Laird (/ˈlɛərd/) is a generic name for the owner of a large, long-established Scottish estate, roughly equivalent to a Squire in England, yet ranking above the same in Scotland. In the Scottish order of precedence, a Laird ranks below a Baron or Baroness and above a Knight or Dame. This rank is only held by those Lairds holding official recognition in a territorial designation by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. They are usually styled [name] [surname] of [Lairdship], and are traditionally entitled to place "The Much Honoured" before their name.
The word "Laird" is known to have been used since the 15th century, and is a shortened form of laverd, derived from the Old English word hlafweard meaning "warden of loaves". The word "Lord" is of the same origin, and would have formerly been interchangeable with "Laird"; however, in modern usage the term "Lord" is associated with a peerage title, and thus the terms have come to have separate meanings. Historically, the term Bonnet Laird was applied to rural, petty landowners, as they wore a Bonnet like the non-landowning classes. Bonnet Lairds filled a position in society below Lairds and above Husbandmen (farmers), similar to the Yeomen of England.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, the designation was used for land owners holding directly of the Crown, and therefore were entitled to attend Parliament. Lairds reigned over their estates like princes, their castles forming a small court. Originally in the 16th and 17th centuries, the designation was applied to the head chief of a highland clan and therefore was not personal property and had obligations towards the community.
The Laird may possess certain local or feudal rights. A Lairdship carried voting rights in the ancient pre-Union Parliament of Scotland, although such voting rights were expressed via two representatives from each county who were known as Commissioners of the Shires, who came from the Laird class and were chosen by their peers to represent them. A certain level of landownership was a necessary qualification (40 shillings of old extent). A Laird is said to hold a Lairdship. A woman who holds a Lairdship in her own right has been styled with the honorific "Lady".
The designation does not entitle the owner to sit in the House of Lords and it is not considered Noble title in England. However, a Laird possessing a Coat of Arms registered in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland is a member of Scotland's minor Nobility. Such a person can be recognised as a Laird, if not a Chief or Chieftain, or descendant of one of these, by the formal recognition of a territorial designation as a part of their name by the Lord Lyon. The Lord Lyon is the ultimate arbiter as to determining entitlement to a territorial designation, and his right of discretion in recognising these, and their status as a name, dignity or title, have been confirmed in the Scottish courts.
Forms of Address
Traditionally, a Laird is formally styled in the manner evident on the 1730 tombstone in a Scottish churchyard. It reads: "The Much Honoured [Forename] [Surname] Laird of [Lairdship]". The section titled Scottish Feudal Baronies in Debrett's states that the use of the prefix "The Much Hon." is "correct", but that "most Lairds prefer the unadorned name and territorial designation". Another acceptable style is: "The Much Honoured" The Laird of [Lairdship]."
Currently, the most formal style for the wife of a Laird remains "Lady", as is a woman who holds a Lairdship in her own right. Both women can be formally styled as "The Much Honoured [Forename] [Surname] of [Lairdship]". The National Portrait Gallery holds a 1992 portrait of Catherine Maxwell Stuart, 21st Lady of Traquair. In 1988, the Newcastle Journal informed their readers that upon her marriage to Mr. Stuart Stout, a Scottish laird, "the former Miss Audrey Gregory, 61 will now be known as the Lady of Kinnaird". Marrying at Kinnaird Castle, Lady Kinnaird died in 2006. Other current styles are "The Much Honoured [Forename] [Surname], Lady [Lairdship]". King George V of England and his wife Queen Mary of England were reported as being "The Laird and Lady of Balmoral" by the Scottish press in the 1920s and 30s.
The heir apparent of a Lairdship is entitled to use the courtesy title "The Younger" (abbreviation Yr or yr) at the end of his name. The eldest daughter – if the heir apparent – is entitled to use the courtesy title "Maid of [Lairdship]" at the end of her name. Alternatively, she is known as "Miss [Surname] of [Lairdship]", as would be an only daughter. It is not the custom for younger sons of a Chief, Chieftain or Laird to use either the "Younger" or the territorial title. The younger children of a Laird are styled as "Mr [Forename] [Surname]" if male, and "Miss [Forename] [Surname] of [Lairdship]" if female. None of these styles are of the peerage.
- Meikle, M. M. (1992). The Invisible Divide: The Greater Lairds and the Nobility of Jacobean Scotland. The Scottish Historical Review, 71(191/192), 70-87.
- Stewart, R., Bechhofer, F., McCrone, D., & Kiely, R. (2001). Keepers of the land: ideology and identities in the Scottish rural elite. Identities Global Studies in Culture and Power, 8(3), 381-409.
- Watkins, O. (2014). A Paradise in a State of Grace? A Political Ecology of 21st Century Lairdship in the Scottish Highlands. University of Manchester.
- Goodare, J. (2001). The admission of lairds to the Scottish parliament. The English Historical Review, 116(469), 1103-1133.