Gentry (from Old French genterie, from gentil, "high-born, noble") are "well-born, genteel and well-bred people" of high social class, especially in the past. Gentry, in its widest connotation, refers to people of good social position connected to landed estates (see manorialism), upper levels of the clergy, and "gentle" families of long descent who in some cases never obtained the official right to bear a coat of arms. The gentry largely consisted of landowners who could live entirely from rental income, or at least had a country estate; some were gentleman farmers. In the United Kingdom, the term gentry refers to the landed gentry, the majority of the land-owning social class who were typically armigerous (having a coat of arms), but did not have a peerage. The adjective "patrician" ("of or like a person of high social rank") describes in comparison other analogous traditional social elite strata based in cities, such as free cities of Italy (Venice and Genoa), and the free imperial cities of Germany, Switzerland, and the Hanseatic League.
The term "gentry" by itself, so Peter Coss argues, is a construct that historians have applied loosely to rather different societies. Any particular model may not fit a specific society, yet a single definition nevertheless remains desirable.