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The term itself has historically had several different meanings, but is currently used to refer to a nationality class which was created to accommodate individuals who held a status previously called British subject without citizenship.

British subject status was codified in statute law for the first time by the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914, which formalised the status as a common nationality among the United Kingdom and its Dominions.Prior to 1708, foreigners could only be naturalised through Acts of Parliament.Although procedures were created after this point for aliens to become subjects, personalised naturalising legislation continued to be enacted until 1975.Before the concept of nationality was codified in legislation, inhabitants of English communities owed allegiance to their feudal lords, who were themselves vassals of the monarch.This system of loyalty, indirectly owed to the monarch personally, developed into a general establishment of subjecthood to the Crown.

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