An Interview Conducted With The Editor of Baronage
Fake Titles: Baronage was the first website to attack the trade in bogus titles, wasn't it?
Baronage: Perhaps, but I'm not sure "attack" is the right word. It was six years ago and we were in our second year of operation. We had been receiving queries on heraldry and history, our principal subjects, and then we began to receive an increasing flow of questions about the "noble titles" being offered for sale. Eventually I decided it would be more economic if, instead of answering all the questions individually by e-mail, I wrote a couple of articles to illustrate how people were being duped. I suppose the articles could be said to constitute an attack.
Fake Titles: Was the trade then much the same as it is now?
Baronage: It was smaller. It's expanded since because it has been recognised as an easy way to make money. The expenses are small and for some the income is huge. It's expanded also because some of the original merchants set up affiliates to sell their products. An element of competition has recently developed, and this has improved the websites a little - although not the quality of the prose which, in general, is appalling.
Fake Titles: What do you mean by that?
Baronage: The majority of the merchants seem to be of low education. Their knowledge of grammar is negligible. Syntax is a closed book. Punctuation is full of errors, and almost no one can understand the difference between "its" the possessive pronoun and "it's" meaning "it is". The overall presentation is so ugly that one has to wonder how anyone can be persuaded that the product on sale is genuine when the vendor, despite his lack of literacy, is passing himself off as "a nobleman".
Fake Titles: You said that for some the income is huge. How huge?
Baronage: There are two markets. The lower market trades in many titles for a small sum, typically a couple of hundred pounds up to around a thousand pounds. One man who thought he could persuade Baronage to become an affiliate suggested we should sell two to three hundred a year at an average net profit of three hundred pounds each. The upper market is more interesting, for it stretches from five thousand pounds up to ninety thousand. Above this there may be another, for I have seen "titles" advertised at many hundreds of thousand pounds - but I've no evidence that any have been sold at such prices. Of course, we are talking about fakes, and thus not about Scottish baronies which do fetch high prices, if they include land, because they are genuine.
Fake Titles: What sort of net profit is in the upper market?
Baronage: Well, let's look at British Feudal Investments Ltd. (That's what it is called, but it is not British, its products are not feudal, as investments they are worthless, and it is not a limited company.) It is run from Miami and has a postbox in London. Its owner is Antonio Adolfo Boada Cartaya who claims to be a peerage lawyer (although his claimed qualification as such has been shown to be nonexistent). He has been in this business for about six years, and it has been estimated by the American authorities now investigating him that he has been selling at least one "title" per week during this period. This is based on the speed at which his "feudal titles" used to disappear from his website once they had been advertised. He usually sells at between $15,000 and $30,000 with a net profit margin of around eighty-five per cent - which would give him a net annual income of close to a million dollars.
Fake Titles: Are there any British companies in this league?
Baronage: Yes, but it is more difficult to assess their annual income when they don't advertise individual "titles". The Manor Titles operation, as it was a couple of years ago (I haven't looked at it recently), was a good example. This was operated by a man who registered the names of ancient manorial lordships as trademarks at the Patent Office and then sold them as "styled titled name and legend" lordships. His prices started at £4,995 and increased from there according to the fame or attractiveness of the name of the lordship. The buyer received a bunch of documents on artificially aged paper and the assurance that he and his wife would henceforth be known legally as "Lord and Lady X". His net profit margin varied between eighty and ninety per cent.
Fake Titles: Why was the Patent Office involved?
Baronage: The merchants like to have some form of official paperwork included in the documentation. "Manor Titles" and its affiliates use the Patent Office. "English Feudal Titles" and the "Lady Sarah Helen Leeder" operation use the Land Registry. Boada Cartaya uses the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to provide an apostille, which he then includes with his own papers to make it appear that the FCO has authenticated the "title" he's selling. All these operations then claim that "Her Majesty's Government" has "recognised" and validated the relevant "title".
Fake Titles: So what happened when Baronage started to expose these rackets?
Baronage: Well, we began to receive a few sob stories from victims who hoped we could recover the money they had lost, and from victims who told us of the way their friends and colleagues had laughed at them for being so foolish. One poor fellow, when his workmates had ridiculed him, had a nervous breakdown and lost his job. He recovered temporarily, found another job, had a second breakdown and lost that. Then he was permanently ill and out of work and could not pay his mortgage, so he lost his house. He wanted us to maximise the publicity we were giving the merchants, using his story as a warning to others, but actually there was not much more we could do.
Fake Titles: Didn't the scam merchants fight back when they saw what Baronage was writing about them?
Baronage: Oh, yes, certainly. They threatened Baronage with writs, and when that failed to affect us they threatened our server companies. The first one just pulled the plug on us and sent us a bill for £995 legal costs, claiming this was in the contract, but as everything we had written was true they got nowhere with that. The next server behaved in a more civilised manner and just asked us to withdraw the offending material, but that was impossible and we moved to a third server. Here we have an understanding team that stands by us and has rejected the threats made to them. Despite all these threats, and there have been a lot, no legal action has ever materialised.
Fake Titles: And you and Baronage don't expect to be sued?
