From about 1150 to 2004, Scottish Land Law was based on Feudal principles. In theory, only the Crown held absolute title; others (such as Barons) held land subordinate to the Crown, and this land was held conditionally - generally subject to providing men for military service, but also subject to monetary or other payment. The Barons could in turn transfer land to others, but again this was subject to feudal conditions. Over time, this system was heavily diluted but remined the theoretical backbone to Scottish property law.
Only the Crown could grant a Barony title. As well as land, the grant included Baronial rights, such as holding markets and administering justice. The party granted the title could style himself "John Smith, Baron of Auchenshuggle". He could, or in some instances had to, attend Parliament.
The Baronial rights could not just pass from father to son, and had to be confirmed by the Crown. This was a method of maintaining control and loyalty. Charters of Confirmation continued to be necessary until a reforming Act in 1874.
From about 1746 onwards - when most jurisdictional rights were removed - Barony titles gradually reduced in importance.
A Baron could sell parts of his land to others, but still retain the Barony title, so long as (pre 2004) he retained an area of land. A market sprang up in the second half of the 20th Century in Barony titles; a Barony could be bought, generally with a small area of ground within the Barony. The title was registered in the Sasine or Land Register.
In 2004, following the Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 2000, feudal law was abolished in Scotland. This is not the place to examine all the implications of this tectonic shift in Scots Law, but it did mean that overnight Barony titles could no longer be registered in the Scottish Land Register.
In 2004 it was no longer possible to register Barony titles in the Scottish Land Register. However, the 2000 Feudal Reform Act had specifically preserved the dignity of baronial titles, but without creating any alternative register. Lawyers and others involved in baronial matters decided that a privately created and run register would help to maintain the integrity of the market, and so the Scottish Baronial Register was created.
The current Custodian is retired solicitor, and Writer to Her Majesty's Signet, Alastair Kennedy Shepherd. He was qualified for forty years, specialising in rural property, and of course Baronies. Alastair was appointed on 1st December 2020, following the retiral of the founding Custodian, Alistair Rennie, former Deputy Keeper of the Registers of Scotland, who served from 28 November 2004. .
No, the Register is not public. However for a modest fee a Scottish Solicitor can request a Letter of Comfort from the Custodian, which letter proves the registration of the Barony title in question.
Lord Lyon will recognise the holder of a Scottish Barony, duly registered in the Scottish Barony Register, as having the appropriate jurisdiction to apply for a Coat of Arms. However the applicant will stilll need to prove that he or she is a "virtuous and well deserving person".
It should be noted that Lord Lyon will not refer to the Barony title in any Letters Patent he might issue. More information is available on the website of the Lord Lyon.
The reasons for buying a Barony Title are many and various, and the incentive to buy will be different for every individual. The documents will normally comprise an Extract Crown Charter in favour of the original Baron; quick copy titles tracing the ownership of the Barony from the original Crown grant to 2004; copy searches; and an Assignation or Assignations from owner to owner since 2004. The Scottish Barony Register will, on registration, provide a simple certificate.
Many buyers cite a desire to purchase a small part of Scottish history - it should be borne in mind that the history of many Baronies can significantly pre-date the Extract Crown Charter, and enjoyment can be had tracing the history of the Barony back to medieval times.
Some foreign based purchasers wish to apply for a Coat of Arms from Lord Lyon; the procedure is mentioned above.
Some may enjoy the pleasure of being able to call oneself "the Baron/ess of Auchenshuggle" and to think of the former Barons of that name in times gone by.