from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In the British Isles, gentry (also called landed gentry ) is the name of the lower nobility , in contrast to the higher nobility ( peerage or nobility ).

The term gentleman originally referred to a male member of the gentry.


The term Gentry derives from the Old French genterie (needle) down, and called in the Middle Ages , first the entire nobility and was synonymous with the word Nobility . At the end of the Middle Ages, the nobles in the Kingdom of England had to distinguish between the limited number of holders of substantial titles with a seat in the House of Lords ( Nobility or Peerage ) and the other nobles, who were only noble and entitled to elect the House of Commons ( Gentry ), developed.

The right of election of deputies of the counties ( Knights of the Shire ) to the House of Commons had been limited in 1429 to rich landowners whose annual income from free land ownership is at least 40 shillings (two pounds sterling amounted) (so-called. Forty-shilling freeholders ). Also for the right to elect the deputies of the Boroughs ( Burgesses ) in the House of Commons, the local property ( Burgage ) was decisive. Since their defining characteristic was their landownership, these landowners were referred to as landed gentry . These landowners came from mostly ritterbürtigen and arms leading families. The land-owning clergy also belonged to the landed gentry, and wealthy citizens who acquired property were also able to move up to the landed gentry . It was characteristic of the landed gentry that they could earn their living entirely by leasing their land - members of this class held offices mostly for reasons of prestige.

Members of the gentry wore no peer titles, they could possibly Ritter Would (the non-hereditary knighthood or 1611 the hereditary barons days ) hold or non-noble feudal tenure ( Lord of the Manor ) lead. The majority had no titles of nobility, as an indication of their noble origins they usually had the name affix Esquire .

From the 16th century onwards, the term gentry expanded to include an inexactly delimited class, which can be demarcated upwards to the peerage and downwards to the free ones ( Yeomen and citizens ) with no own or too little real estate and the unfree . In society, family members of forty-shilling freeholders are also counted as gentry. In contrast to the nobility on mainland Europe, where the nobility titles are awarded to entire families rather than individuals and where it is entirely possible for several family members to hold the same title at the same time, British nobility titles always have only one living holder. Family members of peers who do not have a substantial title of their own do not count as peerage, but also as gentry.

Since the 19th century, ennobling (especially to knight ) was given as an award to people who did not have sufficient property to belong to the “landed” gentry in the narrower sense, for example to academics and artists. Despite their knighthood, these are still counted as gentry in the broader sense . From 1832 onwards, several electoral reforms ( Reform Act 1832 , Reform Act 1867 ) restricted and finally abolished the gentry's prerogatives in the election to the House of Commons, which further blurred the delimitation of the gentry's social class from the upper middle class.

Application to China

Outside the UK , there was a comparable class in China , where the term is used, particularly in English-language specialist literature, to refer to the approximately one percent of the population who had passed the primary Chinese civil service examination and were also locally famous. This test was only abolished in 1905 by the petitions and motions of reformers (including Zhang Zhidong and Yuan Shikai ) in the 1890s.

Application to Hungary

In Hungary , the term spread in the second half of the 19th century and was used well into the 20th century. In contrast to Great Britain, impoverished and landless members of the nobility were called gentry ( dzsentri ) in Hungary , who, despite their lack of wealth, stuck to their social position and to their traditions. The only source of income for the Hungarian gentry was civil service. The so-called “Bundschuh nobility” ( bocskoros nemesség ) must be distinguished from the gentry. They consisted mainly of impoverished peasants or ennobled farmers and did not differ in their way of life from the farmers. In the 19th century around 5% of the Hungarian population belonged to this social class. Both "gentry" and "Bundschuh nobility" are names for phenomena in the outgoing Hungarian feudalism.

See also


  1. These include the Scottish titles Baron and Laird .


  • Peter Coss: The origins of the English gentry. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2005, ISBN 0521021006 .