After a long break I feel motivated to continue this so I hope it continues to be useful. (Go to the main page to see what else I’ve covered.)
This section is about the gentry, the class below the aristocracy. We’re still talking about the upper classes here, but these are men without aristocratic titles. We’re talking about gentlemen: baronets, knights and landowners without titles.
A baronet (abbreviated to Bart. or Bt.) is the holder of a hereditary baronetcy, awarded by the crown in the same way as an aristocratic title. A baronet stands below a baron in precedence and the baronetcy is handed down from father to eldest son (or nearest male relative) in the same way as a title.
A baronet is known as “Sir Firstname Surname”. He is never known as “Sir Lastname” and he does not possess a title.
Examples of baronets are Sir Anthony Strallan, Sir Walter Elliot, Sir Lewis de Bourgh, Sir Thomas Bertram.
In terms of how a knight is titled, they are identical to baronets, but their knighthood is not hereditary. The “sir” belongs only to the person who possesses the knighthood and his eldest son will not be more than a mister. A man is generally knighted for some particular service to the realm or monarch, particularly for military services, though success at trade or business produced many knighthoods as well. It was a way for the contributions and power of wealthy individuals, often from middle or lower class backgrounds, to be acknowledged and for them to be propelled into the upper classes.
Examples of knights are Sir Richard Carlisle and Sir William Lucas.
Forms of address
As mentioned above, knights and baronets are identical in terms of how they are addressed. I shall take the family of Sir Thomas Bertram, his wife Maria, his sons Tom and Edmund and his daughters Maria and Julia.
Knight/baronet: Sir Thomas Bertram, Sir Thomas
Lady: only Lady Bertram*
Eldest son: Mr. Bertram (Master Bertram if a child)
Younger son: Mr. Edmund Bertram, Mr. Edmund (Master Edmund if a child)
Eldest daughter: Miss Bertram
Younger daughter: Miss Julia Bertram, Miss Julia
* If Maria had possessed an aristocratic title by virtue of being the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl then then her aristocratic title would have trumped her husband’s knighthood/baronetcy and she would have retained it, being known as Lady Maria Bertram. More on that in the next section.
When Sir Thomas dies, his eldest son will become Sir Thomas. If he had been a knight then he would have remained Mr. Bertram even on his father’s death.
The untitled gentry consist of “gentlemen”. In other words, men and their families who do not work because they possess a private income and lead a leisured life, despite not having a title. What this really means is that they own a country estate and make money out of it by collecting rent and investing in land.
There can be massive discrepancies in wealth and influence within this sub-class as can be seen in Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Bennet owns one small estate which he will lose on his death due to the entail. His daughters have never been to London for the season and didn’t even have a governess. He has an income of about £2000 a year. Mr. Darcy on the other hand owns one of the largest and most prosperous estates in Derbyshire, has an income of £10,000 a year, is the grandson of an earl and well known in fashionable circles in London, where he also owns a townhouse. And yet they belong to exactly the same social class. This is what Elizabeth means when she responds to Lady Catherine’s objections to her marriage with Darcy by saying, “He is a gentleman. I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.” This is more than rhetorical - she is stating a fixed truth about the social classes to which they belong.
Mr. Bingley can also be brought in here. He is nouveau riche from the north of England. His father made a fortune (presumably in trade) which he left to Charles. It is up to Mr. Bingley to purchase his country estate and establish himself as a member of the gentry, which he does after the end of the novel. This is the same principle of social movement seen in Sir Richard Carlisle’s purchase of Haxby. Both men are keen to get the estate which will say that they’ve “made it” and make an advantageous alliance into the historic upper classes.
The way to address a gentleman and his family is identical to anyone else without a title. We will use the family of Mr. Morland.
Mr. Morland is married to Mrs. Morland. His eldest son is Mr. James Morland. His younger son is Mr. Harry Morland. His eldest daughter is Miss Morland. His younger daughter is Miss Sally Morland.
The way children are addressed is the same for any children who don’t have titles, from the children of viscounts down to the children of servants.
Coming next: Women and marriage and titles