A Genealogical History of the Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire by Sir Bernard Burke. Published by Genealogical Publishing Co., 1001 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore MD 21202. Originally published 1883, reprinted 1996. 642 pp. Illustrated, Index. Hardcover. $40 plus $3.50 shipping ($1.25 for each additional book).

The peers of the realm are those having the rank and hereditary title of duke, marquess, earl, viscount and baron or their female counterparts. They can be either of England, Scotland, Ireland or the United Kingdom. Only a limited number of peers of Scotland and Ireland have the right to sit in the House of Lords.

The arrangement for calling the larger land-holding barons to court or Parliament was first codified in Magna Carta. From the reign of Richard II, new peerages were formally conferred by Letters Patents, but writs of summons to Parliament continued to be sent out until they were abolished under Henry VIII. A Patent defined the peerage and its mode of descent, mostly to direct male descendants by primogeniture, whereas the older peerages-by-writ descended to heirs general, i.e. to females in the absence of male heirs.

A peerage falls into abeyance when more than one heir is equally entitled to inherit. This occurs in baronies created by writ-of-summons when, for want of a male heir, the right of succession is divided equally between sisters who are all co-heiresses. The peerage can be brought out of abeyance only after all but one of the sisters' lines of descent have become extinct.

This volume lays out in great detail all peerages that in 1886 were dormant, abeyant, forfeited or extinct. How and when the peerage was created is listed along with details of the lineage. The lineage may end with the person receiving the title or it may extend over many generations. The information provided is regarded as highly accurate. There is also a description of the coat of arms.

This is one place to look to confirm or deny the family legend that your ancestor gave up his title and left England to seek his fortune. This is a valuable resource for those who have found peerage connections.

Reviewed by Paul Milner
BIGWILL v.3 no.3, 1996