I once (quite naively) thought that those who were awarded titles of nobility in olden times would henceforth life charmed lives in their splendid houses, etc.: until I noticed e.g. in several biographies of British statesmen of the 19th and 20th centuries that financial wealth may (at least by that time and in that country) have been a prerequisite for rather than a consequence of noble titles.

If I remember correctly, friends of Benjamin Disraeli (made 1st Earl of Beaconsfield) had to contribute to a fund so he could fulfill the prerequisites for accepting a relatively minor title. Both Lord Salisbury (3rd Marquess of Salisbury) and Winston Churchill (made Sir Winston Churchill) were offered dukedoms by their grateful Queen and King respectively, but both declined evidently for reasons of cost.

I'm not sure whether the latter two where coy for other reasons, but the cost of maintaining the lifestyle esp. of a Duke (who is perhaps reasonably expected to maintain a grand country estate as well as a residence in the capital) must indeed have been and remain huge. Some of the old peerages were created together with sufficient territorial designations or other significant resources to bear this cost, but maybe by the 19th century there was not enough "white space" left (conceivably so in the case of the Dukedom of London that was offered to Churchill; perhaps not so in the case of Dukedoms created for the House of Windsor since 1890; theoretically not so in the case of the Eardom of Kandahar in Afghanistan) and there were now rich industrialists around who presumably did not mind the expense, if they only got the title.

So I am wondering what were the exact financial ramifications of becoming a member of the aristocracy (esp. the higher aristocracy, in the UK, and by the 19th century). For instance, were there set rules as to the funds that candidates would have to have acquired (next to the merit, of course :) and for mandatory representation, and could titles be lost e.g. if money ran out?

  • 3
    Great question. 2 points for your consideration for now: (1) Titles such as Earl of Kandahar are not really territorial peerages, they are rather "Victory titles". See here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_title#British_Empire So basically they do not quite belong in this discussion. Duke of London would also belong in this category, after a fashion. (2) I don't think you'll find a strict formal financial prerequisite, but certainly there was a correlation. Jan 17, 2013 at 18:29
  • Thx ... wasn't aware the notion of victory titles so far.
    – Drux
    Jan 17, 2013 at 18:31
  • Two relevant data points with different implications: Stanley Baldwin was a conservative PM who was create1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley and Viscount Corvedale in 1937. Wikipedia states his profession as industrialist. The same edition also announced the creation of the 1st Viscount Samuel: Herbert Samuel was evidently a life-long politician of modest background and presumably modest means.
    – Drux
    Feb 19, 2013 at 18:41

1 Answer 1


Firstly, I think you may be getting a little confused between life peers and hereditary peers.

Life peers are given a peerage or title for their lifetime only. It is not hereditary and it cannot be handed down to their children. When that person dies, the peerage or title dies with them. They are not expected to maintain a country estate or multiple houses, nor are they necessarily expected to be wealthy.

The cost you refer to I believe is probably constituted from an honour fee paid, for the priviledge of becoming a peer which probably covers the administrative charges, charge for the warrant and possibly also the fee for a coat of arms or heraldry from the College of Heralds. In addition to that would also be the cost of regalia when needed and worn on public occasions.

The cost of all that added up could well constitute a considerable sum of money.

Hereditary peers are in a similar position but the initial cost of being made one will already have been paid and their main concern is the upkeep of the family seat or family home which would have been passed down to them through the generations. Many peers have found that these old country homes and castles are simply so expensive to maintain they've had to sell them to English Heritage, who maintain them but open them to the public. Some have had to sell them to private individuals simply because they have insufficient funds to maintain them.

Just because a country seat has been sold, does not mean a hereditary peerage or titles goes with it. It does not, it remains with the peer until death and is then inherited by their son or sometimes daughter.

  • 1
    Hmm ... thanks for your detailed response. But please consider that for what I known e.g. Churchill's peerage would have been of the hereditary variety: Wikipedia indicates that his rejection was (also) on grounds of objections by his son Randolph. I currently think of life peers mainly as a contemporary political phenomenon as in Catherine Ashton, or Conrad Black, or Melvyn Bragg, or Martin Rees, i.e. a different matter than the subject of this question. Your point about English Heritage is well taken.
    – Drux
    Jan 17, 2013 at 23:25
  • 1
    Note also that life peerages are a new thing, dating only from the 1950s. Before that all peerages were hereditary. Jan 18, 2013 at 0:58
  • 1
    @FelixGoldberg Yes they're recent, but importantly now constitute almost all peerages awarded. Very few if any hereditary peerages are now being awarded. Important distinction. Jan 18, 2013 at 1:07
  • 1
    @FelixGoldberg Given that it is entirely the Queen's prerogative to create Peers, the only new hereditary peerages created will go to Royals because they're pretty much exempt from anything the government might wish to do. Also see my reply to Drux, re the political motivation of peerage creation and why hereditary peerages were stopped by Harold Wilson's government. Jan 18, 2013 at 22:40
  • 1
    @Drux I appreciate you're interested in hereditary peerages of the past but it's also interesting to know why hereditary peerages were stopped and replaced by life peerages. It's important to realise that peers automatically gain a place in the House of Lords (although that has been changed recently) and the reason for creating peers (by either labour or Tory governments) was to balance the numbers on either side in the House of Lords. Jan 18, 2013 at 22:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.