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Esquire ( // , US also // ; abbreviated Esq.) is usually a courtesy title.
In the United Kingdom, esquire historically was a title of respect accorded to men of higher social rank, particularly members of the landed gentry above the rank of gentleman and below the rank of knight. Some sources cite that the title was bestowed on "candidates for knighthood in England," and even used with respect to other dignitaries, such as justices of the peace, sheriffs, and sergeants.
According to research by a New York City Bar Association committee, in the United States, esquire over time came to refer "commonly and exclusively" to lawyers, but how that happened is unclear. The only certainty, the committee stated, is that "based on common usage it is fair to state that if the title appears after a person’s name, that person may be presumed to be a lawyer". The 1826 edition of William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England reiterated that "the title should be limited to those only who bear an office of trust under the Crown and who are styled esquires by the king in their commissions and appointments; and all, I conceive, who are once honoured by the king with the title of esquire have a right to that distinction for life."
By the early 20th century, however, esquire was being used as a general courtesy title for any man in a formal setting, with no precise significance, usually as a suffix to his name, and commonly with initials only. It was never used in a salutation. For example, a letter from a bank or firm of solicitors would be addressed to "T. J. Smith, Esq.", but the salutation would be "Dear Mr. Smith". The use of esquire began to die out in the 1970s because the automatic generation of correspondence using names and addresses stored in computer databases encouraged the use of names in a standard format with prefixed titles only. In the United Kingdom today, esquire is still occasionally used as a written style of address in formal or professional correspondence.In certain formal contexts, it remains an indication of a social status that is recognised in the order of precedence. In the legal profession, the title is available for barristers who have achieved the rank of King’s Counsel because they are designated as esquire on their letters patent, but the name of every male (but not female) barrister will be followed by 'Esquire' painted on the wig tins provided by Ede & Ravenscroft, the traditional suppliers, and this reflects a long-standing contention by members of the Bar that they are entitled to be designated esquires by virtue of their profession (see references to Boutell and Parker from the nineteenth century, below).
In the United States, esquire is used by some lawyers in a departure from traditional use. In letters, these lawyers will ask to be addressed by adding the suffix esquire (abbreviated Esq.), preceded by a comma, after the lawyer's full name.
Chief Justice Coke (1552–1634) defined "gentlemen" as those who bear coat armour. From the 16th century such families were defined by the inclusion of their pedigrees within their county's heraldic visitations, which necessitated their submitting a return of their pedigree to the visiting herald at the specified location, generally one of the chief towns of the county. The 1623 Heraldic Visitation for Gloucestershire, for example, includes a section at the back headed:"A note of such as were disclaymed to be no gentilmen within the county and city of Gloucester", the list being headed by "Edward Hill, Customer, of Gloucester, neither gentilman of bloud, ancestry nor armes". The list thus identifies those persons whose returns were not accepted, perhaps because they were fabricated or insufficiently evidenced in some way.
Sir John Fearn in "Glory of Generositie" spoke of esquires by creation, birth, dignity and office, specifying several circumstances that customarily conferred the title.
Coke followed Sir William Camden, Clarenceux King of Arms (1551–1623), who defined esquires as:
John Weever (d. 1632) identified five categories of esquires:
According to one typical definition, esquires in English law included:
Charles Boutell (1812–1877)defined the term as
Esquire – A rank next below that of Knight. Besides those Esquires who are personal attendants of Knights of Orders of Knighthood, this title is held by all attendants on the person of the Sovereign, and all persons holding the Sovereign's commission being of military rank not below Captain; also, by general concession, by Barristers at Law, Masters of Arts and Bachelors of Law and Physic.
James Parker supplied the following definition:
Esquire, (Latin: armiger, French: escuyer): a title of a gentleman of the rank immediately below a knight. It was originally a military office, an esquire being (as the name escuyer, from escu, a shield, implies) a knight's attendant and shield bearer.
Esquires may be theoretically divided into five classes:
- The younger sons of peers and their eldest sons.
- The eldest sons of knights and their eldest sons.
- The chiefs of ancient families are esquires by prescription.
- Esquires by creation or office. Such the heralds and serjeants at arms and some others, who are constituted esquires by receiving a collar of SS. Judges and other officers of state, justices of the peace, and the higher naval and military officers are designated esquires in their patents or commissions. Doctors in the several faculties, and barristers at law, are considered as esquires, or equal to esquires. None, however, of these offices or degrees convey gentility to the posterity of their holders.
