The formal body of aristocracy, distinguished by titles and by the right to sit in the House of Lords. Though the rank of earl preceded the Conquest, it was hardly necessary to define the peerage closely until the House of Lords developed as a regular element in Parliament in the 13th cent. To the ranks of baron and earl were added duke (1337), marquis (1385), and viscount (1440). Apart from attendance in Parliament, their main privileges were access to the monarch and the right to trial by the House of Lords. From 1780 the number of peers increased greatly as bankers, industrialists, scientists, and men of letters were ennobled to augment the landed aristocracy. The greatest change however was the introduction of life peerages from 1958. Hereditary peers were deprived of their seats in the Lords in 1999 by the Labour government.
Subjects: British History.