AskDefine | Define commoner

Dictionary Definition

commoner n : a person who holds no title [syn: common man, common person]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. comparative of common


  1. A member of the common people who holds no title or rank.
  2. Someone who is not of noble rank.
  3. An undergraduate who does not hold either a scholarship or an exhibition.
  4. Someone holding common rights because of residence or land ownership in a particular manor.


A member of the common people

Extensive Definition

In British law, a commoner is someone who is neither the Sovereign nor a peer. Therefore, any member of the Royal Family who is not a peer, such as HRH Prince William of Wales or HRH The Princess Royal, is a commoner, as is any member of a peer's family, including someone who holds only a courtesy title, such as the Earl of Arundel and Surrey (eldest son of the Duke of Norfolk) or Lady Victoria Hervey (a daughter of the 6th Marquess of Bristol).
Traditionally, members of the House of Commons were commoners and members of the House of Lords were peers, although peers whose only titles are in the Peerage of Ireland have been able to stand for election to the House of Commons for centuries. Since the House of Lords Act 1999, which excluded most hereditary peers from the House of Lords, most hereditary peers can now stand for election to the House of Commons, even though they are not commoners; this is not a contradiction because the word "Commons" in "House of Commons" does not refer to "Commoners" but rather to an archaic word for "communes", i.e. communities. For example, the 13th Marquess of Lothian (aka Michael Ancram), the 3rd Viscount Thurso (aka John Thurso) and the 3rd Viscount Hailsham (aka Douglas Hogg) are currently members of the House of Commons.

Commoners in the Three Estates

In Medieval literature, commoners are one of three estates. The General Prologue, from the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, explores "the Medieval social theory that society was made up of three 'estates'". The Nobility were a "small hereditary aristocracy, whose mission on earth was to rule over and defend the body politic". The Church had the responsibility of "look[ing] after the spiritual welfare of that body" . Commoners "were supposed to do that work that provided for its physical needs". The social status was a division of different class and their places and occupations in Medieval society.
The General Prologue introduces "social organization" , which Chaucer demonstrates when depicting the Knight, Parson, and Ploughman to exemplify the most noble character from each estate. These three characters are chosen to "seem as governing ideals" . Each character has a certain role in society, and with their ideal moral lifestyles, they represent the most virtuous of the estates in which they belong. It is apparent that Medieval society values that class system as the main categories of hierarchical society. the set social division is evident, and with all three estates, the General Prologue examines the good and bad people in society. Chaucer's "representatives of the three estates are moral and social exemplars; the Knight, the Parson, and the Ploughman all strive but they do it selflessly rather than competitively".
Commoners can easily be forgotten for they are depicted as the lowest class in society. The ploughman, a commoner is a simple man, who is true to his faith, and pays his taxes on time. Commoners act as workers, that are clearly deriving their livelihood from land". They are defined by their manual labor, and have no other purpose but to feed the general population.

British universities

In some British universities (notably Oxford and Cambridge), a commoner is an undergraduate student who does not hold either a scholarship or an exhibition. This form is also mimicked by certain British public schools (for example, Winchester College).

Other meanings

A commoner can also refer to someone who, by right of landholding or residence, holds a common right in a given manor. See commons.
There is also a web journal named The Commoner debating topics around commons and enclosures.


commoner in French: Roturier
commoner in Swedish: Ofrälse

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Cockney, Everyman, John Smith, average man, bourgeois, bourgeoisie, common man, common people, common run, common sort, commonage, commonality, commonalty, commoners, commons, exhibitioner, laborers, linendrapers, little fellow, little man, lower classes, lower middle class, lower orders, lumpen proletariat, middle class, middle orders, optime, ordinary people, passman, peasantry, pensioner, plain folks, plain people, pleb, plebeian, proletarian, proletariat, questionist, rank and file, roturier, servitor, shopkeepers, sizar, small tradesmen, sophister, the lower cut, the other half, the third estate, toilers, toiling class, upper middle class, vulgus, working class, working people, wrangler
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