In Entitled, Chris Bryant looks at the history of the British Aristocracy and the ways in which they have (shockingly) managed to hold onto their power for so long...
1. They treated women as second class citizens
For many centuries, they insisted on male preference primogeniture whereby every penny of the family inheritance went to the eldest son - impoverishing younger sons and daughters. They also expressly excluded women from taking a seat in the House of Lords. This lasted right up until 1957.
2. The were utterly hypocritical about sex
They rigidly enforced strict laws on pre- and extramarital sex on the common people. Seeing marriage as a financial and legal transaction, they jealously guarded the family’s heir against marrying ‘beneath’ himself. But they regularly indulged in adulterous affairs. The 10th earl of Pembroke kept a naked marble statue of his mistress Giovanna Baccelli in his marital bedroom at Wilton Park. The great ducal houses of Beaufort and Grafton are founded on bastards.
3. They were so narcissistic that they reacted to any minor slight with preposterous fury
Two London draymen were cleared by the courts when they accidentally collided with the earl of Exeter’s coach in 1637, but the peers were so outraged that the privy council insisted that the men be whipped publicly through the town, ‘as well for their bold and insolent carriage . . . as also for an example to deter others from the like insolencies.’
4. They endlessly and disingenuously pleaded aristocratic poverty
The result was a series of generous aristocratic tax breaks and the quaintest nationalistaion of all, whereby their dilapidated stately homes were taken over by the National Trust and restored with large public grants, which meant that the majority of aristocratic families could remain in situ without the tedious business of having to worry about paying the bills. The Curzon family (the viscounts of Scarsdale), for instance, ‘handed over’ Kedleston Hall, which was restored with £13.5 million from the taxpayer, but they retain the 23-room family wing, two flats for servants and all hunting rights over the grouse moors in perpetuity.
To cap it all, despite their immense wealth, modern peers have been amongst the main earners from the Common Agricultural Policy, stashing away many millions of pounds over the years.
5. They retain their hereditary titles (no matter how stupid, vile or treacherous they are)
Between the two world wars a string of peers were avid fans of Mussolini and Hitler, yet they were not interned. And only this year Rhodri Phillips betrayed his vile racism when he offered £5,000 for someone to ‘accidentally’ run down the pro-EU campaigner Gina Miller, whom he called ‘this bloody troublesome first generation immigrant’ – yet he remains the 4th viscount St David’s, 17th Baron Strange of Knockin, 24th Baron de Moleyns and 25th Baron Hungerford. That is the ignoble iniquity of today’s entitled class.
More about the author
A polemical history of the British ruling class and how they ended up owning our nation.
The full, shocking story of the British aristocracy, from Anglo-Saxon times until the present day.
Exploring the extraordinary and sometimes pernicious social and political dominance enjoyed by the British aristocracy over centuries, Entitled seeks to explain how a tiny number of noble families rose to such a position in the first place and reveals the often nefarious means they have employed to maintain their wealth, power and prestige. It examines the greed, ambition, jealousy and rivalry which drove local barons to compete with one another and aristocratic families to guard their inheritance with phenomenal determination. In telling their history, it introduces a cast of extraordinary characters: fierce warriors, rakish dandies, political dilettantes, charming eccentrics, arrogant snobs and criminals who got away with murder.
Meticulously researched and engagingly written, Entitled tells a riveting story of arrogance, corruption and greed, the defining characteristic of the British ruling class.