Baronage: Gary Martin Beaver (the man who stole your Newport title) made a great song and dance about how rich he was and how poor we were and that he would bankrupt us in court. He had a writ, he said, and was going to serve it. I replied that I would accept it willingly and suggested he meet me in London during a visit I was shortly to make. I was to lunch that day at the House of Lords with a friend who, hoping that you could be in the House, suggested I should meet Beaver in the car park there at 2.30pm. Unfortunately, Beaver backed down with the complaint that it was not up to me to arrange his schedule. I've heard nothing since of any writ from Beaver.
Fake Titles: So far you've mentioned "feudal titles" and "manorial titles". Have any peerage titles been offered for sale?
Baronage: Yes. Odd, isn't it? Maundy Gregory went to jail for selling genuine peerage titles, but these merchants offer extinct ones without penalty. There was one offered by a company called "Noble Titles". It was the Barony of Northwick created by Letters Patent in 1797 and extinguished by the death of George Rushout, 3rd Baron Northwick in 1887. Obviously, only the Queen could resuscitate it, but this merchant thought he could and that the Queen would not object. I don't know who bought it, or indeed if it was sold. The asking price was £25,000.
Fake Titles: I've read some of the unpleasant things said about you on the Internet. Has any of this changed your approach to people like Beaver?
Baronage: The first website to begin the personal attacks did shock me. Most of the charges it made were ridiculous, but one, the fact that Baronage was being investigated by the Department of Trade & Industry, was true. But the only way its authors could have known that was if they themselves had reported Baronage to the DTI. Then, when the investigation was complete and we were cleared totally of any wrongdoing, we still had to face the accusation that we had been investigated. The server, faced with a stiff letter from our lawyers, took the site down, and that, we thought, was that.
Fake Titles: But there were others.
Baronage: Yes. They feed off each other, each trying to outbid the other. Beaver started with fairly wide-ranging accusations about Baronage owing money to its clients and readers, but didn't give a specific figure. British Feudal Investments picked this up and put a figure to it - two to three million pounds! Beaver claimed I had failed flight training in the Royal Air Force, then Mac Duffy's website claimed I had failed three times, and that I was only ground crew who lied about flying. (In the RAF a trainee fails only once. There are no second attempts.) Actually, here's my official logbook. It shows that in my last week with an operational squadron, in May 1966, I captained a four-engined maritime reconnaissance aircraft with a crew of ten on an anti-shipping exercise from Scotland to Iceland (11 hours 20 minutes), then flew an anti-submarine operation to Northern Norway (9 hours 20 minutes), then flew low-level through the mountains to Oslo (8 hours), did an air display there and returned to Scotland (3 hours 25 minutes) -- which is not so bad for supposed "ground crew" in a period of seven days. I was still flying on my civilian licence as pilot-in-command after my sixtieth birthday. I've nearly 3,500 hours in all.
Fake Titles: I saw that one of the websites was challenging you to sue.
Baronage: Yes. That was Mac Duffy. It sounds great, but Mac Duffy appears to be a false name. If an author stays anonymous and refuses to acknowledge his authorship, there is no way we can issue a writ. Even when we know the true name of an author, we cannot sue unless he acknowledges authorship.
Fake Titles: How do you feel about the accusation of paedophilia?
Baronage: That's too ridiculous to take seriously. It started with a totally implausible story of two e-mails of mine going to the wrong addressee and then being forwarded to Beaver. These two e-mails allegedly solicited unlawful sexual activity. Surprisingly, both e-mails had my address spelt wrongly and the wrong postcode -- and, perhaps even more surprisingly, these two mistakes were the same mistakes, address and postcode, made on Beaver's own website on a page which had previously given my misspelt address and incorrect postcode. These people are so stupid they make even the most elementary errors.
Fake Titles: How do you fight that?
Baronage: It's not possible to fight it directly and it is best to ignore it. The stories about my aviation experience can be refuted with official logbooks and licences. The stories about my having been found guilty of fraud in Scotland can be refuted with the court documents. (It was a man whose first name was John, and that has never been one of my names.) The stories about my not being the father of my children can be refuted with a journey to the Public Record Office. The stories of tax evasion can be refuted by the accountants and the tax inspectors.
Fake Titles: And the story about the FBI and Interpol seeking your extradition?
Baronage: That was started by Boada Cartaya, and is now about a year old. It's strange, isn't it, that I've still heard nothing from either organisation? It's a bit like the paedophilia charge, easy to make and difficult to disprove. All one can do is to allow people to recognise that accusations capable of being disproved are disproved, and then to let them treat the other accusations with the contempt that is their due.
Fake Titles: So Baronage will continue its campaign against the fake titles industry?
Baronage: Certainly. It won't be a campaign in the sense that it will become the major activity of Baronage. We shall continue to put our principal effort into the discussions of heraldry and history, but we shall probably have one story on bogus titles in each issue and, of course, the Frequently Asked Questions pages will continue to explain to new readers the perils of buying "noble titles" on or off the Internet.
Fake Titles: Do you think you've had any success so far?
Baronage: Not enough. However, we do receive letters from readers thanking us for saving their money and helping them avoid ridicule. And the hysterical nonsense on the websites of people such as Beaver and Boada Cartaya and their friends suggests a degree of desperation which may indicate a modest level of success.