Landed gentry is a largely historical British social class consisting of land owners who could live entirely from rental income. It was distinct from, and socially below, the aristocracy or peerage and they often worked as administrators of their own lands, while others became public, political and armed forces figures. The decline of this privileged class largely stemmed from the 1870s agricultural depression, by the late 19th century, the term was also applied to peers such as the Duke of Westminster who lived on landed estates. The book series Burkes Landed Gentry recorded the members of this class, successful burghers often used their accumulated wealth to buy country estates, with the aim of establishing themselves as landed gentry. Knights, originally a rank, this status was increasingly awarded to civilians as a reward for service to the Crown. Holders have the right to be addressed as Sir as are baronets, but unlike baronet, Esquires, originally men aspiring to knighthood, were the principal attendants on a knight. After the Middle Ages the title of Esquire - Esq. - became an honour that could be conferred by the Crown, gentlemen, possessors of a social status recognised as a separate title by the Statute of Additions of 1413. Generally men of birth or rank, good social standing, and wealth. The term landed gentry, although used to mean nobility. Once identical, eventually these terms became complementary, in the sense that their definitions began to fill in parts of what the other lacked, the historical 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, the phrase landed gentry referred in particular to the untitled members of the landowning upper class. The most stable and respected form of wealth has historically been land, the primary meaning of landed gentry encompasses those members of the land owning classes who are not members of the peerage. It was a designation, one belonged to the landed gentry if other members of that class accepted one as such. However, during the 19th century, as the new rich of the Industrial Revolution became more and more numerous and politically powerful, from the late 16th-century, the gentry emerged as the class most closely involved in politics, the military and law. It provided the bulk of Members of Parliament, with many gentry families maintaining political control in a locality over several generations. Owning land was a prerequisite for suffrage in county constituencies until the Reform Act 1832, until then, Members of the landed gentry were upper class, this was a highly prestigious status. Particular prestige was attached to those who inherited landed estates over a number of generations and these are often described as being from old families. Titles are often considered central to the class, but this is certainly not universally the case
Mr and Mrs Andrews (1748-49) by Thomas Gainsborough, a couple from the landed gentry, though in fact their wealth was derived from sources including textiles, foreign trade and moneylending, and had only very recently been invested in land. National Gallery, London.
Typical entry in Burke's Landed Gentry (from Volume 2 of the 1898 edition).