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The Scots word ‘laird’ is a shortened form of ‘laverd’, an older Scots word deriving from an Anglo‐Saxon term meaning lord. By the 15th cent. it was widely used of lesser landowners holding directly of the crown and therefore entitled to go to Parliament, but lairds were clearly distinguished from the higher aristocracy or lords of Parliament. In the 16th and 17th cents. it was commonly applied to the chief of a Highland clan with no other title, as in ‘the laird of McGregor’. Lairds were therefore a numerous class in rural Scotland, though decreasing relative to the higher nobility over time. They were not a homogeneous class: Orkney and Shetland produced merchant‐lairds.

Subjects: British History.

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