Oxford Dictionaries provided for the following definition of esquire in 2016:
- British: A polite title appended to a man's name when no other title is used, typically in the address of a letter or other documents: J. C. Pearson Esq..
- US: A title appended to the surname of a lawyer (of any gender).
- A young nobleman who, in training for knighthood, acted as an attendant to a knight.
- an officer in the service of a king or nobleman.
- a landed proprietor or country squire: the lord of the manor, e.g., Richard Bethell Esquire.
By the end of the 16th century, the pretentious use of the title, especially in its Latin form, armiger , was being mocked by Shakespeare in his character Robert Shallow, a justice of the peace:
...a gentleman born, master parson; who writes himself "Armigero," in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, "Armigero."
To which Shallow directly replies:
Ay, that I do; and have done any time these three hundred years.
Nineteenth century tables of precedence further distinguished between "esquires by birth" and "esquires by office" (and likewise for "gentleman").[ citation needed ] Today the term "gentleman" is still found in official tables of precedence, and it means a person who is an armiger with no higher rank or a descendant of someone who has borne arms. An English use of the term is to distinguish between men of the upper and lower gentry, who are "esquires" and "gentlemen" respectively, which still applies in terms of the official Order of Precedence. Examples of this may be found in the parish tithe map schedules made under the Tithe Commutation Act 1836. Later examples appear in the list of subscribers to The History of Elton, by the Rev. Rose Fuller Whistler, published in 1892, which distinguishes between subscribers designated Mr. (another way of indicating gentlemen) and those allowed esquire.
But formal definitions like these were proposed because there was, in reality, no fixed criterion distinguishing those designated esquire: it was essentially a matter of impression as to whether a person qualified for this status. William Segar, Garter King of Arms (the senior officer of arms at the College of Arms), wrote in 1602: "And who so can make proofe, that his Ancestors or himselfe, have had Armes, or can procure them by purchase, may be called Armiger or Esquier." Honor military, and civill (1602; lib. 4, cap. 15, p. 228). (By Armes he referred to a coat of arms; it is not clear from this quotation whether Segar made a distinction between esquires and gentlemen.) For example, lords of the manor hold the rank of esquire by prescription.
The 1660 poll tax used to pay off the New Model Army levied an amount of £10 on esquires, which was half the amount due from knights. Samuel Pepys should have paid this amount due to his office, but was delighted to find he had been misrecorded as just a gentleman having to pay 10 shillings, a twentieth of the correct amount.
Although esquire is the English translation of the French écuyer, the latter indicated legal membership in the nobilities of ancien régime France and contemporaneous Belgium, whereas an esquire belongs to the British gentry rather than to its nobility, albeit that "gentry" in England means untitled nobility. Écuyer in French (11th to 14th century) means "shield-bearer", a knight in training, age 14 to 21. In the later stages of the Middle Ages, the cost of the adoubement or accolade became too high for many noblemen to bear. They stayed écuyers all their lives, making that title synonymous with "nobleman" or "gentleman".
The most common occurrence of the term "esquire" today is in the addition of the suffix "Esq." in order to pay an informal compliment to a male recipient by way of implying gentle birth. There remain respected protocols for identifying those to whom it is thought most proper that the suffix should be given, especially in very formal or in official circumstances.
The breadth of esquire (as Esq.) had become universal in the United Kingdom by the mid 20th century, with no distinction in status being perceived between Mr and esquire. Esquire was used generally as the default title for all men who did not have a grander title when addressing correspondence, with letters addressed using the name in initial format (e.g., K. S. Smith, Esq.) but Mr being used as the form of address (e.g. Dear Mr Smith). In the 1970s, the use of Esq. started to decline, and by the end of the 20th century most people had stopped using it and changed to using Mr instead. Esq. was generally considered to be old-fashioned but was still used by some traditional individuals. However, from around 2010 it has started to return once more as a formal address to a male in business and also in a social setting, particularly where the status of an individual is unknown so is used more as a general courtesy title. Its usage has always remained constant with organisations such as Christie's and Berry Bros. & Rudd. British men invited to Buckingham Palace also receive their invitations in an envelope with the suffix Esq. after their names, while men of foreign nationalities instead have the prefix Mr (women are addressed as Miss, Ms, or Mrs).The same practice applies for other post from the palace (e.g., to employees).
