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Gentry (L. gentis “clan”, “extended family”) denotes “well-born and well-bred people” occupying (in England) the social class of the minor aristocracy, and whose income derives from their large landholdings.

The gentries

British

A class of rich landowners forming the minor nobility in social position.

In most of the Anglophone world, gentry denotes of “very noble background” and “of good family” (i.e. "gentle birth"); in the UK, it especially denotes the landed gentry. Before the Industrial Revolution, the landed gentry were socially situated between the yeoman and the peer, lesser aristocracy if they did not bear a coat of arms, and of the lesser nobility if the family was armigerous. The squire is an exemplar member of the local county gentry, and, unlike yeomen the gentry did not work the land, but rented it to tenant farmers.

In English history the landed gentry were the smaller landowners who usually had no titles higher than knight or baron. Baronets are an exception, although possessed of hereditary titles, they were not of the peerage, and thus were of the gentry (lesser nobility). They were important in the English Civil War, and the term occasionally is employed, e.g. the publishers of Burke's Landed Gentry, Although the publisher’s continued use of that term is elastic, and partly stems from the adoption of that short title for a series first titled Burke's Commoners, (cf. Burke's Peerage and Baronetage). Moreover, the term county family is deemed co-terminous with the terms “gentry” and “landed gentry”. See Walford's County Families and gentleman.

Poland

In Polandmarker gentry never grew strong, mainly because of competition from the omnipotent and numerous hereditary nobility. The King deprived commoners of the right to buy land-estates. However, some landed burghers or hereditary advocati and sculteti who kept land in royal, noble or Church estates can be still classified as gentry as they had their own tenants. As political and economic pressure from the peerage increased, many such families were forced to sell their titles to the nobles. Some managed to climb up into nobility but others remained commoners and with the arrival of 'second serfdom' can hardly be called 'gentry' anymore as they were bound to the land and subject to their lord's jurisdiction, and obliged to provide labour to the manor. Many commoner families that grew in wealth and importance were soon officially peered and thus cannot be called 'gentry' either. The Partitions of the Commonwealth mark the re-emergence of Polish gentry, as non-nobles were allowed to buy land-estates and, before this was later abolished, exercised manorial monopolies, electoral privileges and jurisdiction over their subjects. But they never grew in high numbers, still suffering economic and social competition from the nobles. Many of those commoners who succeeded in becoming gentry integrated socially with the nobles, camouflaging their humble origins, and thus never developed their separate group identity. The lower nobility (Knights and lower) created in the Partition period may also be classified as 'gentry' although they were 'officially' nobles but these were rather honorary titles having little in common with the vast privileges of old Polish peerage.

Portugal

In Portugalmarker, there was no gentry, as there the Law distinguished only nobility, which had several relative degrees.

Owners of land in Portugal, Brazil, and other Portuguese former colonies, were granted the power to partially establish it in indivisible domains (up to one third of one's property, the so called terça), administered by heirs in a line designated freely by the first will's dispositions, the heirs being constrained by that first will to specific and unique dispositions. These administrating heirs had no power to sell the property or to change the first will. They were in fact not full owners of the land. They could be male, female, mixed, widows, celibate daughters, etc. These properties could have family (morgadio) or religious (capela) purposes, and were frequent till 1834 in all categories of the Portuguese nobility and clergy, from the king down to the least important priest of the kingdom.

Finland

Areas of modern day Finland were integrated into the Swedish realm in the 13th century, at a time when that realm was still in the process of being formed. The formal nobility in Finland dates back to 1280 when it was agreed in the entire Swedish realm by the Decree of Alsnö that magnates who could afford to contribute to the cavalry with a heavily equipped horse-soldier were to be exempted from tax - at least from ordinary land taxes - as the clergy already had been. The archaic term for nobility, frälse, also includes the clergy when referring to their exemption from tax.

At the time of Late Middle Ages Latin was still the language of instruction from the secondary school upwards and in use among the educated class and priests. As Finland was part of Sweden for 700 years, Swedish was the language of the nobility, administration and education. Hence the two highest estates of the realm, i.e. nobles and priests, had Swedish as the language of the gentry. In the two minor estates, burghers and peasants, Swedish also held sway, but in a more varying degree depending on regional differences.

