Commoner

Commoner

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In British law, a commoner is someone who is neither the Sovereign
British monarchy
The monarchy of the United Kingdom is the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has reigned since 6 February 1952. She and her immediate family undertake various official, ceremonial and representational duties...

 nor a peer
Peerage
The Peerage is a legal system of largely hereditary titles in the United Kingdom, which constitute the ranks of British nobility and is part of the British honours system...

. Therefore, any member of the Royal Family
British Royal Family
The British Royal Family is the group of close relatives of the monarch of the United Kingdom. The term is also commonly applied to the same group of people as the relations of the monarch in her or his role as sovereign of any of the other Commonwealth realms, thus sometimes at variance with...

 who is not a peer, such as Prince Harry of Wales
Prince Harry of Wales
Prince Henry of Wales , commonly known as Prince Harry, is the younger son of Charles, Prince of Wales and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and fourth grandchild of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh...

 or Anne, Princess Royal
Anne, Princess Royal
Princess Anne, Princess Royal , is the only daughter of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh...

, is (technically) a commoner, as is any member of a peer's family, including someone who holds only a courtesy title, such as the Earl of Arundel and Surrey (eldest son of the Duke of Norfolk
Duke of Norfolk
The Duke of Norfolk is the premier duke in the peerage of England, and also, as Earl of Arundel, the premier earl. The Duke of Norfolk is, moreover, the Earl Marshal and hereditary Marshal of England. The seat of the Duke of Norfolk is Arundel Castle in Sussex, although the title refers to the...

) or Lady Victoria Hervey
Lady Victoria Hervey
Lady Victoria Frederica Isabella Hervey is an English model, socialite, aristocrat and former "It girl".- Background :Lady Victoria is the elder daughter of the 6th Marquess of Bristol and his third wife Yvonne Marie Sutton. She is the older sister of the 8th Marquess of Bristol and of Lady...

 (a daughter of the 6th Marquess of Bristol
Marquess of Bristol
Marquess of Bristol is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom held by the Hervey family since 1826. The Marquess's subsidiary titles are: Earl of Bristol , Earl Jermyn, of Horningsheath in the County of Suffolk , and Baron Hervey, of Ickworth in the County of Suffolk...

).

Traditionally, members of the House of Commons were commoners — though the name of the House of Commons comes from the communities they represent, not their rank — while members of the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 were peers. Peers whose only titles are in the Peerage of Ireland
Peerage of Ireland
The Peerage of Ireland is the term used for those titles of nobility created by the English and later British monarchs of Ireland in their capacity as Lord or King of Ireland. The creation of such titles came to an end in the 19th century. The ranks of the Irish peerage are Duke, Marquess, Earl,...

 have been able to stand for election to the House of Commons for centuries. Since the House of Lords Act 1999
House of Lords Act 1999
The House of Lords Act 1999 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that was given Royal Assent on 11 November 1999. The Act reformed the House of Lords, one of the chambers of Parliament. For centuries, the House of Lords had included several hundred members who inherited their seats;...

, which excluded most hereditary peers from the House of Lords, most hereditary peers can now stand for election to the House of Commons. For example, the 3rd Viscount Thurso (aka John Thurso) is currently a member of the House of Commons.

In popular usage, a commoner is a person who does not belong to royalty or aristocracy: in other words, someone who is not a member of a peer's family. In that context, The Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph and the BBC have all seen fit to distinguish Kate Middleton as a "commoner". Many English-language publications have noted that Middleton is the first commoner to marry an heir to the British throne since Anne Hyde
Anne Hyde
Anne Hyde was the first wife of James, Duke of York , and the mother of two monarchs, Mary II of England and Scotland and Anne of Great Britain....

 married James the Duke of York (later King James II) more than 350 years ago.

Commoners in the Three Estates


In Medieval literature
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, commoners are one of three estates
Estates of the realm
The Estates of the realm were the broad social orders of the hierarchically conceived society, recognized in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period in Christian Europe; they are sometimes distinguished as the three estates: the clergy, the nobility, and commoners, and are often referred to by...

. The General Prologue, from the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

, explores "the Medieval social theory that society was made up of three 'estates'". The Nobility were a "small hereditary aristocracy, whose mission on earth was to rule over and defend the body politic". The Church had the responsibility of "look[ing] after the spiritual welfare of that body". Commoners "were supposed to do that work that provided for its physical needs". The social status was a division of different classes and their places and occupations in Medieval society.

The General Prologue introduces "social organization", which Chaucer demonstrates when depicting the Knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

, Parson
Parson
In the pre-Reformation church, a parson was the priest of an independent parish church, that is, a parish church not under the control of a larger ecclesiastical or monastic organization...

, and Ploughman to exemplify the most noble character from each estate. These three characters are chosen to "seem as governing ideals". Each character has a certain role in society, and with their ideal moral lifestyles, they represent the most virtuous of the estates in which they belong. It is apparent that Medieval society values that class system as the main categories of hierarchical society. The set social division is evident, and with all three estates, the General Prologue examines the good and bad people in society. Chaucer's "representatives of the three estates are moral and social exemplars; the Knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

, the Parson
Parson
In the pre-Reformation church, a parson was the priest of an independent parish church, that is, a parish church not under the control of a larger ecclesiastical or monastic organization...

, and the Ploughman all strive but they do it selflessly rather than competitively".

British universities


In some British universities (notably Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 and Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

), a commoner is an undergraduate student who does not hold either a scholarship
Scholarship
A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further education. Scholarships are awarded on various criteria usually reflecting the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award.-Types:...

 or an exhibition. This form is also mimicked by certain British public schools (for example, Winchester College
Winchester College
Winchester College is an independent school for boys in the British public school tradition, situated in Winchester, Hampshire, the former capital of England. It has existed in its present location for over 600 years and claims the longest unbroken history of any school in England...

)..

A mature commoner was an older commoner at traditional universities such as Oxford.

In the past, there have been gentleman-commoners (those who paid all their fees up front) and fellow-commoners (those associated with the Foundation of the Colleges).

Other meanings


A commoner can also refer to someone who, by right of landholding or residence, holds a common right in a given manor. See commons.