Esquire is historically a feudal designation in Scotland. Today, the title of esquire is defined as a social dignity that refers to people of the Scottish gentry, who hold the next position in the Order of Precedence above gentlemen. It is also used as a common courtesy in correspondence. Traditionally, this was one who was classified as a 'cadet for knighthood'. Today, the title of esquire is not bestowed on gentlemen, although certain positions carry with them the degree of esquire, such as that of advocate or justice of the peace. Whether an armiger is a gentleman, an esquire, or of a higher rank can be told by the type of helm depicted on the letters patent granting or matriculating the arms. In Scots Heraldry, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney makes clear that a gentleman's helm is a closed pot helm, in plain steel, with no gold, whereas an esquire's helm can be a steel pot helm garnished in gold or a helmet with a closed visor garnished in gold.The Court of the Lord Lyon will display the helm appropriate to their "degree", or social rank, in the illustration on the letters patent.
The definition of esquire today includes:
There is some confusion over the fact that the Lord Lyon King of Arms addresses correspondents by their name followed by "Esq." in correspondence, namely on letters. Some people erroneously believe that this makes them an esquire, however this is a common courtesy in Scotland, as in the rest of Britain, and does not constitute official recognition in the degree of an esquire. The Scottish courts have confirmed that the base degree in which an armiger is recognised is the dignity of gentleman, not esquire.
In feudal times an esquire was an armour-bearer, attendant upon a knight, but bearing his own unique armorial device.Similarly, an armiger in contemporary terms is well-defined within the jurisdiction of Scotland as someone who is an armour-bearer. These two senses of "armour-bearer" are different: An esquire in feudal times was an "armour-bearer" in the sense of being the person who carried their knight's armour for them; whereas in the contemporary sense the term "armour-bearer" is being used to mean the bearer of a coat of arms, an armiger. The two are not the same thing, although the feudal esquire would also most likely have been an armiger. For centuries the title of esquire has not been bestowed on a knight's attendee (since knights no longer need to train for battle). Attendants on knights, however, were not the only bearers of arms, and similarly not all armigers were esquires. Today, being an armiger is synonymous with the title of gentleman within the order of precedence in Scotland, and is a social dignity. The letters patent of Scottish armigers will never include the title of gentleman, because the letters patent themselves evidence the individual is an armour-bearer, or gentleman by the strictest sense of the definition. A Scottish armiger is a gentleman or gentlewoman unless they hold a higher rank.
Scottish armigers are those individuals with a hereditary right, grant or matriculation of arms so entitling them to use personal arms by the Court of the Lord Lyon. The bearing of duly registered arms is an indication of nobility (either peerage or non-peerage in rank).All Scottish armigers are recognised as members of the nobility in the broader sense through their grant or matriculation of arms awarded by the Crown or sovereign through the Court of the Lord Lyon, and by issuance of a warrant from the Lord Lyon King of Arms is so entered in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland and through later official "Ensigns of Nobility". Without such legal arms it is practically impossible to prove one's nobiliary status. "Technically, a grant of arms from the Lord Lyon is a patent of nobility (also referred to a 'Diploma of Nobility'); the Grantee is thereby 'enrolled with all nobles in the noblesse of Scotland.'", however the term "nobility" today is little used in this context, as in common parlance in Britain the term is widely associated with the peerage. Instead the French term of noblesse has been used by the Court of the Lord Lyon as this term not only includes peers but also the non-peerage minor-nobility, which includes baronets, knights, feudal barons, armigers with territorial designations, esquires and gentlemen.
In the United States, the term is almost exclusively reserved for lawyers; much as one with a PhD (Or similar doctorates like EdD or DBA) or M.D. is called 'Dr.' or a knight becomes 'Sir'.
In the U.S., the title esquire is commonly encountered among members of the legal profession.The title is not allocated by the law of any state to any profession, class, or station in society. However, some state bar associations, such as the New York State Bar Association, protect the use of the term esquire, and have held that use of the term connotes licensure in the jurisdiction, so that its use by non-lawyers amounts to unauthorized practice of law.
Similarly, when addressing social correspondence to a commissioned officer of the United States Foreign Service, esquire may be used as a complimentary title. While the abbreviated Esq. is correct, esquire is typically written in full when addressing a diplomat.If any other titles are used on the same line, esquire is omitted.
Some fraternal groups use the esquire title. One appendant body in Freemasonry also uses esquire as a degree title.
In the Colony of Virginia, during the 17th and 18th centuries, esquire was the title given to members of the Council of Virginia, the upper house of the Virginia Assembly.
Honorifics are not used with courtesy titles, so John Smith, Esq. or Mr. John Smith would be correct, but Mr. John Smith, Esq. would be incorrect.
