Gentry

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Gentry (origin Old French genterie, from gentil, "high-born, noble") denotes "well-born and well-bred people" of high social class, especially in the past. Gentry, in its widest connotation, refers to people of good social position connected to landed estates (see manorialism), upper levels of the clergy, and "gentle" families of long descent who never obtained the official right to bear a coat of arms.

In England, the term often refers to the social class of the landed aristocracy or to the minor aristocracy (see landed gentry) whose income derives from their large landholdings. The idea of gentry in the continental sense of "noblesse" is extinct in common parlance in England, despite the efforts of enthusiasts to revive it. Though the untitled nobility in England are normally termed gentry, the older sense of "nobility" is that of a quality identical to gentry.

The fundamental social division in most parts of Europe in the Middle Ages was between the "nobiles", i.e. the tenants in chivalry (whether counts, barons, knights, esquires or franklins), and the "ignobiles", i.e. the villeins, citizens and burgesses. The division into nobles and ignobles in smaller regions of Europe in the Middle Ages was less exact due to a more rudimentary feudal order. After the Reformation, intermingling between the noble class and the often hereditary clerical upper class became a distinctive feature in several Nordic countries.

Besides the gentry there have been other analogous traditional elites. The adjective patrician ("of or like a person of high social rank") for example describes most closely members of the governing elites found within metropolitan areas like the mediaeval free cities of Italy (Venice, Genoa), the free imperial cities of Germany and Switzerland, and the areas of the Hanseatic League, which, by virtue of their urban milieu, differed from the gentry (though many also had rural residences).

Read more about Gentry:  Church, Heraldry

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