Friday, 9 December 2011

Barons, Baronets and Battlements

You know how you  talk about something and you use a word that someone else thinks has a different name?  I'm really thankful to the internet that I can look up these sorts of things.

My word (from Bill):  crenellated, adj.
1. Having battlements.
2. Indented; notched: a crenelated wall.

[Probably from French créneler, to furnish with battlements, from Old French crenel, crenelation, diminutive of cren, notch; see cranny.]

Picture of crenellation

Vivien's word:  castellated: adj.
1. Furnished with turrets and battlements in the style of a castle.
2. Having a castle.

[Medieval Latin castellatus, past participle of castellare, to fortify as a castle, from Latin castellum, fort; see castle.]

Picture of castellation

In other words, they are both words for 'battlements', which could be for decoration, but originally of course were for defense.  Interesting the term 'crenellation' refers to the fact that the indentations are called 'crenels'.  Trust Bill to come up with the word that describes the architectural detail, like quoin.

I had heard the term 'castellated' before and I'm really frustrated not to be able to find that library book again (I hope they haven't sold it!). It was about the history of houses in Britain, particularly castles, peles, manor houses and the like. A very serious book, but well written and fascinating. In it I learned that one had to have Royal permission to "castellate" one's home. I seem to remember that back in that day (1300s-1500s) one even had to display the certificate of permission, sort of brass plaque. 

I don't know if this was about the King being certain that a castle-builder wasn't taking arms against the Crown or if it was a means of raising revenue for the Crown through 'castellation application fees' or something or if it was just a means of raising the prestige of one's house by showing that one enjoyed Royal approval. I suspect it may have been a bit of all these things, as the practice changed from being about defense to being merely decoration. I've seen it in some unexpected places.

So, with that mystery solved, let's move on to the next.

In looking up all sorts about famous people from the interwar period I found myself getting tangled in the varying titles of their ancestors and descendents, particularly about Barons and Baronets.  I wondered what was the difference. 

Turns out that a Baron is the lowest level of noble title in the Peerage.  You know the term, peers, like as in 'equals'.  Only in this case it refers to people who are privileged to sit in the House of Lords - that kind of equal.  At least they could until the House of Lords Act of 1999 was passed which said that one couldn't be a member of the House of Lords just because of an inherited title... except for 92 of them.  I haven't got my head around the whole thing and I'm unlikely to.  Have a go at it yourself, if you like.  I gather heritary baronies are few and far between these days.  However one can be 'raised to the peerage' as a lifetime peer, and that's a different kettle of fish.  (See means of raising revenue, above; or I'm I being too cynical?).

That said, I was really more interested in the title 'Baronet', going back to our old friend Percy, High Commissioner of Egypt and buddy of Nancy Mitford.   In looking up that word, I found that I'm not being cynical at all - James I began creating hereditary baronetcies to raise funds.  I gather hereditary titles of any kind are increasingly rare these days, however - and you can impress all your friends with this tidbit - whilst a Baron is a member of the Peerage, a Baronet (sounds like a baby Baron, doesn't it?) is still a commoner. 

I'm certain that there are endless more details that you would love to know, but I've satisfied my curiosity for the moment.  I may never figure out how how they decided which 92 peers could stay in the House of Lords and what exactly is the purpose of the Standing Council of the Baronetage.  They say that the title has been documented as far back as Edward III, who may also have been the first involved in permissions to castellate.  Financially clever guy, wasn't he?  According to the movie, Braveheart, his dad was actually William Wallace. (Silly snippets like these help me remember the history...). 

1 comment:

James said...

Fascinating as always.Thank you.