Baronets may be distinguished as follows.
I. Baronets of Great Britain: An order founded by King James I., May 22, 1611, ranking below that of a peer and above that of a knight. The dignity is bestowed by patent and is hereditary, but generally limited to the heirs male of the grantee. It was in the first instance bestowed upon knights and esquire(being duly qualified), each of whom stipulated to maintain thirty foot soldiers in Ireland at 8d. per diem for the term of two years. Upon the establishment of the order it was arranged that the number of baronets should never exceed two hundred, and that upon the extinction of a baronetcy no other should be created to fill the vacancy; but these regulations were soon dispensed with, and the number became unlimited.
The qualifications required of those who were admitted into the number of baronets are thus described in the instructions of the royal founder to the commissioners, for the admission of proper persons into the order:--
"Provided always that you proceed with none, except it shall appear unto you upon good proof that they are men for quality, state of living, and good reputation, worthy of the same: and that they are at least descended of a grandfather by the father's side that bore arms: and have also a certain yearly revenue in lands of inheritance of possession, one thousand pounds per annum de claro, or lands of the old rent, as good(in account) as one thousand pounds per annum of improved rents, or at the least two parts in three to be divided of lands to the said values in possession, and the other third part in reversion, expectant upon one only life, holding by dower or in joynture."
The first baronet created was Sir Nicholas Bacon.
The precedence assigned to baronets is before all knights bannerets, except those made by the king himself, or the prince or Wales under the royal banner in actual war, and next after the younger sons of viscounts and barons.
The badge of baronetage, namely a sinister hand(q.v.) erect, open, and couped at the wrist gules(being the arms assigned to the ancient Kings of Ulster), was granted in 1612. It may be borne upon a canton, or upon an inescutcheon, which may be placed either upon the middle chief point or the fesse point, so as least to interfere with the charges composing the family arms. It should never be placed upon the intersection of two or more coats quartered, unless the baronet has two surnames, and bears the arms belonging to them quarterly.
It the same year in which this badge was granted, King James knighted the heirs of all existing baronets, and ordained that their eldest sons might for the future claim knighthood upon attaining their majority. This privilege was abolished by George IV., but has since been restored, though never claimed.
II. Baronets of Ireland: An order established by James I. in 1619. Their qualifications, privileges, and badge, are the same as those of the baronets of Great Britain. It is believed that this dignity has not been conferred since the union of 1801.
III. Baronets of Scotland and Nova Scotia. An order similar to those before mentioned, projected by the same monarch, but founded by Charles I. in 1625, immediately after his accession. The object of this order was to encourage the plantation of Nova Scotia, in which colony each baronet had granted to him by his patent eighteen square miles of land, having a seacoast, or at least the rank of some navigable river, three miles in length, and an extent of six miles island.
The arms of baronets of this order are not now distinguished by any badge, although one appears to have been in use until the year 1629, viz. a small shield argent charged with a saltire azure, in the centre of which upon an escutcheon or is the lion of Scotland within a tressure gules. No creations have taken place since 1707.