Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1703/Earldoms

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From The Pall Mall Gazette.


Lord Redesdale's promotion may suggest some reflections on the composition of the order in the peerage to which he will henceforth belong. Though an earldom is the most ancient of English titles of nobility, the senior existing earldom of England not merged in a higher title dates only from the reign of Henry VI.; and Lord Shrewsbury has a precedence of forty-three years over Lord Derby, the second earl on the roll of peers, whose ancestor was raised to the rank which his descendant now enjoys by Henry VII. The third earldom, Huntingdon, was created by Henry VIII.; the fourth, Pembroke, by the government of Edward VI.; the fifth, Devon, by Queen Mary; the next three — Suffolk, Denbigh, and Westmoreland — by James I.; the next four — Lindsey, Stamford, Winchilsea, and Chesterfield — by Charles I.; the next seven — Sandwich, Essex, Carlisle, Doncaster (the title by which the Duke of Buccleuch sits in the House), Shaftesbury, Berkeley, and Abingdon — by Charles II.; the next four — Scarborough, Albemarle, Coventry, and Jersey — by William III.; while the last surviving earldom in the peerage of England, not merged in a higher title, is that of Poulett, which dates from the reign of Queen Anne. The remaining earls in the House of Lords are, of course, either "of Great Britain" or "of the United Kingdom," or representative peers for Scotland or Ireland. Several dukes and marquises, however, hold earldoms of early creation. Thus, the Duke of Norfolk is Earl of Arundel, and premier earl, the Duke of Beaufort is Earl of Worcester (1514), and the Duke of Rutland is descended from Thomas Manners, thirteenth Lord De Ros, created Earl of Rutland in 1525. This peer, by the way, made a pun in dog Latin about his creation, observing to Sir Thomas More, lord chancellor, "Honores mutant Mores" "Nay, by your leave, my lord," replied More, "the pun is better in English — 'Honors change manners.'"

The English earldoms now in existence, and dating back from the fifteenth century, appear to be but three in number, while those dating from the sixteenth century may be counted on one's fingers. Indeed, though the aristocracy of birth in this country is both ancient and illustrious, the titles borne by its members are nearly all of modern origin. The oldest barony, that of De Ros, dates from 1264, the 49th of Henry III., though the Irish barony of Kinsale was created by Henry II. in 1181. But hardly a score of baronies can boast an older origin than the reign of James I., the first of our princes who seems to have bestowed honors with a prodigal, not to say a reckless hand. Yet long before his time "the commonalty murmured that there were never so many gentlemen or so little gentleness." Meanwhile, it is satisfactory to know that, in spite of pretty numerous creations in late years, the peerage at the present day probably bears a smaller proportion to the number of the queen's subjects than in any former reign.

In William III.'s time the House of Lords counted little less than two hundred peers to a population of some five millions. It now counts about five hundred lords temporal to a population for England alone of about twenty-four million.

The earls are less than a third of the Upper House; and rarely indeed is the title attained by any one who has begun life as a commoner. Since the Revolution, however, three prime ministers have crowned their careers by the acceptance of earldoms. History, nevertheless, has obstinately refused to change Walpole's name into Orford, though the elder Pitt is frequently known as Chatham. Earldoms won by lawyers during the same period have been more numerous, as the titles borne by Lord Aylesford, Cowper, Macclesfield, Hardwicke, Mansfield, Eldon, and Cottenham bear witness. Lord Aylesford was himself the son of a chancellor and an earl (of Nottingham). Mansfield was a son of the Scottish Viscount Stormont. The rise of the first Earl of Hardwicke is perhaps the most extraordinary in our legal annals. Philip Yorke, the son of "a solicitor of respectability at Dover," was called to the bar in 1715 at the age of twenty-four, and in 1720 was was made solicitor-general. Four years later he became attorney-general, and in 1733, before he had completed the forty-third year of his age, lord chief justice of England and a peer of the realm as Lord Hardwicke. A little more than three years placed him on the woolsack, where he sat comfortably for some nineteen years, being further raised during his tenure of office to an earldom. It must be remembered, too, that the office of chancellor meant a good deal more in those days than at present; both the power and patronage enjoyed by the keeper of the great seal were greater, while the authority of the first lord of the treasury was not so great.

Most of the counties in the two islands give titles to earls, marquises, or dukes, but there are a few still left for aspirants to these honors. Monmouth and Dorset are at present unoccupied; though if the Duke of Buccleuch should ever succeed in getting the attainder of his famous ancestor completely reversed he would become Duke of Monmouth in the peerage of England as the lineal descendant of Charles II.'s son by Mrs. Lucy Walters. Earl of Monmouth was the title borne by Charles Lord Mordaunt, who was so created by William III. for his share in the Revolution, and who is better known by the title of Earl of Peterborough, in which he succeeded his uncle. Another county is awaiting a peer who shall have the courage to accept the style and designation of Earl of Flintshire. Oxford, again, is not likely now to be claimed by any descendant of the De Veres or even Harleys. York and Gloucester are held to be more or less titles for members of the royal family; though it should be added that every earl is conventionally of kin with the sovereign, and is officially addressed by her Majesty as "our right trusty and well-beloved cousin."