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Landed Gentry vs. Landed Aristocracy

Joseph Comunale, Christopher Sailus
  • Author
    Joseph Comunale

    Joseph Comunale obtained a Bachelor's in Philosophy from UCF before becoming a high school science teacher for five years. He has taught Earth-Space Science and Integrated Science at a Title 1 School in Florida and has Professional Teacher's Certification for Earth-Space Science.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Sailus

    Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

Discover the definition of the British landed gentry class. Learn the difference between landed gentry and landed aristocracy. See landed aristocracy coats of arms. Updated: 04/11/2022

What is the Gentry Class?

When reading about the history and social life of individuals living under feudalism during the 16th - 19th centuries, the word gentry can come up often. Feudalism was the political and economic system during and before this period which is characterized by the relationship between land-owning lords with vassals and tenants. But what is gentry? A simple gentry definition is a well-born person of a high social class who is a landowner or within a family that has extensive land ownership. The gentry social class was among but not as high in class as the peerage class, which was comprised of individuals and families with hereditary and lifetime titles validated through the government's legal system, i.e., the nobility. The gentry did occupy large portions of feudalistic society, including the clergy, lawyers, and military officers of Britain. Gentries were sometimes also entitled to a coat of arms like nobility. A coat of arms is a system of hereditary dating and symbols used to denote family descent, alliance, and property ownership; also, a coat of arms establishes identity in battle.


A coat of arms above a townhall in Denmark.

This image shows a Coat of Arms above the entrance to a building in Denmark.


Landlords of Old

Landlords in the modern world are often viewed with a certain level of disdain. Terms like 'slumlord' conjure images of greasy con-men who own run-down properties and never fulfill promises about fixing the plumbing. Caricatures like Don Knotts' bumbling character Mr. Furley in Three's Company certainly do not add any prestige to the title.

But in early modern and Victorian England, being a landlord was a requisite to acquiring a title. Indeed, many Englishmen strove to be landlords since not having to work by living off rental and other owned property meant you were part of the landed gentry. This was considered a trait of the highest strata of British society, a far cry from the images of landlords today.

Landed Gentry

Landed gentry were individuals that owned large amounts of land, while others within the gentry class may be immediate or close family and reap the benefits of some of the rental income. The landed gentry class could live entirely on the rental income they received from their land, such as the rent from tenant farmers. Tenant farmers were made up of the peasantry class within the feudal system that owned little and farmed land that they did not own and paid most of their profits to the landed gentry as rent. Landed gentry, meaning gentry that owned land. The landed gentry was composed of four separate groups within England:

  • Baronet or baronetess was a hereditary title awarded by the Crown that gave the individual the right to be addressed as Sir or Dame, and Lady if a baronetess was using her husband's surname. The title was hereditary and could therefore be passed down to offspring. A baronetcy is the only hereditary title that is not of the peerage class or nobility class. Baronets were not peerage because the title could also be bought in the 17th century, but they were landed gentry.
  • Knight was originally a rank within the military of England but eventually became a status that the Crown awarded to civilians. The title of 'knight' was not hereditary and could not be passed down to offspring. Individuals with knighthoods were addressed as Sir. Knights were often awarded land and property for military services and easily became a part of the landed gentry if they weren't already.
  • Esquires were men aspiring for knighthood and were the attendants for knights. The title could be granted by the Crown. Additionally, the title was for men of higher social rank and landed gentry.
  • Gentlemen were generally men of high birth, good social status or wealth, or rank but had lower wealth than the other classes. However, gentlemen were still a part of the landed gentry and obtained passive income.

The histories of these titles were largely researched and recorded by the English publisher John Burke in the 1830s. The books are titled A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry and Commons of Great Britain and Ireland. The books keep the histories of the landed gentry, their coat of arms, and their family histories. Therefore, the books became popular and were repeatedly published with revised editions, including more families up until 1972.

In modern-day Britain, the role of the landed gentry has pretty much vanished, though it has left a cultural impact on views and values towards socioeconomic status.

