It is a layer of aristocracy unique to Britain, and for more than 400 years the title of baronet has been passed dutifully from father to son.
But now, for the first time, women may be able to inherit the title in England under a proposed change to the centuries-old system.
Four baronets have succeeded in adding an amendment to a Bill making its way through the House of Lords that would let them pass their titles to their daughters.
The legislation had originally been introduced to allow dukes, earls, viscounts and other hereditary peers to pass their titles along a female line of succession. However, it left out baronets, prompting a campaign by the four families.
The Bill is known as the “Downton law” after the anomaly of female succession at the heart of ITV’s Downton Abbey, in which the character of Lady Mary, the eldest daughter of the drama’s fictional earl, was unable to inherit the family seat because it had to pass to a male heir.
Its wording has been amended to include baronets and, despite initial Tory opposition, the Equality Titles Bill is gathering momentum and support in the Lords and the Commons, according to its supporters.
The campaign to include baronets was led by Sir Nicholas Stuart Taylor Bt, who has two daughters and no heir. If the law is not passed, the Stuart Taylor baronetcy will become extinct.
His daughter, Virginia Stuart Taylor, 24, is a graduate recruit at an international telecoms business and runs an award-winning travel blog in her spare time. Her parents were so disappointed not to have an heir that her mother cried when she learnt she had given birth to a girl.
Miss Stuart Taylor said: “I don’t mind if I am the first, the 10th, the 100th [baronetess] but I’ve been brought up the rest of my life — apart from those first years of disappointment of not being a boy — as completely equal to men.
“I have been brought up believing that girls are equal to boys, often getting better grades at university. Everything is equal and it seems kind of ridiculous that we are trying so hard to make it fair for women in other areas of life but not in this one.”
Another of the four to have joined the campaign is Lord Monson. His son, Alexander, died in police custody in Kenya last year and his heir is his younger brother, Andrew Monson.
But he wants his 27-year-old daughter, Isabella, to succeed to the family title. He said: “It is, in fact, really straightforward — there is only one issue here which is the issue of gender equality, no other issues should really be taken into account.”
Lord Monson, whose family were among the first baronets to be created in 1611 until they were raised to the peerage in 1728, describes baronets as the “lost titled folk”. He added: “As a baronet, you are neither fish nor fowl, but they are nonetheless romantic, and that is their real defence.”
Sir Roderic Victor “Roddy” Llewellyn, fifth baronet and the former boyfriend of Princess Margaret, has three daughters but no sons. He has joined the campaign so his eldest daughter, Alexandra, a designer and artist, can inherit his title.
Mary Macleod, the Conservative MP and former royal aide, who supports the proposed legislation, said: “I think the Bill is getting more support in the Commons than people realise; the problem is that very few people had any idea this still existed.
“Anyone I spoke to about it felt incredulous that still, today in this day and age, girls and boys and were not given equality of opportunity in terms of heredity peerages and estate.”
There are 1,260 baronets in the UK, with only four — all in Scotland — able to inherit in the female line.
In these early baronetcies it was written into the letters patent from the monarch when the titles were created that women could inherit if there was no male heir. The last baronetess, Dame Anne Maxwell Macdonald, whose ancestors became baronets in 1628, died in 2011 aged 104.
In all other baronetcies across the UK, only male heirs can inherit according to the terms of their individual investiture.
More Here Via Telegraph