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PRECEDENCE (from Lat. praecedere, to ...

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 267 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PRECEDENCE (from Lat. praecedere, to go before, precede). This word in the sense in which it is here employed means priority of place, or superiority of rank, in the conventional system of arrangement under which the more eminent and dignified orders of the community are classified on occasions of public ceremony and in the intercourse of private life. In the United Kingdom there is no complete and comprehensive code whereby the scheme of social gradation has been defined and settled, once and for all, on a sure and lasting foundation. The principles and rules at present controlling it have been formulated at different periods and have been derived from various sources. The Crown is the fountain of honour, and it is its undoubted prerogative to confer on any of its subjects, in any part of its dominions, such titles and distinctions and such rank and place as to it may seem meet and convenient. Its discretion in this respect is altogether unbounded at common law, and is limited in those cases only wherein it has been submitted to restraintby act of parliament. In the old time all questions of precedence came in the ordinary course of things within the jurisdiction of the court of chivalry, in which the lord high constable and earl marshal presided as judges, and of which the kings of arms, heralds and pursuivants were the assessors and executive officers. When, however, points of unusual moment and magnitude •happened to be brought into controversy, they were occasionally considered and decided by the sovereign in person, or by a special commission, or by the privy council, or even by the parliament itself. But it was not until towards the middle of the 16th century that precedence was made the subject of any legislation in the proper meaning of the term.' . In 1539 an act " for the placing of the Lords in Parliament " (31 Hen. VIII. c. 10) was passed at the instance of the king, and by it the relative rank of the members of the royal family, of the great officers of state and the household, and of the hierarchy and the peerage was definitely and definitively ascertained. In 1563 an act " for declaring the authority of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and the Lord Chancellor to be the same " (5 Eliz. c. 18) also declared their precedence to be the same. Questions concerning the precedence of peers are mentioned in the Lords Journals 4 & 5 Ph. and M. and 39 Eliz., but in the reign of James I. such questions were often referred to the commissioners for executing the office of earl marshal. In the reign of Charles I. the House of Lords considered several questions of precedency and objected in the earl of Banbury's case to warrants overruling the statute of 31 Hen. VIII. In 1689 an act " for enabling Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal to execute the office of Lord Chancellor or Lord Keeper " (1 Will. and Mary c. 21) gave to the commissioners not being peers of the realm place next to the speaker of the House of Commons and to the speaker place next to the peers of the realm. In 1707 the Act of Union with Scotland (6 Anne c. 11) provided that all peers of Scotland should be peers of Great Britain'- and should have rank immediately after the peers of the like degrees in England at the time of the union and before all peers of Great Britain of the like degrees created after the union. In 1800 the Act of Union with Ireland (39 & 40 Geo. III. c. 67) provided that the lords spiritual of Ireland should have rank immediately after the lords spiritual of the same degree in Great Britain, and that the lords temporal of Ireland should have rank immediately after the lords temporal of the same degree in Great Britain at the time of the union, and further that " peerages of Ireland created after the union should have precedence with peerages of the United Kingdom created after the union according to the dates of their creation." At different times too during the current century several statutes have been passed for the reform and extension of the judicial organization which have very materially affected the precedence of the judges, more especially the Judicature Act of 1873 (36 & 37 Vict. C. 66), under which the lords justices of appeal and the justices of the High Court now receive their appointments. But the statute of Henry VIII. " for the placing of the Lords " still remains the only legislative measure in which it has been attempted to deal directly and systematically with any large and important section of the scale of general precedence; and the law, so far as it relates to the ranking of the sovereign's immediate kindred whether lineal or collateral, the principal ministers of the Crown and court, and both the spiritual and temporal members of the House of Lords, is to all practical intents and purposes what it was made by that statute nearly 350 years ago. Where no act of parliament applies precedence is determined either by the will and pleasure of the sovereign or by what is accepted as " ancient usage and established ' Ample materials for the satisfaction of the curiosity of those who are desirous of investigating the history of precedence under its wider and more remote aspects will be found in such writers as Selden or Mackenzie, together with the authorities quoted or referred to by them : Selden, Titles of Honor, pt. ii. p. 940 seq. (London, 1672) ; Mackenzie, Observations upon The Laws and Customs of Nations as to Precedency (Edinburgh, 168o; and also reprinted in Guillim, Display of Heraldry, 6th ed., London, 1724). ' For the parliamentary rights of Scottish peers see article
End of Article: PRECEDENCE (from Lat. praecedere, to go before, precede)
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