or the Duke. The Prince must be Highness and the Duke must be Grace; it would be bad manners either not to use those periphrases or to use any others. Still the whole thing is matter of usage, even if usage is sometimes confirmed by law. The Queen often grants to a certain person a certain precedence; the person to whom it is granted is at once called Lord, Lady, Honourable, whatever title custom has attached to that particular degree; but the Queen's grant of precedence says nothing about the conventional title. On the other hand, without venturing into more august regions, it is certain that a royal proclamation not only gave County Court Judges a certain precedence, but prescribed for them a very ungrammatical description, that of "His Honour Judge A." So it is surely with the title of "Lord" as applied to Provosts, Mayors, holders of office of any kind. It at least began in usage, even if in some cases usage may have been sanctioned by formal authority. The older way of speaking, not "Lord", but "my Lord" this or that, "my Lord Mayor" and so forth, shows how the phrase came into use. It exactly answers to the language of the Old Testament, where the stranger is addressed as "my lord", and the speaker calls himself "thy servant". When most people were the "men" of some "lord", to call a great man "my lord" was for the speaker to profess himself, if only in courtesy, the "man" of that "lord". The same thing is done whenever anybody begins a letter with "Sir", that is "Senior", the equivalent of "Dominus", and ends it with "your obedient servant". I feel sure that this is the true origin of all these uses of the lordly title. We must further remember that the title of "lord" has nothing to do with peerage; all peers are lords, that is, they are persons to whom it is becoming for others to profess a homage of courtesy; but many are lords who are not peers, that is, there are many besides peers to whom it is becoming to profess it. We now in common talk speak of any peer under a duke as "Lord A.", and in the lowest rank of peerage, "Lord" has, in all but the most formal language, displaced the proper title of "Baron". But "Lord" is not the formal title of any degree of peerage, and the old way of speaking, "my lord Duke", "my lord of A.", showed how it came in as a customary title. In some official cases that old way of speaking is still kept on. Every one knows how the Lords of the Council are spoken of by devoted subordinates as "my Lords". It would seem then that, in strictness, "Lord" is a title which other people should give to a man, but which he should not take to himself. And in many formulae this rule is still followed. The Lord Chancellor — "Lord High Chancellor", because there are many smaller chancellors — and the Lord Chief Justice write themselves "C." and "C.J." So does the Lord Mayor of London. "A. Mayor" stands as the heading of his formal acts. This surely marks the way in which the lordly title came to be habitually given to the chief magistrates of two cities in England, four perhaps in Scotland, and I believe one only in Ireland. The dignity of the Mayors of London and York was so great that their citizens habitually called them "my Lord"; that is, they habitually professed to be their "men". In other places custom treated the Mayor with somewhat less honour, and instead of "Lord" gave him no higher title of address than "Master". " Mr. Mayor" we know everywhere: "My Lord Mayor" is confined to two cities only.

I am far from saying that a formal grant of the lordly title to a Mayor — or to anybody else — is impossible. I cannot here in Sicily prove a negative. I remember John Richard Green once saying something about a grant of the kind from Richard the Second to the Mayor of York. A mere grant of precedence would exactly fall in with what I have been saying. A direct grant of the title of "Lord Mayor" would be rather odd, as it would amount to a command to the citizens of York to speak of their Mayor as "my Lord". The homage would thus be no longer a voluntary offering. Still such a grant is possible; though I feel certain that, if it ever was made, it was a mere confirmation of an usage which had already grown up.

Now specially as to Dundee. It is for Scotchmen, and specially for Scotch lawyers, to tell us how it comes about that the title of "Lord" is so much more common among Scotch than among English officials. In our present immediate line four Provosts seem to be called "Lord" to two Mayors. One thing in the matter is certain, that, whatever there may have been in a charter of Richard the Second about the lordship of the Mayor of York, there is nothing in the charter of Queen Victoria about any lordship in the Provost of Dundee. His lordship is inferred from the grant of the rank of city to the burgh. Scotch lawyers or Scotch antiquaries must say whether there is anything in this or not. To me at least it seems strange if it should be so; but there are many things in Scotch law which do seem strange to Englishmen. I can better judge of another point on which something has been said at Dundee. It appears that it was formerly the custom of Dundee to call the Provost "Lord Provost", but that the title has gone out of use for a century or two. In the absence of an authoritative statement of Scotch law to the contrary, I should say that this fact settled the whole case. The burgesses of Dundee were in ancient times very respectful to their Provost; they called him "my Lord", Latterly, perhaps to their discredit, they have dealt with him less respectfully. It is now hoped that, being raised to the rank of citizens, they will become as respectful as their remoter forefathers were, and will talk of their Provost as "my Lord Provost". Perhaps it is right that they should; but — in the absence of any such statement of law as I before hinted at — it would seem that the matter rests wholly with themselves; it is certain that the Queen in no way orders them to do so. Perhaps indeed it is better that there should be no ordering in the case; the homage will be more precious if it comes as a free gift. In my view of the case, if mankind in general and the citizens of Dundee in particular can agree for a century or two to call the Provost of Dundee "My Lord Provost", he will have as good a right to the lordly title as the Mayor of London and the Provost of Edinburgh. If no such agreement can be had, one may fear that he must remain the fellow of the Mayor of Birmingham. It might be hardly civil to quote the answer of the Spartan — was it not a Spartan? — to the Macedonian king's demand for divine worship: "If Alexander will be a god, let him". A possible Lord Provost is a graver personage than a heathen deity. We cannot venture to say, "If the Provost of Dundee will be a Lord Provost, let him". For, if my theory is right, a Lord Provost, a Lord anything, is not made but grows. He must wait for the lordly title to come to him from some quarter; he must not take honour upon himself. He must wait for other people to say, "You are our lord: we are your men"; he must not himself say, "I am your lord: you are my men". For it is only by courtesy that they are his men; and courtesy is essentially a free will offering.

This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.