Post 1999 will anyone new be entitled to sit in the House of Lords by heredity alone?

  • 1
    By “heredity alone” do you mean to exclude by-elections among the hereditary peers?
    – owjburnham
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 17:59
  • "Post 1999" seems to go without saying... :D
    – user91988
    Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 17:26

2 Answers 2


Most1 800-odd of the holders of hereditary peerages currently have three routes by which they might sit in the House of Lords:

  1. Be granted a Life Peerage. This has been done a number of times, for former Leaders of the House of Lords, for "hereditary Peers of first creation" and, possibly, some others.2
  2. Become a (senior) Church of England bishop.
  3. Be elected by their peers3 to fill one of the 90 seats set aside for representatives of the (since 1999) excluded hereditaries.

These are all interesting routes, but none of them fulfil the question's requirement that the peer sits in the House of Lords "by heredity alone". Nor does the death the of one of those 90: rather than their heir inheriting their place, all they inherit is eligibility to stand for the now vacant position, and the right to vote in the ensuing by-election.4

The two exceptions are the Earl Marshal (who is, confusingly, a Duke rather than an Earl) and the Lord Great Chamberlain, who both retain seats in order to fulfil certain ceremonial functions. These two positions are themselves hereditary. The office of Earl Marshal is held by the Dukes of Norfolk (initially by the 6th Duke, and currently by the 18th) and, when the current holder dies, the role of Earl Marshal -- and therefore a seat in the House of Lords -- will pass to his heir, the new 19th Duke.

The office of Lord Great Chamberlain, meanwhile, is hereditary "in gross", and accordingly there are currently fifteen5 people, each "Joint Hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain", only one of whom exercises the office at any one time. Importantly, the holder of the office changes either when the current holder dies (in which case it passes to their heir) or upon the death of the Monarch, in which case the office passes to a different "branch".

So yes, it is possible to sit in the House of Lords by heredity alone. And, if you're very lucky, it's even possible to do it without having to lose a parent.

1 All but the Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain.
2 But that's a topic for another question.
3 Pun intended.
4 Assuming they're a member of the same political party, as the seats are actually apportioned by the party memberships of the hereditary peers.
5 By my very rough count.

  • Thank you. So whenever a seat becomes vacant all the hereditary peers without seats are eligible to stand in an election, voted in by all the other hereditary peers?
    – 52d6c6af
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 20:00
  • 9
    Then could the Earl Marshal perhaps be considered the "Duke of Earl"?
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 21:12
  • 2
    @Ben More or less, yes. I’m rusty on the details, but IIRC if for example an hereditary sitting as a Conservative dies (or retires?) then hereditaries registered as Conservatives vote in the by-election. Ditto a vacancy for seats held by other parties, and for the group of unaffiliated hereditary peers. But the by-elections are run by the House under its Standing Orders, not by the parties themselves.
    – owjburnham
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 1:09
  • 1
    "And, if you're very lucky, it's even possible to do it without having to lose a parent." ... not really, you can only become a "Joint Hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain" by your parent dying first. Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 14:54
  • @PaŭloEbermann damn, you’re right.
    – owjburnham
    Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 15:01

The House of Lords act 1999, which is what I assume you are referring to, specifies that there will be 92 hereditary seats in the House of Lords. The Lords were also given the opportunity to choose which 90 peers kept their hereditary seats.

Wikipedia has an article spelling out how many of these 90 elected seats were allocated to each party, and a list of all present and past members of those seats.

The seats themselves are not actually hereditary except for the two office holders (the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain) which are hereditary positions. Rather, the right to be elected is hereditary. Whenever a seat opens, any eligible peer can be elected into it by the other hereditary seat-holders.

  • So the descendants of those sitting in those 92 seats will automatically get a seat in the Lords?
    – 52d6c6af
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 19:00
  • 1
    @Ben No. For full details, seem my impending, overly-detailed answer.
    – owjburnham
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 19:05
  • @Ben - Good question. I'd missed a part of it. Answer updated. You may want to hold off on accepting for a while, in case someone else (like owjburnham) provides a better answer.
    – Bobson
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 19:07
  • @Bobson You beat me to it in the edit, which answered the two things that my answer really added
    – owjburnham
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 19:34

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