A COMPANY selling the title of “Laird of Glencoe” for just £29.99 to buyers keen for their own piece of Scottish ancestry has been accused of “making a mockery” of the nation’s heritage and “exploiting” one of Scotland’s greatest natural treasures.
Highland Titles, based in the Channel Islands, offers plots of land measuring a square foot on a 750-acre area known as the Keil estate, and tells buyers that owning the land allows them to adopt the title Laird, Lord or Lady of Glencoe.
But critics say the titles are meaningless and that the land itself is nowhere near the famous glen. The Keil estate is 16 miles west of Glencoe on a spit of land that juts into Loch Linnhe.
Highland Titles claim purchasers have a “legal” right to call themselves laird or lady though they are buying only a tiny plot of ground. They also sell Highland clothing made up in the “Glencoe tartan”.
“Using the paperwork we provide, you can change your bank accounts, credit cards, driving licence and other official ID, which will result immediately in you being shown the respect you deserve,” they say.
But aristocrats and local residents have now banded together to denounce the scheme. John Duncan, the Laird of Sketraw in Aberdeenshire, said: “It completely belittles Scotland and makes us look absolutely ridiculous. It makes a mockery of ancient feudal titles. You cannot have more than one laird of an estate, yet people buy a windowbox and think they can call themselves a lord or a lady. It’s a ridiculous concept.”
Thousands of people across the world have purchased the title since the firm, based in the tiny Channel Island of Alderney, bought the land in 2007. It comes along with a Master Title Deed and some celebrities – including Nelson Mandela, Kate Moss, Philip Schofield, Ozzy Osbourne and Liz Hurley – have been gifted the title, or that of the Laird, Lord or Lady of Lochaber, which the company also sells.
The Earl of Bradford, who runs a website debunking the purchasing of titles, said: “You cannot purchase a genuine British title, which allows you to put Lord in front of your name, with one exception, the feudal title of a Scottish baron; and you certainly cannot buy a peerage title.”
Another source said: “It’s portraying Scotland in a bad light. It’s bad enough people with Scottish ancestry buying big chunks of Scotland to build things on them, but this makes a mockery of Scottish history. It’s abuse of a historical term.”
The Court of the Lord Lyon – the official heraldry office for Scotland, said it would not recognise any claim to a title. “There cannot be more than one Laird of a particular named estate,” said a spokesperson. “It is not a term that we would use in this office. Ownership of a typical souvenir plot would not bring that person within the Lord Lyon’s jurisdiction in so far as a grant of Arms is concerned.”
The firm says the money reaped from title sales is plunged back into a conservation and tree planting scheme in “Glencoe Wood”. It admits however, that Glencoe Wood it is not on their land.
One source familiar with the situation said: “The land is nowhere near Glencoe. If you buy into the theory that this company is selling plots to put money back into the environment, so be it. But ‘caveat emptor’ – buyers beware.”
The titles have also brought bemusement in the area itself. “A lot of people are unhappy about it in the local community,” said a Glencoe local who declined to be named. “The name of Glencoe is being exploited. A lot of people over the years have tried to exploit it and this is yet another example. They’ve called the wood “Glencoe Wood” but why would it be called that when it’s not even in Glencoe?”
The company claims on its website that the land does not need to be registered with the Registers of Scotland. However, the registers states that it cannot be registered at all.
A spokesperson said: “The Keeper of the Registers of Scotland cannot accept applications for registration in the land register for land not sufficiently described to allow it to be identified on the Ordnance Survey Map.”
Although the firm suggests its documentation allows purchasers to change their titles, in most cases they would have to officially change their first name to Lord or Lady, as genuine titles can be changed only through official peerage recognitions given by the Queen.
A spokesperson for the Deed Poll Service said: “We would not accept that title, and neither would the Passport Office or the DVLA, because it’s not a real title. We might also have concerns about someone changing their name to Lord or Lady as it’s somebody trying to make out they’re something they’re not.”
The land is owned by Peter Bevis, an English biologist, and his wife, Laura. The company says the idea has been a huge hit, especially in the US, Canada and Australia, creating 7,500 Scots landowners in 41 countries over the past year.
A spokesperson defended the scheme. “We don’t suggest everyone uses the title if they don’t want to. It’s just one of those traditional things – we don’t mean any disrespect towards any lairds, lords or ladies. Only a small number of our buyers take it to the degree where they believe they’re a genuine royal lord.”