Landed gentry

The landed gentry, or the gentry, is a largely historical British social class of landowners who could live entirely from rental income, or at least had a country estate. While distinct from, and socially below, the British peerage, their economic base in land was often similar, although in fact some of the landed gentry were wealthier than some peers, and many gentry were close relatives of peers and it was not uncommon for gentry to marry into peerage. It is the British element of the wider European class of gentry. With or without noble title, owning rural land estates often brought with it the legal rights of lord of the manor, and the less formal name or title of squire, in Scotland laird.

Mr and Mrs Andrews (c.1750) by Thomas Gainsborough, a couple from the landed gentry, a marriage alliance between two local landowning families – one gentry, one trade.[1] National Gallery, London.

Generally lands passed by primogeniture, and the inheritances of daughters and younger sons were in cash or stocks, and relatively small. Typically they farmed some of their land, as well as exploiting timber and owning mills and other sources of income, but leased most of the land to tenant farmers. Many heads of families also had careers in politics or the military, and the younger sons of the gentry provided a high proportion of the clergy, military officers, and lawyers.

The decline of the gentry largely stemmed from the 1870s agricultural depression; however, there are still many hereditary gentry in the UK to this day.

The designation landed gentry originally referred exclusively to members of the upper class who were landlords but also commoners in the British sense – that is, they did not hold peerages – but usage became more fluid over time. By the late 19th century, the term was also applied to peers such as the Duke of Westminster who lived on landed estates.

Successful burghers often used their accumulated wealth to buy country estates, with the aim of establishing themselves as landed gentry.

The book series Burke's Landed Gentry records the members of this class.