Peers

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Origins

Anglo-Norman per, paar, paer, paire, peer, pere, perre, piere equal (12th cent. or earlier; also as adjective (13th cent. or earlier)), match (12th cent. or earlier), companion, spouse (13th cent. or earlier), peer of the realm (14th cent. or earlier), and Old French per, peer (c1050 in sense ‘equal’, c1100 in sense ‘one of the twelve peers of France’, 13th cent. in sense ‘person possessing a territory set up as a lordship and having the right to a seat in the Parliament of Paris’; Middle French, French pair; also as adjective in sense ‘equal’ (c980 in Old French)) < classical Latin par equal, also as noun, a person of equal rank, a mate, partner, adversary, in post-classical Latin also a person of equal legal status (frequently c1102-1422 in British sources), a noble (frequently from early 12th cent. in British and continental sources). Compare Old Occitan par, adjective and noun, Spanish par (1220-50 as adjective and noun), Italian pari (a1250 as noun; attested earlier as adjective as pare (late 12th cent.)), Portuguese par (13th cent. as adjective and noun).

With peers of the realm compare post-classical Latin pares regni (frequently 1339-1568 in British sources), and the following examples of Anglo-Norman piers de la terre:

1321-2 Act 15 Edw. II, Nous piers de la terre, Countes & Barouns, en la presence notre Seigneur le Roi, agardoms que Sir Hugh le Despenser le fitz et Sir Hugh le Despenser le piere soient desheriteez. 1332 Rolls of Parl. II. 68/2 Le Seigneur de Wake & autres Pierres de la terre.

Earlier currency is perhaps implied by surnames, as Osbert Pere (1230), William le Per (1271), Richard le Pere (1279), etc., although it is unclear whether these are to be interpreted as reflecting the Middle English or the Anglo-Norman word.]

Definitions

  • Noun
1. a. A person of the same civil or ecclesiastical status or rank as the person in question; an equal before the law. Freq. with possessive adjective and in pl.
b. A person who equals another in natural gifts, ability, or achievements; the equal in any respect of a person or thing. without peer: unequalled, unrivalled.
c. orig. Anthropol. and Sociol. A member of the same age group or social set; a contemporary.
d. Computing. A piece of communications hardware or software which can communicate directly with another on the same network, without the need for a central server. peer-to-peer adj. designating or relating to a network in which each computer can act as a server for the others, allowing shared access to files and other resources; abbreviated P2P.
2. A person who is associated or matched with another; a companion, a fellow, a mate; a rival. Freq. with possessive adjective. Obs. In quot. ?a1400: a wife.
3. A person of high rank in a country, state, or organization; a noble. In later use freq. contrasted with peasant.
4. a. A member of a rank of hereditary nobility in Britain or Ireland; a duke, marquess, earl, viscount, or baron. Also: a person elevated to the peerage for life, without hereditary rights; = LIFE PEER n. Also occas.: = peeress in her own right at PEERESS n.).

In the British peerage, earldoms and baronies were developed from titles in the Anglo-Saxon and Norman feudal systems (see BARON n. 2, EARL n. 3); dukedoms were conferred from 1337, marquessates from 1385, and viscountcies from 1440 (cf. also BARONET n.). Such peerages are hereditary, although non-hereditary life peerages, conferring the right to a seat in the House of Lords, have been created since 1876 in the case of judicial Lords of Appeal, and since 1958 more generally. By a declaration of the House of Lords in 1692, archbishops and bishops are Lords of Parliament, not peers.

There are three classes of hereditary peers: peers of the United Kingdom (also called peers of the realm, up to 1707 called peers of England, and from 1707-1801 called peers of Great Britain), all of whom, unless specifically disqualified, were (until 1999) entitled to a seat in the House of Lords, exempt from jury service, and debarred from election (and from voting in elections) to the House of Commons; peers of Scotland, all of whom were (until 1999) entitled to a seat in the House of Lords after the Peerage Act of 1963 (previously sixteen were elected to each Parliament as representative members under the Act of Union 1707); and peers of Ireland, who no longer have the right to sit in the House of Lords, but who may be elected to the House of Commons (previously twenty-eight representatives were elected as life members under the Act of Union 1800). The House of Lords Act 1999 provided for hereditary peers to elect ninety-two of their number to take seats in the House of Lords alongside the life peers, pending further reforms.

b. French Hist. (a) Each of the twelve peers of France (see DOUZEPERS n.); (b) a person possessing a territory set up as a lordship, and having the right to a seat in the Parliament of Paris; (c) a member of the Upper Legislative Chamber (1814-48).
c. Greek Hist. A member of that class of citizens of Sparta who had an equal right to hold state offices.