In the Middle Ages celibacy in the Catholic Church was a natural barrier to the formation of an hereditary priestly class. After compulsory celibacy was abolished in Sweden during the Reformation, the formation of an hereditary priestly class became possible, whereby wealth and clerical positions were frequently inheritable. Hence the bishops and the vicars, who formed the clerical upper class, would frequently have manors similar to those of the nobility. Hence continued the medieval church legacy of the intermingling between nobel class and clerical upper class and the intermarriage as the distinctive element in several Nordic countries after the Reformation. As a result, the gentry in Finland was constituted by nobles, clerical and some burgher families.

Among the nobility, a very large proportion of the families arrived directly from Sweden but significant amount had foreign origins (preedominantly German), but their descendants normally adopted Swedish as their first language. The clergy in the earlier part the formation of the Lutheran Church (in its High Church form) was constituted most often of the the wealthier strata of the peasantry with the closely linked medieval Finnish nobility and the rising burgher class in the expanding cities. Their descendants usually adopted Swedish as their first language, but, as the Church required fluency in Finnish from clergymen serving in predominantly or totally Finnish-speaking parishes (most of the country), they tended to maintain a high degree of functional bilingualism. In the Middle Ages, commerce in the Swedish realm, including Finland, was dominated by German merchants who immigrated in large numbers to the cities and towns of Sweden and Finland. As a result, the wealthier burghers in Sweden (and in Finnish cities as Åbomarker and Vyborgmarker) during the late middle ages tended to be of German origin. In the 19th century, a new wave of immigration came from German speaking countries with preedominantly connected to commercial activities, which has up to date has formed a notable part of the Swedish-speaking grand bourgeoisie in Finland.

China

The Chinese gentry has a specific meaning and refers to the shen-shi or the class of landowners that had passed the bureaucratic examinations. They rose to power during the Tang dynasty when meritocracy triumphed over the nine-rank system which favoured the Chinese nobility. The gentry were retired scholar-officials, and their descendants, who lived in large landed estates due to Confucianism's affinity to and advocacy of the worthiness of agriculture and hostility to commerce and mercantile pursuits. Chinese scholars who were not in the government but were well off and owned land were also considered gentry.

India

India had a well established gentry system in the southern state of Keralamarker. Namboodiris were the gentry class, owned all land and often had tenants cultivate the land. Namboodiris were banned from bearing arms under British rule and eventually lost control of the land. To this day, they are addressed as thampran (owners) by local people.

United States of America

The Colonial American use of gentry followed the British usage; before the independence of the United Statesmarker, Southern plantation owners were often the younger sons of British landowners, who perpetuated the British system in rural Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina, by employing tenant farmers, indentured servants, and chattel slaves. In the Northeastern United States the gentry included (colonial and British) offshoot families who established the city of Boston, Massachusetts, and Harvard and Yale colleges.

In contemporary U.S. usage, gentry loosely denotes the professional upper-middle class, as distinct from the British "landed gentry".

Korea

In Koreamarker, where aristocrats held power and wealth, the gentry concept was well-known, especially due to the numerous cultural exchanges with Chinamarker, which was famed for its gentry. However, gentry was never an official class in the Korean hierarchy.

During the Joseon Dynastymarker, the word gentry referred very loosely to the semi-powerful local functionaries. Local functionaries were the highest ranking people of the chungin class. The chungin were a small middle class in Joseon Korea which consisted of government employees, professionals, and literati. The local funtionaries were at the top of this class. They were often de facto rulers of small remote areas and had some power but weren't rich. Local functionaries were also the oppressive link between the upper class yangban and lower class sangmin. Later, gentry took on a more broader meaning as the yangban of lower rank.

There were also other semi-wealthy chungin who were not local functionaries but did own land.

See also



Notes

References

  • Burke's Landed Gentry (genealogy book), John Burke family et al., 1826, 1898, United Kingdommarker.
  • Preston North End fans are known by a former manager, The Gentry.
  • Peter Coss, The Origins of the English Gentry. Past and Present Publications. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (2003). ISBN 052182673X



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