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Swiss millionaire asks judges to give him Earl of Arran title

A reclusive Swiss millionaire has asked Scotland’s most senior judges to decide if he can use the aristocratic title he bought for £250,000.

Willi Ernst Sturzenegger has appealed to the Court of Session to be recognised, formally, as the territorial Earl of Arran and be addressed with all due dignity.

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His case comes after Mr Sturzenegger, who already freely styles himself online as Lord Arran, had a similar petition turned down by the Lord Lyon, the guardian of Scottish titles and heraldry.

The Lord Lyon, currently the respected legal historian David Sellars, has issued a formal note, dismissing the petition as “on the face of it … a surprising proposition” that would give Mr Sturzenegger the same kind of arms as a member of the House of Lords.

The Lord Lyon was particularly surprised that anyone would want to claim the title Earl of Arran, given that it is already held by Scotland’s premier peer, the Duke of Hamilton.

Mr Sturzenegger is one of scores of wealthy men and women, mostly foreign, who have snapped up Scotland’s forgotten feudal titles over the last two decades.

The titles -- most frequently baronies or lordships -- are the only ones of their kind that can be bought and sold, often along with tiny parcels of Scottish land. The earldom of Arran, however, is one of the rarest of the feudal titles, the most senior it is possible to hold.

There are believed to be only around two dozen feudal earldoms, most held by aristocratic families. Few have sold, usually for very large sums indeed.

Mr Sturzenegger picked his up in 1995 along with a few thousand acres of Arran and the “caput” or title to Lochranza Castle, owned by Historic Scotland.

Mr Sturzenegger has been trying to get himself effectively declared an earl since 2000. In 2001, as part of a compromise deal with the then Lord Lyon, he successfully petitioned to have himself accepted by the Lord Lyon as “Sturzenegger of Arran, holder of the territorial Earldom of Arran”.

That name, granted in 2001, came with a coat of arms that includes the additaments -- or “bells and whistles” as some heraldry experts call them -- of a baron, but not an earl.

His latest bid to receive the full title was formally turned down in May. His appeal has now been lodged at the Court of Session and is likely to be heard by the end of his year.

Douglas Millar, partner and head of litigation at Edinburgh law firm Lindsays, believes the current Lord Lyon has misinterpreted changes made to Scots law when feudalism was formally and finally abolished in 2004.

Mr Millar said: “On a proper reading of the change in the law, we believe that Herr Sturzenegger is still entitled to obtain the arms he is seeking.

“There are a number of grounds of appeal but another main one is that we argue -- and we do this in the most respectful of ways -- that the Lord Lyon erred in saying that a feudal earldom was not always recognised as a dignity.”

Mr Sturzenegger himself was not available for comment.

Little is known about the millionaire, other than he once commissioned some of Switzerland’s finest watchmakers to produce the world’s most complex mechanical timepiece.

The “real” Earl of Arran, the Duke of Hamilton, succeeded to the title earlier this year following the death of the 15th duke.

The current duke, Alexander Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, declined to comment on the forthcoming case.

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