Is it really possible to purchase a lord, laird, or lady title online? As I understand it, some websites allow anyone to buy a square foot of land in Scotland for a relatively small amount. As the purchaser now technically owns land in Scotland, they now can use "Lord," "Laird," or "Lady" in front of their name, even if they have never set foot in the UK. How official and/or legal is this? Does this mean any Scottish homeowner is in fact a lord? Do you really own an actual square foot of land in Scotland? — Robert D. Mailer, the Once and Future Lord
This is so pathetic. You're from (I'm assuming) America, Robert. Land of the free, home of the brave! A land where, in 1810, a proposed constitutional amendment would have revoked the U.S. citizenship of any social parasite accepting a title of nobility from a foreign power. It wasn't ratified, although I see the Iowa Republican party has been plumping for it, apparently in a moronic bid to embarrass President Obama for accepting his Nobel Peace Prize. This means I can't pass your name on to the FBI with a request to have you flogged. However, if the Iowa Republicans ever take over, just wait.
So what? you say. I pine for that title. Very well, I'll tell you how to get one. However, I warn you, it's going to take more than sending £30 to some scammer in the UK.
About those scammers. The pitch is so transparent you have to laugh. As you say, these people offer to sell you a square foot of land in Scotland. The logic then proceeds as follows:
• Traditionally, the term for a landowner in Scotland — any landowner in Scotland — is laird.
• Etymologically, laird is equivalent to lord.
• Historically, the spouse of a lord is a lady.
That's it. Honestly. Now to your questions:
If I pay the £30, can I use the title "Lord," "Laird," or "Lady"? Of course. While you're at it, you can also style yourself the Duchess of Windsor, Pluto the Wonder Dog, and Emperor of the Sun. It's not like the Scottish nobility police are going to come over and bust you. By the way, just so you understand what motivates the people offering this fabulous deal: Farmland in Scotland currently sells for about $6,500 per acre. £30 per square foot works out to $2.1 million per acre.
How official is this? It isn't. It's utterly and indefeasibly lacking in officialness. A plastic sheriff's badge that comes in a box of cornflakes is more official. I hope I'm making myself clear.
Will I actually own a square foot of land in Scotland? A contract's a contract, so if we assume the best, technically you will. However, according to the Court of the Lord Lyon, which is responsible for administering heraldic arms in Scotland, these minuscule land sales aren't legally recorded. So while you may be a Scottish landowner, the only ones who'll know will be you, the party that sold you your mini-barony, and whoever you tell. If that's worth £30 to you, be my guest.
For the sake of argument, though, let's assume you're not a chrome-plated dumbass and you want a genuine title in the UK. You've got two choices.
First, a feudal Scottish title, a handful of which come on the market each year. In 2003 the Barony of MacDonald, which included the ruins of a castle and four acres of land on the Isle of Skye, was sold for a reported £750,000.
Thanks to a change in the law in 2004, you can now buy a Scottish title without having to own Scottish land, making nobility more affordable. As I write, two titles are on offer at baronytitles.com, one of the few legitimate dealers: the baronies of Seabegs and Denny. Either will set you back about $106,000, not including legal fees and other costs. What does that get you? (1) A coat of arms, (2) a title, and (3) whatever warm glow derives from having (1) and (2). The seller cautions: "We will do nothing to persuade you that a barony title is a 'good investment.' ... Barony titles are to be enjoyed."
The second option is more involved. The UK grants nonhereditary titles known as life peerages. Mostly these go to politicians, judges, and so on, but it's possible to get one purely by reason of civic virtue. For example, last year Nat Wei, a social activist and reformer, was named Baron Wei of Shoreditch. One complication: you have to be a UK citizen. On the plus side, you get to sit in the House of Lords.
This in my opinion is a much better system than buying or for that matter inheriting a title. You want recognition and respect? No problem, amigo. Just make the world a better place.
Send questions to Cecil via straightdope.com or write him c/o Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611. Subscribe to the Straight Dope podcast at the iTunes Store.