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A member of the lowest rank of the English peerage. The title was introduced in England with the Norman Conquest and signified the vassal of a lord. Its limitation to those who held land directly from the king in return for military service occurred early. Magna Carta (1215) made the distinction between the lesser baronage, summoned to the Great Council (Parliament) by general writ, and the greater baronage, called by personal writ, which was regarded as having conferred a hereditary peerage on the recipient.

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