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

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