Page images

The commonalty, like the nobility, are divided into feveral degrees; and, as the lords, though different in rank, yet all of them are peers in respect of their nobility, so the commoners, though some are greatly superior to others, yet all are in law peers, in respect of their want of nobility.

The first name of dignity, next beneath a peer, was antiently that of vidames, vice-domini, or valvasors 8: who are mentioned by our antient lawyers - as viri magnae dignitatis ; and fir Edward Coke i speaks highly of them. Yet they are now quite out of use; and our legal antiquaries are not agreed upon even their original or antient office.

Now therefore the first personal dignity, after the nobility, is a knight of the order of St. George, or of the garter ; first instituted by Edward III, A. D. 1344 k. Next (but not till after certain official dignities, as privy counsellors, the chancellors of the exchequer and duchy of Lancaster, the chief justice of the king's bench, the master of the rolls, and the other English judges) follows a knight banneret ; who indeed by statutes 5 Ric. II. st. 2. C. 4. and 14 Ric. II. c. 11. is ranked next after barons: and his precedence before the younger sons of viscounts was confirmed to him by order of king James I, in the tenth year of his reign'. But, in order to entitle himself to this rank, he must have been created by the king in person, in the field, under the royal banners, in time of open warm. Else he ranks after baronets; who are the-next order; which title is a dignity of inheritance, created by letters patent, and usually descendible to the iflue male. It was first instituted by king James the first, A. D. 1611. in order to raise a competent fum for the reduction of the province of Ulster in Ireland ; for which reason all baronets have the arins of Ulster superadded to their family coat. Next fol. low knights of the bath; an order instituted by king Henry IV

f 2 Inft. 29.
& Camden. Britan, t, ordines.
h Bracton. l. 1. c. S.
i 2 Inft. 6674

k Seld. tit of hon. 2. 5. 41.
1 Ibid. 2. 11. 3.
m 4 Inft. 6.



and revived by king George the first. They are so called from the ceremony of bathing, the night before their creation.

The last of these inferior nobility are knights bachelors; the most antient, though the loweit, order of knighthood amongst us : for we have an instance » of king Alfred's conferring this order on his son Athelstan. The custom of the antient Germans was to give their young men a shield and a lance in the great council: this was equivalent to the toga virilis of the Romans: before this they were not permitted to bear arms, but were accounted as part of the father's houshold; after it, as part of the community. Hence some derive the usage of knighting, which has prevailed all over the western world, since it's reduction by colonies from those northern heroes, Knights are called in Latin equites aurati : aurati, from the giit spurs they wore; and equites, because they always served on horseback: for it is observable P, that almost all nations call their knights by fome appellation derived from an horse. They are also called in our law milites, because they formed a part of the royal army, in virtue of their feodal tenures; one condition of which was, that every one who held a knight's fee immediately under the crown (which in Edward the second's time 9 amounted to 20 l. per annum) was ob- liged to be knighted, and attend the king in his wars, or fine

for his noncompliance. The exertion of this prerogative, as an expedient to raise money in the reign of Charles the first, gave great offence: though warranted by law, and the recent example of queen Elizabeth : but it was by the statute 16 Car. I. c. 16. abolished ; and this kind of knighthood has, since that time, fallen into great disregard.

These, fir Edward Coke says', are all the names of dignity in this kingdom, efquires and gentlemen being only names of worship. But before these last the heralds rank all

n Will. Malmíb. lib. 2.
o Tac. de Merib. Germ. 13.

Camd. ibid. Co. Litt. 74.

9 Scat. de milit. i Edw. II.
r 2 Inst. 667


colonels, ferjeants at law, and doctors in the three learned professions

* The rules of precedence in England 14 Jac. I. which see in Seld. tit. of hon. may be reduced to the following table : II. 5. 46. and Il. 11.3.---mark-dt, in which those marked * are entitled by 'antient usage and established custom; to the rank here allotted them, by ita- for which lee (among others) Ca'nden's tute 31 Hen. VIII. c. 10. — marked Britannia, tit. ordines, Milles's catalogue +, by statute 1 W. & M. c. 21.-- of hon ur, edit. 1610. and Chambermarked ll, by letters patent 9, 10, and layne's present state of

TABLE OF PRECEDENCE. • The king's children and grandchildren. + Speaker of the house of commons.. .... brethren.

+ Lords commissioners of the great seal. .... uncles.

