Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Return Engagement: The Privileges of Being a Peer

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Loretta reports:

I think the following, taken with my blog on illegitimacy, offers some insight into the mindset of the upper classes.  So many rules didn’t apply to them—which helps explain the behavior we’ve blogged about here, here, here, and here, and elsewhere.
The nobility of England enjoy many great privileges, the principal of which are as follows:
1. That they are free from all arrests for debts, as being the king's hereditary counsellors. Therefore a peer cannot be outlawed in any civil action, and no attachment lies against his person. This privilege extended also to their domestic servants, as well as to those of members of the lower house, till the year 1770 . . . For the same reason they are free from attending courts leet, or sheriffs turns; or, in cases of riot, from attending the posse comitatus.

2. In criminal causes they are only tried by their peers, who give their verdict, not upon oath, as other juries, but only upon their honour; and then a court is erected on purpose in the middle of Westminster Hall, at the king’s charge, which is pulled down when their trials are over.

3. To secure the honour of, and prevent the spreading of any scandal upon peers, or any great officer of the realm, by reports, there is an express law, called scandalum magnatum, by which any man convicted of making a scandalous report against a peer of the realm (though true) is condemned to an arbitrary fine, and to remain in custody till the same be paid.

4. Upon any great trial in a court of justice, a peer may come into the court, and sit there uncovered.
No peer can be covered in the royal presence without permission for that purpose, except the lord baron of Kinsale, of his majesty's kingdom of Ireland. See De Courcy, Baron Kinsale, in the Peerage of Ireland... In case of the poll-tax, the peers bear the greater share of the burden, they being taxed every one according to his degree.

Debrett's Peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 1820

Illustration:  House of Lords, from the Microcosm of London, 1808-1810


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