When addressing a person who has an academic degree or other post-nominal professional designation, such as a Certified Public Accountant, a writer should use either the post-nominal designation (usually abbreviated) or the Esq., but not both; when esquire is used as a courtesy title, it should not be used with post-nominals.
Before 1947, the term esquire was used by senior officers of the Indian Civil Service and other members of the government. In keeping with the criteria established centuries earlier, the title was mostly used by government officials who studied or trained in England, especially in the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, or London or other professional organisations managed by the government. Barristers were especially included in the order of the esquires. Members of the armed forces as well as those who were inducted in to it from other services, temporarily or permanently, were also called esquires.
In the French Nobility, écuyer ('squire', lit. 'shield bearer') was the lowest specific rank, to which the vast majority of untitled nobles were entitled; also called valet or noble homme in certain regions.
In Belgium, écuyer (French) or its Dutch equivalent jonkheer is the lowest title within the nobility system, recognised by the Court of Cassation.
The peerages in the United Kingdom are a legal system comprising both hereditary and lifetime titles, composed of various noble ranks, and forming a constituent part of the British honours system. The term peerage can be used both collectively to refer to the entire body of nobles, and individually to refer to a specific title. British peerage title holders are termed peers of the Realm. The peerage's fundamental roles are ones of government, peers being eligible to a seat in the House of Lords, and of meritocracy, the receiving of any peerage being the highest of British honours. In the UK, five peerages or peerage divisions co-exist, namely:
A baronet or the female equivalent, a baronetess, is the holder of a baronetcy, a hereditary title awarded by the British Crown. The title of baronet is mentioned as early as the 14th century, however in its current usage was created by James I of England in 1611 as a means of raising funds for the crown.
Baron is a rank of nobility or title of honour, often hereditary, in various European countries, either current or historical. The female equivalent is baroness. Typically, the title denotes an aristocrat who ranks higher than a lord or knight, but lower than a viscount or count. Often, barons hold their fief – their lands and income – directly from the monarch. Barons are less often the vassals of other nobles. In many kingdoms, they were entitled to wear a smaller form of a crown called a coronet.
A gentleman is any man of good and courteous conduct. Originally, gentleman was the lowest rank of the landed gentry of England, ranking below an esquire and above a yeoman; by definition, the rank of gentleman comprised the younger sons of the younger sons of peers, and the younger sons of a baronet, a knight, and an esquire, in perpetual succession. As such, the connotation of the term gentleman captures the common denominator of gentility ; a right shared by the peerage and the gentry, the constituent classes of the British nobility.
The order of precedence in the United Kingdom is the sequential hierarchy for Peers of the Realm, officers of state, senior members of the clergy, holders of the various Orders of Chivalry and other persons in the three legal jurisdictions within the United Kingdom:
The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle is an order of chivalry associated with Scotland. The current version of the Order was founded in 1687 by King James VII of Scotland, who asserted that he was reviving an earlier Order. The Order consists of the Sovereign and sixteen Knights and Ladies, as well as certain "extra" knights. The Sovereign alone grants membership of the Order; they are not advised by the Government, as occurs with most other Orders.
The following is the order of precedence in England and Wales as of November 2022. Separate orders exist for men and women.
A coronet is a small crown consisting of ornaments fixed on a metal ring. A coronet differs from other kinds of crowns in that a coronet never has arches, and from a tiara in that a coronet completely encircles the head, while a tiara does not.
False titles of nobility or royal title scams are claimed titles of social rank that have been fabricated or assumed by an individual or family without recognition by the authorities of a country in which titles of nobility exist or once existed. They have received an increasing amount of press attention, as more schemes that purport to confer or sell such honorifics are promoted on the internet. Concern about the use of titles which lack legal standing or a basis in tradition has prompted increased vigilance and denunciation, although under English common law a person may choose to be known by any name they see fit as long as it is not done to "commit fraud or evade an obligation".
In the Middle Ages, a squire was the shield- or armour-bearer of a knight.
In heraldry, an armiger is a person entitled to use a heraldic achievement either by hereditary right, grant, matriculation, or assumption of arms. Such a person is said to be armigerous. A family or a clan likewise.
In Scotland, a baron or baroness is the head of a feudal barony, also known as a prescriptive barony. This used to be attached to a particular piece of land on which was situated the caput or essence of the barony, normally a building, such as a castle or manor house. Accordingly, the owner of the piece of land containing the caput was called a baron or baroness. According to Grant, there were around 350 identifiable local baronies in Scotland by the early fifteenth century and these could mostly be mapped against local parish boundaries. The term baron was in general use from the thirteenth century to describe what would have been known in England as a knight of the shire.