I Viscounts' eldest sons. *... • nephews.

| Earls' younger fons. * Archbishop of Canterbury.

| Barons' eldest sons. * Lord chancellor or keeper, if a baron. || Knights of the Garter. * Archbishop of York.

|| Privy counsellors. * Lord treasurer.

|| Chancellor of the exchequer. * Lord prefident of the council. Sif barons. || Chancellor of the duchy. * Lord privy seal.

|| Chief justice of the king's bench. * Lord great chamberlain. But, || Master of the rolls.

see private stat. 1 Geo. I. c. 3. || Chief justice of the common pleas. * Lord high constable.

|| Chief baron of the exchequer. * Lord marthall.

|| Judges, and barons of the coif. * Lord admiral.

|| Knights bannerets, royal. * Lord steward of the houshold. || Viscounts' younger sons. * Lord chamberlain of the hour || Barons' younger sons. hold.

|| Baronets, * Dukes.

|| Knights bannerets. * Marqueses.

I Knights of che Bath. I Dukes' eldest sons.

I Knights bachelors. • Earls.

|| Baroners' eldest sons. | Marquesses' eldest sons.

|| Knights' eldest sons. | Dukes' younger sons.

|| Baronets' younger sons. * Viscounts.

|| Knights' younger fons, * Earls' eldest sons.

I Colonels. I Marquesfes' younger sons.

| Serjeants at law. * Secretary of state, if a bishop. | Doctors. * Bishop of London.

I Esquires. *... - Durham.

I Gentlemen. .... Winchester.

1 Yeomen. * Bishops.

I Tradesmen. • Secretary of state, if a baron. I Artificers, * Barons.

I Labourers. · N. B. Married women and widows official; and unmarried women to the are entitled to the same rank among each same rank as their eldest brothers woul other, as their husbands would respec- bear among men, during via ives : tively have born between themselves, ex- their fathers, fept such rank is merely professional or


above all peers of their own degree.

Esquires and gentlemen are confounded together by fir Edward Coke, who observes“, that every esquire is a gentleman, and a gentleman is defined to be one qui arma gerit, who bears coat armour, the grant of which adds gentility to a man's family : in like manner as civil nobility, among the Romans, was founded in the jus imaginum, or having the image of one ancestor at least, who had borne some curule office. It is indeed a matter somewhat unsettled, what constitutes the distinction, or who is a real esquire : for it is not an estate, however large, that confers this rank upon it's owner. Camden, who was himself a herald, distinguishes them the most accurately ; and he reckons up four forts of them : 1. The eldest sons of knights, and their eldest sons, in perpetual succession 4: 2. The eldest sons of younger sons of peers, and their eldest fons in like perpetual succession : both which species of esquires fir Henry Spelman entitles armigeri natalitii W. 3. Esquires created by the king's letters patent, or other investiture ; and their eldest sons. 4. Elquires by virtue of their offices; as justices of the peace, and others who bear any office of trust under the crown. To these may be added the esquires of knights of the bath, each of whom constitutes three at his installation : and all foreign, nay, Irish peers; for not only these, but the eldest sons of peers of Great Britain, though frequently titular lords, are only esquires in the law, and must be so named in all legal proceedings *. As for gentlemen, says fir Thomas Smith', they be made good cheap in this kingdom : for whosoever studieth the laws of the realm, who studieth in the universities, who profefseth the liberal sciences, and (to be short) who can live idly, and without manual labour, and will bear the port,charge, and countenance of a gentleman, he shall be called master, and shall be taken for a gentleman. A yeoman is he that hath free land of forty shillings by the year; who was antiently thereby qualified to serve on juries, vote for knights of the

8 2 Inft. 668.

2 Init. 667.

w Gloff. 43.
* 3 left. 30. 2 Inft. 667.
y Commonw. of Eng. b. 1. c. 20.

shire, and do any other act, where the law requires one that is probus et legalis homo 2,

The rest of the commonalty are tradesmen, artificers, and labourers; who, (as well as all others) must in pursuance of the statute 1 Hen. V. c. 5. be stiled by the name and addition of their estate, degree, or mystery, and the place to which they belong, or where they have been conversant, in all original writs of actions personal, appeals, and indictments, upon which process of outlawry may be awarded ; in order, as it should seem, to prevent any clandestine or mistaken outlawry, by reducing to a specific certainty the person who is the obx ject of it's processe

? 2. Inst. 668,

« PreviousContinue »