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History on 22nd May


Battle of St Albans - Wars of the Roses starts

James Iís Bargain Baronets

The 22nd of May 1611 AD

It is a misapprehension that James I created the title of Baronet, as such honours had been around in the 14th century if not before. What James I did was revive the title and make its sale a large-scale commercial proposition.
James I like most of our monarchs until perhaps the 19th century was generally short of money for his court and his projects, perhaps the most pressing of the latter in the early part of his reign the forces and patronage needed to control Ireland. That economic need led to his creation of the hereditary order of Baronets of England in 1611. He was authorised to ennoble 200 gentlemen (part of the definition being they had an annual income of at least £1000) of good birth, the first 17 of whom bought their new titles in exchange for their agreement to fund 30 soldiers for three years Ė a little over £1000.
It is also said that the king wished to add a layer of nobility between peers and knights, thus narrowing social gaps and building greater social cohesion as we might say today. James bent the rules he had set himself, the number of Baronetcies rising to 205 by the time of his death, and we may wonder if all the money supposed to fund military strength did so.
King James was not the first of our leaders, nor the last, to sell honours (indeed Edward III is known to have offset some of his expenses with at least one bargain Baronetcy). The most notorious of these was Lloyd George , via his vile creature Maundy Gregory who is said to have had a price list Ė from £10,000 for a knighthood to £50,000 and beyond for a peerage. It is impossible to imagine such impropriety in contemporary British politics, thank goodness.
Many of the original 17 Baronetcies remain extant, the money paid to James Iís exchequer seemingly the gift that keeps on giving.

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