Definition of peerage noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary



    BrE BrE//ˈpɪərɪdʒ//
    ; NAmE NAmE//ˈpɪrɪdʒ//
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  1. 1[singular] all the peers as a group a member of the peerage
  2. 2[countable] the rank of a peer (2) or peeress Culturethe peeragePeers of the realm are people who hold the highest ranks in the British aristocracy. As a group, they are sometimes referred to as the peerage. There are two main types of peers: hereditary peers hold titles (= names indicating their noble status) that are passed from one generation to the next, while life peers have a personal title which lasts as long as they are alive but is not passed on to their children.The peerage is divided into five main ranks. The most senior rank is that of duke (for a man) or duchess (for a woman), a hereditary title which was created in Norman times. There are five royal Dukes, including the Duke of Edinburgh, and 24 other dukes. The second most senior rank is that of marquess (man) or marchioness (woman), of which there are under 40. The third rank is that of earl (man) or countess (woman), of which there are nearly 200. This is the oldest title of all. Next in rank is a viscount (man) or viscountess (woman). The fifth and lowest rank of the peerage is that of baron (man) or baroness (woman), of which there are around 500 with hereditary titles. At present, about two thirds of all peers hold hereditary titles, many of which were originally given by the king or queen of the time to close friends or in return for some service. Senior titles often include the name of the place where the family comes from, e.g. the Duke of Devonshire, the Marquess of Normanby. A woman may be a duchess, marchioness, etc. in her own right or receive the title when she marries a duke, etc.Life peers include the Lords Spiritual, who are the archbishops of Canterbury and York and 24 bishops of the Church of England and, since 1958, many other men and women who have been given a peerage in recognition of their public service. Most of these are given the rank of baron or baroness. Until 2009 the most senior judges in the country were the Law Lords, who also sat in the House of Lords, but the most senior judges are now called Justices of the the Supreme Court and are no longer members of the House of Lords.There are complicated rules for how to address and refer to members of the peerage. Dukes, for instance, are addressed formally as 'Your Grace', marquesses and earls as 'My Lord', and viscounts and barons as 'Lord X'. There are also rules for addressing members of their families. Most British people know that such complicated forms of address exist but many would not be able to use them correctly, and would probably think that they are rather strange and old-fashioned.Peers cannot be elected to the House of Commons as Members of Parliament unless they have first disclaimed (= given up) their title. Tony Benn fought a campaign for members of the peerage to have this right and was himself the first to be able to give up his title and become an MP. Former members of the House of Commons who have been elevated to the peerage as a reward for their service are sometimes said to have been 'kicked upstairs'.At present, all life peers and some hereditary peers may take part in the government of Britain by taking their seat in the House of Lords, though many do not attend regularly. When a Labour government was elected in 1997 it stated that it would abolish the hereditary peerage and reform the Upper House. Since then there have been many changes and the number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords has been greatly reduced and many more life peers created, but no agreement has been reached about the reform of the Upper House. There have been campaigns both for an elected membership and for the appointment of members by a commission.

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