LETTERS PATENT; NOBILITY.) A peer cannot be deprived of the dignity or any of the privileges connected with it, except on forfeiture of the dignity by being attainted for treason or felony ; and the dignity must descend, on his death, to others (as long as there are per sons within the limitation of the grant), with all the privileges appur tenant to it, usually to the eldest son, and the eldest son of eldest son in per petual succession, and so on, keeping to the eldest male representative of the original grantee. Some deviation from this rule of descent, however, has occasionally occurred, special clauses having been introduced into the patent, which limit the descent of the dignity in a particular way, as in the case of the creation of Edward Seymour to the duke dom of Somerset, in the reign of Edward VI., when it was declared that the issue of the second marriage of the duke should succeed to the dignity in preference to the son of a former marriage. But generally, and perhaps universally for the two last centuries, the descent of a dignity (cases of baronies in he, as they are called, being now for a moment ex cluded) has men to the next male heir of the blood of the person originally ennobled ; sometimes with remainders to the next male heir of his father or grandfather.
The crown has sometimes granted the dignity of the peerage to a person, with remainder to the female issue or to the female kindred of the grantee and their heirs, as in the case of the Nelson peer age. In these cases it has generally happened either that the party had no male issue to inherit, and that the other males of the family were also without male issue, or that there was already a dignity inheritable by the male heir of the party on whom a new dignity was conferred to descend to his female issue. A pension has also sometimes been settled by Parliament on a person, at the time when he has been made a peer; the pension is granted by the Par liament on the recommendation of the crown.
The peers who possess what are called baronies in fee, are the descendants and representatives of certain old families, for the most part long ago extinct in the male line, but which had in their day summons to parliament as peers, and whose dignity it has been assumed descended like a tenement to a daughter, if only one daughter and heir, or to a number of daughters as coheirs, when there was no son. If A. die seised of a barony in fee, leaving B. a daughter and
only child, and M. a brother, the dignity shall inhere in B. in preference to M., and shall descend on the death of B. to her eldest son. In case A., instead of leaving B. his only daughter, leave several daughters, B., C., D., &c. and no son, the dignity shall not go to M., but among the daughters ; and since it is imparticipable, it is in a manner lost, as long as those daughters, or issue from more than one of them, exist. But should those daughters die with only one of them having left issue, and that issue a son, he shall inherit on the death of his aunts. This is what is meant by the dignity of a peer of the realm being in abeyance: it is divided among several persons, not one of whom possessing it wholly, none of them can therefore enjoy it. [ABEYANCE.] But the crown has the power of determining the abey ance ; that is, it may declare its pleasure that some one of the daughters, or the eldest male representative of some one of the daughters, shall possess the dig nity, as would have been the case had there been a single daughter only ; and in case of an heir thus entering into possession of the dignity, he shall take that precedence among the barons in the house of peers which belonged to the family of whom he is the representative. A female who is only a coheir of a coheir may also have the abeyance de termined in her favour, as was lately the ease with Mrs. Russell, now Baroness De Clifford. It is out of this privilege of the crown that the peerage cases arise, of which there are some before the house of lords in almost every session of par liament. A party sees reason to think that the crown may be induced to de termine a certain abeyance in his favour, if he can only prove that he is the re presentative of one of the coheirs. This proof, which is often a troublesome and expensive process, inasmuch as it may be necessary to go back into the four teenth or fifteenth century, is to be made to the satisfaction of a committee of pri vileges of the house of peers, and on the report of such committee that the claim ant has shown himself in a satisfactory manner to be the proper representative of the blood of one of the coheirs of one of these ancient baronies, the crown has of late years oftenyielded to the reason able request. In fact, without this, in a country like ours, where lands often descend to female heirs, it would be difficult to maintain a really ancient nobility.