A peer of the realm is someone who holds one or more of five titles – duke, marquess, earl, viscount, baron – inherited from a direct ancestor, or bestowed upon him by the sovereign. Depending on the terms in which a peerage was originally granted, some cannot be held by a female and others cannot be transmitted through a female line of succession.
The baron is the fifth and last rank of the peerage and the word baron means ‘man’, being formerly the king’s tenant in chief – a nobleman who held land. A Summer of Secrets’ Thomas Heaton is the current Baron Heaton, having inherited the title from his father just after leaving university. A baron is always referred to, both verbally and in correspondence, as Lord (Heaton) rather than Baron (Heaton). A baron can also be referred to as ‘My Lord’ or ‘Your Lordship’. The title baron or baroness is never used, except in formal or legal documents.
The wife of a baron is known as Lady (Heaton). When A Summer of Secrets’ Lady Heaton was widowed, she became a dowager, but the custom has been not to prefix either the forename or the word dowager to the title, e.g. ‘Forename, Baroness Heaton’ or ‘Dowager Baroness Heaton’ until the heir to the title marries. So she continues to use the title ‘Baroness Heaton’ but she is still commonly called ‘Lady Heaton’, and addressed verbally or to her face as ‘Your Ladyship’.
The coronation robe for a baroness at the coronation of Elizabeth II, 1953
Thomas Heaton’s elder sister, Stephanie, is known formally as ‘The Honourable Stephanie Heaton’, which is written as ‘The Hon Stephanie Heaton’ on letters and legal documents. She is still commonly addressed as Miss/Ms Heaton as no-one is called ‘The Honourable’ verbally or to their face.
The coronation robes and coronets of a baroness and baron