In the history of England, the reign of the four consecutive King George- I, II, III and IV came to be known as the Georgian Era. The period began in 1714 and ended in 1830 after King George IV was succeeded by Charles II. This period was a time of the massive social difference between the various classes and is often considered as the time of transition of the English society from traditional to modern.
The social status in the Georgian Era was determined by a number of ways. However, it was partially hereditary, men used to put a lot of effort into maintaining their social status. Gentleman was the most respected social class for a man, however, there were many hierarchies among the gentlemen as well.
Who was a Gentleman during the Georgian Era?
The title, as well as status of a gentleman of the Georgian Era, is a topic of great confusion, especially for a person living in the present time. In the Georgian society, wealth was distributed unevenly and the gap between the upper and lower classes was as wide as one could imagine. In such a society, being a gentleman was a great title as well as a huge accomplishment.
The status of a Gentleman in the Georgian Era was mostly acquired by birth. However, men who had it used to work very hard to maintain it. Most of the times, the sons of a Gentleman were also considered on the same social footing. But, the status of a Gentleman in the society was a result of the wealth that one possessed.
To begin with, a Gentleman had immense wealth and had to practically do nothing but enjoy the luxuries of being rich. However, it was also a social norm that all the wealth of a Gentleman was passed on to his eldest son, making him a Gentleman as well. As far as the younger sons were concerned, they usually acquired the status from their fathers but maintained it on their own.
Maintaining the Status of a Gentleman
The younger sons of a Gentleman were not supposed to work on a job, considering that it was not something that suits a gentleman. But, in order to maintain that position in society, a person has to be rich. The eldest sons of the gentlemen who inherited both social status and wealth were respected in society and were called ‘peers’. The younger ones, on the other hand, came to be known as the ‘gentry’.
The male members in the gentry had the status of gentlemen, but as they had to work hard to maintain it, they were considered below the peers. It was considered disrespectful for the gentry to work a job and accept payments, which made it difficult for them to maintain their social status.
However, there were a few occupations that helped them to get a reasonable amount of money to maintain their titles, not as payments, but as commissions.
Joining the military was the most common way that people used to acquire a gentleman’s status in Georgian society. A Knight was a rank that was given to people who had joined the military and held an officer’s position in it. This position used to be purchased in those times, considering the payment that one made as a physical proof for their seriousness for the job.
Followed by Knights, the title of Esquire or Squire was also an important position in the military as well as the Georgian society. An esquire was the attendant to a knight and was supposed to march along with them. People who wanted to receive the title of the knight usually started as esquires and were presented with knighthood after they had gained certain experience and respect in the battalion.
The Clergy was another area that allowed the descendants of a Gentleman to maintain their title. Clergymen were usually provided the social status of a gentleman along with a steady income and a house to live in. Vicar and Curate were the highest titles and all men had to go through formal training to get that, that included an honors degree from Oxford or Cambridge and a proof of proficiency in Latin and the Scripture. The Clergymen could easily earn a ‘living’ and maintain their tiles.
The third profession that granted a Gentleman position in the Georgian Era society was that of a Barrister.
A barrister was a practitioner of law and was considered the lowest way in which the status of Gentleman could be obtained. In the contemporary sense, a barrister can be called a trial lawyer and becoming one incurred huge expense during Georgian times. a person applying for it needed to have a university degree, followed by an admission to the Inns of Court for a period of at least three years.
Apart from these, people who used to practice medicine were also offered the status of a Gentleman in the Georgian Era. They were referred to as Sir and had great respect in society. However, it was a rare profession as it needed a lot of training and the income was considerably low. But, it provided a great scope of growth and under a rich patron, it was easier for them to make a good living.