Why were some people left out of the Peerages?

One of the curiosities of family history for those with family entries in Burke’s Peerage and Debrett is who does not get mentioned. Sexism, and emphasis on male lines, means that until recently a lot of the females got little or no individual mention (the latest editions have gone a long way to put this right). But sometimes people who are quite prominent get left out.

In the case of the Cayleys there were four prominent omissions of 18th-century descendants of the first Cayley baronet. Two of them I can understand being omitted as the family were probably less than proud of them. One is John Cayley (1682-1716), a grandson of Sir William (1st baronet) and a Commissioner of Customs in Scotland: John was killed by Mrs Macfarlane in Edinburgh either to protect her honour from his sexual assault or in a frame-up which may or may not have been associated with Jacobite sentiments and with resentment at the English taking up government posts in Scotland. You can read all about it at John Cayley, killed in 1716. The other was Cornelius Cayley (1727-1729), a great-grandson of the first baronet, who squandered some of the family wealth indulging in the pleasures or dissipations of London while he was working in one of the royal households and then gave up his post to devote himself to promoting Methodism, which was widely regarded with considerable suspicion by the establishment: his father referred disparagingly to him in his Will. See Cornelius Cayley, Methodist. Despite his father’s attitude, Cornelius merited an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography in the 19th century.

The other two are much less explicable. There was William Cayley (c.1700-1768), a grandson of the second Cayley baronet, who was British consul in the Iberian peninsula for many years, then an MP, and finally a Commissioner for Excise. (See William Cayley, British Consul.) You don’t get much more respectable than that! (I write as an indubitably respectable former Director of the UK Inland Revenue!) But his name was omitted from the Peerages and it took me some years to prove how he linked in to the Cayleys.

And finally there was a naval captain, another William Cayley, a son of the fourth Cayley baronet. See Captain William Cayley (c.1742-1801) He fought with distinction in the War of American Independence and the French Revolutionary Wars. You would have thought the family would have been proud enough of him to ensure he had an entry in Burke and Debrett. Again, it took me some years to establish the connection.

Of course, one big advantage of these sorts of omission for family historians is the sense of pleasure and achievement when one is able to fit them in to the family tree!


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