gentry


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gentry

a group of non-aristocratic landowners in England, from the 15th-century to the early 20th-century, whose size of landholding and wealth varied, but was usually enough to sustain a particular way of life which included education and a degree of leisure (Mingay, The Gentry: the Rise and Fall of a Ruling Class, 1976). The English gentry are seen as important for the introduction of capitalist agriculture. The term has also been applied to other societies, especially by Eberhard (1965), to conceptualize the combination of landholding and scholarship in Imperial China.

Gentry

 

(1) Untitled middle and lower nobility in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. The gentry was an important part of the new nobility. Adapting to the rapid development of capitalist relations in England during the 16th and 17th centuries, the gentry became the foremost champion of capitalism in the English countryside.

During the agrarian upheaval of the 16th and 17th centuries, the gentry increased its landed property as a result of enclosures and the sale of secularized church property. In order to receive capitalist rent, the gentry often leased land to big capitalist farmers. Members of the gentry often engaged in agriculture and industry themselves and exploited their hired workers. By investing capital in commercial companies, they obtained capitalist profits.

The gentry grew in economic strength and played an important political role as early as the 16th century. Many political figures were of gentry origin; these included leaders of the parliamentary opposition against the absolutism of the first Stuarts and leaders of the English Civil War (in Russian, the English Bourgeois Revolution of the 17th century)—for example, J. Hampden, J. Pym, and O. Cromwell. The leader of the Levelers, J. Lilburne, was also a member of the gentry. The new nobility became the main ally of the bourgeoisie during the civil war. The war led to a vast increase in the gentry’s landed property; the abolition of the “knightly holding” transformed gentry land into typically bourgeois private property. At the end of the 17th century, the gentry split. Its leadership became lords, and some members merged with the urban bourgeoisie. However, the majority maintained the status of lower nobility. They supported the Tory Party and played an important role in the institutions of local government.

(2) A designation given by European scholars to the social class shen-shih in feudal China.

V. S. SEMENOV

References in classic literature ?
The people in it are landed gentry, and they will begin to ask me questions, and to busy themselves about me.
As for the Widow Wycherly, tradition tells us that she was a great beauty in her day; but, for a long while past, she had lived in deep seclusion, on account of certain scandalous stories which had prejudiced the gentry of the town against her.
The old gentry of the province were looked upon almost as noblemen while Massachusetts was under royal government.
The parsonage here's a tumble-down place, sir, not fit for gentry to live in.
Instead of a lonely and ragged man with a huge burden on his back, plodding along sorrowfully on foot while the whole city hooted after him, here were parties of the first gentry and most respectable people in the neighborhood setting forth towards the Celestial City as cheerfully as if the pilgrimage were merely a summer tour.
I watched these gentry with much inquisitiveness, and found it difficult to imagine how they should ever be mistaken for gentlemen by gentlemen themselves.
Since then, pursuing its modest course, it had given to the sons of the local gentry and of the professional people of Kent an education sufficient to their needs.
The good he has done to everybody here, from his peasants up to the gentry, is incalculable.
Moreover, he was one of the high gentry living four miles away from Lowick, and was thus exalted to an equal sky with the sheriff of the county and other dignities vaguely regarded as necessary to the system of things.
Bloomfield; and, doubtless, he was one of those genuine thoroughbred gentry my mother spoke of, who would treat his governess with due consideration as a respectable well-educated lady, the instructor and guide of his children, and not a mere upper servant.
Many's the one of that gentry I've helped to retire in my day.
In reference to these gentry, I may here quote a few words from the original preface to this book.