Glencoe (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Fancy joining the ranks of Scottish nobility? An industry has grown up in Scotland allowing ordinary people to do just that — some with more legal justification than others.
One company, Highland Titles, has ennobled — at least on paper — around a quarter of a million people in countries as far afield as Australia, Canada and Russia.
For just £29.99 (34 euros, $40) anyone can buy a certificate which proclaims them the “lord” of a square foot of land in the majestic hills of the Scottish Highlands.
Peter Bevis, managing director of the Channel Islands-based firm, said the revenues were being used to maintain nature reserves. He also insisted his customers were under no illusions that they had really become aristocrats overnight.
“Everybody here enjoys the fact that they are ‘little lairds’ of a square foot,” he told AFP.
“They’re not trying to pretend that they have become great landowners or the rivals of the great clan chiefs of Scotland.”
However, some critics have raised doubts about the transactions and say the actual land still belongs to Highland Titles.
Scottish lawmaker Andy Wightman, a land reform expert, told AFP: “You cannot in law, in Scotland, own a square foot of land.”
– ‘We do it for the fun’ –
Some of the 100 “lords and ladies” with Highland Titles who convened in the western village of Glencoe this month said it was well worth the money.
“We do it for the fun. It’s a pleasure to be part of the community with nice people who try to make a better world,” Steven Scholte, 73, from the Netherlands, told AFP.
Victoria Zohner, 31, from Alberta in Canada, said: “This definitely is not a waste of money. Coming out just to do the tour has been incredible, you get to see the work that’s actually going on here.”
Local business owners said they were also more than happy with the influx of tourists inspecting “their” land.
“They are bringing a significant amount of business to the area. People come to visit, they come to see the bits of land that they have bought,” said David Cooper, owner of Crafts & Things in Glencoe.
“If they want to call themselves a lord or a lady — that’s up to them.”
Elizabeth Roads, keeper of the records of the Court of the Lord Lyon, the main heraldic authority in Scotland, told AFP that some souvenir plot-holders have come away with the impression that they have been genuinely ennobled.
“We have had people that have assumed from what they have been told that they are in some way entitled to call themselves ‘lord’ and seek a coat of arms — that is not the case,” she told AFP.
“You cannot buy a lordship… There is no legal status to a souvenir title,” she said.
“Or you can buy what was once upon a time known as a feudal barony, which is now a floating entity divorced from the land.”
– Baronies for sale –
Baronies were originally bestowed by Scottish kings and came with vast tracts of land — but in 2004 the Scottish Parliament uncoupled the baronies in its drive to reform land ownership in a country where half the land is owned by fewer than 500 people.
Brian Hamilton, a partner at Scottish Barony Titles, currently has two baronies for sale near Aberdeen and Dundee for £85,000 apiece — but some baronies change hands much more.
“The barony of McDonald was sold in the late 1990s and that reached a very high price,” he told AFP.
“I’m not going to say what we actually sold it for but the asking price was £1m.
He is currently negotiating a sale with a buyer in China.
“Why does one buy a Ferrari? Some people just want to feel good about themselves.
“Some want to cement their relationship with Scotland, others just think it will be a cute idea.
“Some have suggested that it might help them in business — although I am not convinced of this, but who am I to dissuade them?” he said.