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,