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barons. The name was first used loosely to mean any great landowners or lords and then acquired a precise meaning as the lowest of the five ranks in the peerage. The word came into use after the Conquest to describe the more important tenants-in-chief. Their special privileges released them from the authority of the sheriff: they led their own men whereas lesser lords brought their men to the sheriff's levy. In time a class of greater barons emerged who were summoned specifically to the host or the king's council. The emergence of Parliament in the 13th cent. meant that barons were summoned by writ to the House of Lords and then sought to make the privilege hereditary. From 1387 onwards, barons could be created by letters patent, which in time replaced summons by writ as the normal method of creation. But from 1385, the establishment of superior titles of duke, marquis, and viscount pushed barons into the lowest rank of the nobility. The hereditary principle was first breached in 1876 when law lords were given life baronies and in 1958 life peers were admitted to the House of Lords, holding baronies.

J. A. Cannon

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