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    Default Meaning of "gentleman"

    If someone is described in the probate calendar as "gentleman" (no other occupation given), does that have any formal meaning, or is it simply how the family described him? The person I'm looking at was a retired corn dealer.

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    At what date was this?
    Any man who could live on property or accumulated income, without having to work, might consider himself or be called a gentleman, at least by the later 19th century in England. Of course, the "real" gentry, i.e. the country landowners in their mansions, would be liable to see such a person rather differently, depending how snobbish they were. One of my namesakes (but not a direct relation) in Suffolk was described as a gentleman at his probate, though he was really a large-scale farmer; I suspect that he had come to act the squire locally in the absence of anyone else to take the role.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Allan F Sparrow View Post
    At what date was this?
    Thanks Allan. He (Ben Bentley) died in Yorkshire in 1897 at the age of 78.

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    The Sparrow I was thinking of died in 1865, so your man had thirty-two more years for the term gentleman to become more vague!
    I have seen it applied to a bride's father on a marriage record, when the father in question was anything but a gentleman by birth...

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    I was feeling rather chuffed at finally having found a gentleman in my family. But then I discovered that in his younger days Mr Bentley spent time as a guest of Her Majesty for embezzlement. Ah well.

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    The term "Gentleman" is one that relies on time and place. Like the sands in the desert, things do shift.

    As a general rule of thumb, the Court of Lord Lyon and the College of Arms would call any man a gentleman, who possessed a coat of arms (by inheritance or by grant), or could obtain a grant of arms, if they chose to apply.

    So, the son of an armiger becomes a gentleman in the same second as he takes his first breath. Likewise, the man who takes his last breath as he swings from the scaffold, could die a gentleman.

    It is by way of being an honorific, which is applied to others. If you have to tell people that you are a gentleman, then you are not a gentleman. It is generally used in printed matter and newspaper reports -
    "The speaker was Mr Johnny Jones, gent, Life-President of the Custard Fanciers Appreciation Society".

    Like the term Mr, it should never be used by the person concerned, when referring to themselves. The term went into decline after WWI and WWII put an end to its use. Apart from its very specific use to denote an armiger, I cannot recall the last time I saw it in use.

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    Thanks Kiltpin, that's very informative. Ben Bentley may well have been a Custard Fancier, but I doubt if he inherited a coat of arms or was ever granted one. I think Allan is on the mark there. But how would I go about finding out?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kiltpin View Post
    Like the term Mr, it should never be used by the person concerned, when referring to themselves. The term went into decline after WWI and WWII put an end to its use. Apart from its very specific use to denote an armiger, I cannot recall the last time I saw it in use.
    I think your dates are a little awry here. There was a man who married into my family who had private means, which he supplemented occasionally with bits of journalism and photography. At the marriage in 1957 he was described as a Gentleman - and knowing the person concerned, it was probably the right term.

    Moreover, when I went to register the death of his widow in 2012 (he had long pre-deceased her), I was unsure how best to describe his occupation, but since the register office also held the relevant marriage register, the registrar checked the entry and she herself suggested using the term Gentleman again, which I was very happy to go along with.

    Arthur

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