Can you buy a title of nobility?

I-forget-how-many years ago in the Doonesbury comic strip, Zonker, who had won a state lottery, went to an agency called “Lords-‘R’-Us” and bought a British peerage, a viscouncty. Henceforth he was “Lord Zonker” and entitled to sit in the House of Lords, attend Andy and Fergie’s wedding reception, spend indefinite periods as a duke’s house guest, and enjoy all the other lawful and customary privileges of a lord’s rank.

Is it really possible to buy a genuine, legitimate, title of nobility? That is, in the United Kingdom, or any other country that still has a system of noble titles, can the holder of a hereditary peerage lawfully sell it to a non-relative? Or can the Crown or the Government be persuaded to create a new title if the cash offer is sweet enough? (I know they hand out “life peerages” in the UK but I think those are for political, not financial, considerations.)

I’ve occasionally seen “titles for sale” advertised in back pages of magazines such as Scottish Life, but some Web commentaries warn that all such ads are really selling is a parcel of land whose owner once had the privilege of being styled “laird” or some such without actually being a member of any national peerage. One sometimes reads in 18th- and 19th-century novels that a given lord “purchased” his title, but it’s never clear whether it was purchased from a previous holder, or from the Crown, or from
the party currently in control of the government. I know the uniquely English sub-peerage title of baronet originally was created, frankly and openly, to be sold to parvenus and generate revenue for the Crown; but I don’t know whether the government has ever sold any other ranks of nobility or near-nobility on a systematic basis.

Very Truly Yours,


There are many companies floggin this kind of rubbish.

You can buy all kinds of ‘titles’ but unless they are recognised by (I think) the Peers Register, you won’t find you will be given the best seat in the restaurant because you wave a bit of paper at the Maitre D saying you are the ‘Marquis of Newtown’ or some such made up tosh.

Knighthoods can be ‘awarded’ by the Queen for good deeds, but these run out when that person dies, so their children would not inherit the title.

Other than that, its down to blood lines and hereditry…

People who cough up good money for these ‘titles’ deserve to get ripped off.

“The sale of British titles is prohibited by the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act, 1925. However, misleading advertisements for lordships of manors sometimes appear in the media and on the internet. A manorial lordship is not an aristocratic title, but a semi-extinct form of landed property. Lordship in this sense is a synonym for ownership. According to John Martin Robinson, Maltravers Herald Extraordinary and co-author of The Oxford Guide to Heraldry, ”Lordship of this or that manor is no more a title than Landlord of the Dog and Duck.” It cannot be stated on a passport, and does not entitle the owner to a coat of arms. Beware also of websites selling completely bogus British titles.”

I had wondered this myself. Excellent question, and great answers. In America, small nations often sell postage stamps with the images of famous figures to stamp collectors. If one of these tiny nations really wanted to rake in some money, they could sell royal titles. I’d probably lay down a few bucks to be Lord HughJ of Pitcairn Islands.

Okay, but if you can’t buy real titles now, was there a time when you could? How did the famous 19th-Century “beer barons” of England acquire their titles? Did they buy them from the Crown, or a previous holder, or what?

– BrainGlutton

I’m just reading a book about the Duke of Wellington and, while I’m not sure about buying titles in olden days, but you certainly had to buy your successive promotions through the British army in Napoleonic times.

Very few were promoted on ability.

Not really what you wanted, but interesting nonetheless.

Well, not as much. Like dudes have said the “titles” for sale are somewhat specious- they certainly are not Peers of the Realm.

Large contibutions to the Crown have often resulted in a knighthood or something. If you found a diamond the size of the Cullinan (or whatever it was called), and gave it to Eliz. II, there is a reasonable chance that at the very least an “O.B.E” would be headed your way- and if you were an American, you’d likely have to petition Congress for it to be “real” as opposed to honorary. Would you consider that “buying” a Knighthood?

Likewise, being a “Baron of Industry” and contibuting a lot to the British economy, not to mention paying massive taxes- has traditionally been recognized with one of the lower orders of Knighthood. Entertainers, too, whose contibutions have lifted GB have been recognized. The Beatles, Elton John, etc. An OBE by itself however, does not entlitle you to call yourself “Sir”-although that is often appended as a courtesy (and you can certainly add “O.B.E.” after your name on business cards & the like) I think you have to be a “Commander” of the O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) to be an official “Sir”- and some dudes have been so elevated.

So no- Zonker could not have bought a Viscounty, and become a Peer. Maybe “Lord of such&such Manor”, yes. Now- those do have some real meaning if you do actually own the manor. You are accepted in society as “landed gentry”- assuming you act somewhat civilized. Some dudes may even greet you with a “yer Lardship” :smiley: as a matter of courtesy. By itself, no it doesn’t entitle you to a coat of Arms, although if you owned the Manor, you could likely petition the King of Arms & get one.

Now, if you are willing to settle for something less than British nobility, the chances get better. Although I doubt if it would be so crude an obvious as “buying a title”, King Juan Carlos of Spain has been known to reward non-spanish who “pleased him” with some nice honours. (Hmm, I heard he could use a new Royal Yacht) :smiley: And so on down, with smaller & smaller & less recognized Monarchs. I heard one guy got a nice title for helping out one of the remaining Romanofs. Of course, it isn’t really valid, but still…

There is also the Knights of Malta- who some nations still recognize as a soveriegn state. Then some various pretenders to the the Knights Templar- with varying degrees of legitimacy. You can argue that being a Masonic “Knight Templar” is indeed a “Knight”.

The usual way of gaining a British peerage seems to be to donate large amounts of money to the political party in power. Unfortunately they’re life peerages only these days.

Dr. Derth, I’m pretty sure that someone with an OBE is never allowed to use the prefix ‘sir’ without a royal warrant (my Grandfather had an OBE. Also I don’t think someone with a CBE is allowed to call themselves ‘sir’ either, I think in that order of chivalry only a KBE (Knight Commander of Order British of Empire) or a GBE (Knight Grand Cross of Order of British Empire) are allowed to use the term ‘sir’.

The rankings for this order are (lowest at top, highest at bottom):

MBE Member of Order of British Empire
OBE Officer of…
CBE Commander of…
KBE Knight commander of…
GBE Knight Grand Cross of…

Titles can still be bought though. Have a read of this article.

Well, I was going to say that, as the soi-disant Duke of Toronto, I’d be willing to let a baronetcy or two go for very reasonable terms,

…but I’ve changed my mind.