Friday, May 20, 2016

Of Gentlemen and the Gentry

From Random Bits of Fascination:
Social class was a huge factor in Regency era life. Birth played a huge factor in determining one's social standing. For some, especially the eldest son and heir, their standing was established with an inherited title and fortune.  For others, especially younger sons, inheritance of  land or fortune and occupation played a primary role. For most women, their place in society was determined by the status of the man they married.

Titled peers in all their various forms occupied the top of the social ladder. Immediately below them were the landed gentry. Though definitely part of the upper class, they were definitely lower ranked than the peers even though their income might exceed that of peers who might be saddled with debt or other financial difficulties.

Like the peers, the landed gentry was divided into various ranks, positioning some firmly above others. Within the landed gentry were:
  1. Baronet. A position created by King James in 1611, giving the person a hereditary title that passed to the eldest son, and the right to be addressed as "Sir."
  2. Knight. Originally a military honor, it was increasingly used as a reward for service to the Crown. This was not a hereditary title.
  3. Esquire/squire. Originally a title related to the battlefield, it included a squire or person aspiring to knighthood, an attendant on a knight. Later it was an honor that could be conferred by the Crown and included certain offices such as Justice of the Peace. A squire was often the principal landowner in a district.
  4. Gentlemen. This started as a separate title with the Statute of Additions of 1413. It is used generally for a man of high birth or rank, good social standing, and of wealth, especially the inherited kind.
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