What is an aristocrat? Simple meaning of aristocracy explained, what are they today and do they still exist

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The Duke of Westminster and the Grosvenor family’s combined wealth of upwards of £9billion makes them the richest aristocrats in the UK, according to The Times Rich List 2022

Aristocrat Constance Marten and her partner Mark Gordon were found by police this week, after going missing eight weeks ago with their newborn baby.

Marten, who is also known as ‘Toots’, comes from a wealthy family that has connections to the Royal Family. Her grandmother Mary Anna Marten made history during the Crichel Down affair, which caused a political scandal in 1954 and was the goddaughter of the Queen Mother, whilst her father Napier Marten is reported to have been a page to Queen Elizabeth II.

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Whilst aristocratic families seem like relics of the past, they currently own a third of the land in the UK. So, what exactly is an aristocrat and do they still exist in the UK today? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is an aristocrat?

The Collins Dictionary describes an aristocrat as “someone whose family has a high social rank, especially someone who has a title.” They add, that an aristocrat is “a member of the aristocracy; a noble, a person who has the manners or qualities of a member of a privileged or superior class.”

Aristocrats at the races in 1910 (Photo: Getty Images)Aristocrats at the races in 1910 (Photo: Getty Images)
Aristocrats at the races in 1910 (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Not the same as upper-class, you can only be born into the aristocracy, with aristocrats able to hold five hereditary titles, including: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount and Baron, with the rank of Duke the most exclusive.

Do they still exist?

Aristocrats do still exist in the UK, with many owning large swathes of land and wealth. They used to sit in the House of Lords, but the majority have since been excluded since reforms in 1999. Although they don’t have the same clout as they used to, their hereditary titles still remain.

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Customers sit outside The Oriel brasserie in Sloane Square in January 2010 (Photo: Getty Images)Customers sit outside The Oriel brasserie in Sloane Square in January 2010 (Photo: Getty Images)
Customers sit outside The Oriel brasserie in Sloane Square in January 2010 (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Aristocrats tend to stay out of the public eye, however in 2010 Earl Cadogan made headlines after he allegedly shut down a restaurant in Sloane Square after he didn’t like his meal. Reported at the time by the Mirror, the Earl who owns 90 acres of property in London said after dining at the Oriel Restaurant: “I didn’t like the food and the prices are far too high. I can tell you that we won’t be renewing their lease when it expires in two years’ time. We are going to have a new development there.”

Where are aristocrats today?

Reported by the Guardian in 2017, there are 24 non-royal Dukes in the UK, half of whom studied at Eton College. Aristocrats tend to have stately residences, with many opting to open them up to the paying public including Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth and Wentworth Woodhouse.

Who is the richest aristocrat in the UK?

Aristocrats still maintain vast sums of wealth and land. According to Love Money, the aristocrats and gentry own around 30% of the land in the UK, despite only making up a tiny percentage of the population. The data they reference comes from the book “Who Owns England?” by Guy Shrubsole, in an interview with the Guardian he explained: “A few thousand dukes, baronets and country squires own far more land than all of middle England put together. Land ownership in England is astonishingly unequal, heavily concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite.”

According to the Times Rich List 2022, here are the richest aristocrats in the UK:

  1. The Duke of Westminster and the Grosvenor family - £9.726 billion
  2. Earl Cadogan and family - £5.691 billion
  3. Baroness Howard de Walden and family - £3.632 billion
  4. Viscount Portman and family - £1.9 billion
  5. Lady Philomena Clark and family - £1.267 billion
  6. Lord Ashcroft and family - £1.266 billion
  7. Lord Spencer - £1.262 billion
  8. Lady Ballyedmond and family - £1.247 billion
  9. Lord Granchester and Moores family - £1.2 billion
  10. Viscount Rothermere and family - £1.2 billion
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