LONDON -- Cash-carrying commoners can now buy into what once could only be obtained by birthright or marriage -- British titles.
The going price for a 'Lordship of the Manor,' entitling you simply to list the title with your name on your credit card or checkbook, is $16,000.
'We're selling status,' quipped Robert Smith, chairman of the Manorial Society, which has been co-sponsoring lordship auctions since 1981.
And auction organizers say many commoners -- including Americans - have been eagerly snapping them up.
Nearly 700 titles have been auctioned off since 1981, and another 44 will be auctioned Monday in London, where at least 300 people are expected to bid on a bit of status.
The titles are put on the auction block by aristocrats who are increasingly finding themselves on the wrong side of the tracks financially.
'It's a way for them to raise money without giving up a painting,' said Smith.
'Some of them may own dozens of titles,' said Fiona Roxburgh, an agent for the Strutt and Parker real estate firm. 'They've got all the prestige they want, so they can afford to get rid of a few.'
Some of the more expensive titles on the block often come with a bit of property, including a medieval castle ruin.
Title roots go back 900 years to the manorial system created in the Domesday Book during reign of William the Conquerer. Back then, lordship titles were granted with an estate to squires for military or civil service rendered for the monarch.
But purchasing a title doesn't get the buyer membership into the British aristocracy of dukes, counts and lords recognized by the Royal Family -- such honors can only be conferred by the queen.
The lordship titles are simply that -- 'a title and nothing more sinister,' Roxburgh said.
'The new buyers simply become the Lord or the Lady of the Manor of 'such-and-such,'' she said. 'After all, you can't simply buy your way into aristocracy. But I guess it's about the closest one could come.'
Despite their empty trappings, nearly 700 such titles have been sold since )he first auction in 1981.
Demand for the titles is high for a number of reasons, organizers said.
The lordship titles offer people the chance to escape 'to the merry days of Robin Hood' and away from modern-day problems, 'especiallyat times when the stock market crashes,' Smith said, referring to last week's unrest on world stock markets.
'I suppose every generation thinks their generation is unstable. There's something about medieval England, Robin Hood and his merry band and all, that's stable,' he said. 'The past always seems much more rosey to some people.'
'People pay that much for the prestige,' Roxburgh said. 'And a lot of people who buy them come from areas where they're being sold, so they have a special meaning.'
Others buy titles to pass on to their children or as an investment, she said. A title that sold two years ago for 2,000 pounds, or $3,200, today is worth about 10,000 pounds, or $16,000.
Bids for Monday's auction will start at 7,000 pounds, or $11,200, per title, Smith said, with each expected to sell for about 10,000 pounds, or $16,000.
One notable title for sale Monday will be the Lordship of the Manor of Sheldowne, in Sussex, which originated in 772 A.D. with King Offa, an Anglo-Saxon ruler.
A 12th-century Channel Islands seignory in Guernsey, the Fief Mauxmarquis, will be the hottest title on the block Monday, Smith said. It is a seignory, a high status title available only to British buyers, and includes a suit to the royal court in Guernsey -- allowing the title holder to participate in an annual ancient manorial ceremony and to greet the queen if she should ever visit the area.
It is expected to bring in about 40,000 pounds, or $64,000, on Monday.
The Manorial Society plans to give Americans more of a chance to grab a British title for their very own and is scheduling a lordship auction in New York for next summer.