Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Landed Gentry

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 13, 2010

Landed gentry is a traditional social class found not only in the United Kingdom but also in parts of Europe.  It was made up of heads of household(read:  men) who were without title (read: they were not considered part of nobility) and who were considered members of upper class society. 

The landed gentry usually owned extensive land such as country estates, which oftentimes included tenanted farms, and their immediate family, although some were also involved in public service.  Because of financial circumstances, these men had no need for employment outside of managing their own lands and investments. 

Some of the landed gentry still hold land that their mediaeval ancestors held and many families of mediaeval descent can lay claim to having had one or more ancestors who increased or renewed the family fortunes through service to the Crown. 

The concept of landed gentry has continued from Medieval Times through to recent history.  For example, sixteen years ago, The Right Honourable Chevalier Professor Sir Devendra Prasad Varma, Ph.D., passed away unexpectedly.  His obituary read in part:

Dr Varma was a retired Full Professor Emeritus from Dalhousie University at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Born in Darbhanga, a Himalayan village overlooking Mount Everest on October 17th, 1923 to landed gentry parents, he eventually became a British / Canadian citizen. He was an internationally acclaimed scholar and the author of dozens of major articles and books in the scholarly discipline of Gothic Studies, making him the pre-eminent scholar in the field.

Back in the 1400s, the formation of the centralized Russian state in the second half of the 15th century led to the rise of a large cavalry composed of landed gentry.  It was only during the 1630’s that the landed gentry cavalry began to be gradually replaced by cavalry regiments organized in reiter and dragoon regiments.

Katharine Parr — the last of King Henry VIII‘s wives — was born into the landed gentry in 1512.  Formerly married to Edward Borough, whose father was a country squire and then to John Neville, Lord Latimer, Katharine Parr continued her upwardly rise in society when she married Henry VIII (after Henry VIII‘s death, she married a former suitor, Thomas Seymour, who had courted her at the same time as she was being courted by Henry VIII).

The farthest back that the term landed gentry can be traced to is 1030 when the Danish Viking King Sweyn invaded and conquered England. His son, Prince Canute was declared King of England upon King Sweyn‘s sudden death on February 3, 1014.  Among King Canute‘s Chiefs was a man known for making superior swords.  He found favour with King Canute who christened him Genergan which, translated into English, means “Iron Famous” and gave him the title of landed gentry in England. 

The name Genergan was later changed to Jernigan and the descendants of this line have been Knights, Barons and Baronets. At one point the Jernigan Barony even laid legal claim to the Stafford Barony.

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