The concept of the Scottish Noblesse, a class of nobles of either peerage or non-peerage rank, was prominently advocated for by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney during his tenure as an officer of arms. Innes of Learney believed that Scottish armigers, those individuals granted arms by the Court of the Lord Lyon, implicitly become 'Nobles in the Noblesse of Scotland': a form of hereditary nobility. The soundness of the basis for this belief is uncertain, and included drawing on historical English practice, and the belief that, because other officers of the Crown had been delegated the power to ennoble historically, the Lord Lyon should be able to as well. Despite relying heavily on historical documentation in England, he simultaneously also opposed the application of English heraldic practice and law as it related to heraldry in Scotland.
The law of heraldic arms governs the "bearing of arms", that is, the possession, use or display of arms, also called coats of arms, coat armour or armorial bearings. Although it is believed that the original function of coats of arms was to enable knights to identify each other on the battlefield, they soon acquired wider, more decorative uses. They are still widely used today by countries, public and private institutions and by individuals. The earliest writer on the law of arms was Bartolus de Saxoferrato. The officials who administer these matters are called pursuivants, heralds, or kings of arms. The law of arms is part of the law in countries which regulate heraldry, although not part of common law in England and in countries whose laws derive from English law.
Sir Thomas Innes of Learney (1893–1971) was Lord Lyon from 1945 to 1969, after having been Carrick Pursuivant and Albany Herald in the 1920s and 1930s. He was a very active Lord Lyon, strongly promoting his views of what his office was through his writings and pronouncements in his Court. In 1950, he convinced the Scots Law Times to start publishing the decisions made in Lyon Court. By ruling on uncontested petitions, he was able to expound many of his theories in court but not under review of his superior court, and get them published in the judicial record. His treatise, Scots Heraldry, was first published in 1934 when he was Carrick Pursuivant; then a second, enlarged edition came out in 1956, and it has practically eclipsed earlier works on the subject. Following his retirement as Lord Lyon in 1969, he was appointed Marchmont Herald, and continued as Secretary of the Order of the Thistle until 1971.
Heraldry in Scotland, while broadly similar to that practised in England and elsewhere in western Europe, has its own distinctive features. Its heraldic executive is separate from that of the rest of the United Kingdom.
The British nobility is made up of the peerage and the (landed) gentry. The nobility of its four constituent home nations has played a major role in shaping the history of the country, although now they retain only the rights to stand for election to the House of Lords, dining rights there, position in the formal order of precedence, the right to certain titles, and the right to an audience with the monarch. More than a third of British land is in the hands of aristocrats and traditional landed gentry.
In heraldry and vexillology, a heraldic flag is a flag containing coats of arms, heraldic badges, or other devices used for personal identification.
Gentry are "well-born, genteel and well-bred people" of high social class, especially in the past. Word similar to gentle [simple and decent] families Gentry, in its widest connotation, refers to people of good social position connected to landed estates, upper levels of the clergy, and "gentle" families of long descent who in some cases never obtained the official right to bear a coat of arms. The gentry largely consisted of landowners who could live entirely from rental income, or at least had a country estate; some were gentleman farmers. In the United Kingdom, the term gentry refers to the landed gentry: the majority of the land-owning social class who typically had a coat of arms, but did not have a peerage. The adjective "patrician" describes in comparison other analogous traditional social elite strata based in cities, such as free cities of Italy, and the free imperial cities of Germany, Switzerland, and the Hanseatic League.
In heraldic achievements, the helmet or helm is situated above the shield and bears the torse and crest. The style of helmet displayed varies according to rank and social status, and these styles developed over time, in step with the development of actual military helmets. In some traditions, especially German and Nordic heraldry, two or three helmets may be used in a single achievement of arms, each representing a fief to which the bearer has a right. For this reason, the helmets and crests in German and Nordic arms are considered to be essential to the coat of arms and are never separated from it.
In Hainault, Brabant, and other provinces of what was Austrian Flanders, the ancient untitled nobility, or gentry as they are called in England, to this day are styled collectively the Ordre Equestre, or knightly order.
British men have 'Esq.' after their name [...] whereas all men from overseas are called 'Mr'
Attendu que Ia cour d'appel a perdu de vue que, dans l'espece, il etait reconnu que les demandeurs avaient ete anoblis par arrete royal du 20 fevrier 1922; que le titre de baron avait eta confere a leur pere, et qu'ils avaient droit au titre d'ecuyer.