Definition

The landed gentry, according to the customs of early modern British society, were a group of individuals who did not have to work for a living. Their living could come strictly from the rents of properties, farms, and in later eras, buildings, and explicitly not from economic trade (even if the persons involved were not directly involved in the active trading). Furthermore, the landed gentry were specifically untitled aristocrats (i.e., not part of the peerage). For example, those who had received Baronages, Dukedoms, or the like, were higher than the landed gentry on the social ladder and not considered a part of the class.

History

The landed gentry in Great Britain has always been an amorphous group, shaped and changed with the ebb and flow of economic trends throughout the last 500 years. With this in mind, it is safe to say the landed gentry traditionally included several types of men. Gentlemen, for instance, were generally the poorest of the landed gentry, and although they did not need to work for a living, often lived off income from just a few farms or properties. Knights traditionally did not have to work and received an income from the crown in return for military service or some other form of service that glorified the crown. Baronet was the highest of these titles, and although its conferment usually included a few lands, it was often not considered part of the proper peerage since King James had created and sold the title in the early seventeenth century in the hope of raising funds.

In the 1830s, English publisher John Burke published a book listing all of the names of those in Great Britain considered part of the landed gentry, their family histories, and their coat of arms if they were entitled to one. The book, titled A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry; or, Commons of Great Britain and Ireland, is often referred to as Burke's Landed Gentry. So popular was the book and the landed gentry within its covers that numerous editions were revised and published for over 100 years, ending in 1972. Burke and his book are often attributed with the popularization of the phrase 'landed gentry.'

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Additional Info

Landlords of Old

Landlords in the modern world are often viewed with a certain level of disdain. Terms like 'slumlord' conjure images of greasy con-men who own run-down properties and never fulfill promises about fixing the plumbing. Caricatures like Don Knotts' bumbling character Mr. Furley in Three's Company certainly do not add any prestige to the title.

But in early modern and Victorian England, being a landlord was a requisite to acquiring a title. Indeed, many Englishmen strove to be landlords since not having to work by living off rental and other owned property meant you were part of the landed gentry. This was considered a trait of the highest strata of British society, a far cry from the images of landlords today.

Definition

The landed gentry, according to the customs of early modern British society, were a group of individuals who did not have to work for a living. Their living could come strictly from the rents of properties, farms, and in later eras, buildings, and explicitly not from economic trade (even if the persons involved were not directly involved in the active trading). Furthermore, the landed gentry were specifically untitled aristocrats (i.e., not part of the peerage). For example, those who had received Baronages, Dukedoms, or the like, were higher than the landed gentry on the social ladder and not considered a part of the class.

History

The landed gentry in Great Britain has always been an amorphous group, shaped and changed with the ebb and flow of economic trends throughout the last 500 years. With this in mind, it is safe to say the landed gentry traditionally included several types of men. Gentlemen, for instance, were generally the poorest of the landed gentry, and although they did not need to work for a living, often lived off income from just a few farms or properties. Knights traditionally did not have to work and received an income from the crown in return for military service or some other form of service that glorified the crown. Baronet was the highest of these titles, and although its conferment usually included a few lands, it was often not considered part of the proper peerage since King James had created and sold the title in the early seventeenth century in the hope of raising funds.

In the 1830s, English publisher John Burke published a book listing all of the names of those in Great Britain considered part of the landed gentry, their family histories, and their coat of arms if they were entitled to one. The book, titled A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry; or, Commons of Great Britain and Ireland, is often referred to as Burke's Landed Gentry. So popular was the book and the landed gentry within its covers that numerous editions were revised and published for over 100 years, ending in 1972. Burke and his book are often attributed with the popularization of the phrase 'landed gentry.'

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between gentry and aristocracy?

The gentry class was well-born and of high social status. The aristocracy was made up of individuals of noble birth or born under a specific name tied to the hereditary power within the government.

Is gentry a nobility?

Gentry is not of nobility. The peerage class was of noble birth. Gentry could become landed and maintain social status purely from passive rental income. Aristocrats were almost always born into being landed.

What was the landed gentry in England?

Landed gentry in England were individuals who were a part of the gentry class but were also landowners. These individuals were well-born and of high social status. Landed gentry could maintain their social status purely from the passive rental income obtained from their land.

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