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Gentleman

GENTLEMAN

GENTLEMAN. The word "gentle" is derived from the Latin word gentilis, an adjective meaning 'of or belonging to the same clan, stock, or race'. Throughout the early modern era noble birth would largely define the gentleman, but the ideal of gentlemanly behavior changed dramatically from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries.

From the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century, a gentleman was expected to be a warrior. Military service was the main source of ennoblement. The gentleman was to receive training in arms, and to engage in activities reflecting a martial quality. In the absence of combat, the gentleman engaged in hunting or tournaments. Private violence was acceptable within the community of nobles, who used it often to defend their honor. Recognition by peers was in many ways the foundation of noble identity.

The king was also a gentleman who adhered to the code of gentlemanly conduct. As a member of the society of nobles, he was considered the first among equals, or simply the most powerful of lords. Throughout the sixteenth century, kings were expected to lead troops into battle and engage in other pursuits related to combat such as hunting and tournaments.

By the seventeenth century, the martial aspect of gentlemanly behavior began to decline. The ideal gentleman was no longer a warrior but a courtier, although these roles often overlapped. The two ideals are represented in Baldassare Castiglione's Il Cortegiano (The courtier; 1528). Written in 1518, but enjoying enormous popularity throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Castiglione's book outlines the qualities of an ideal courtier: trained in arms and loyal to his prince, but also exhibiting noble birth, grace, and talent. Good manners, wit, and education became important attributes for a gentleman who increasingly resided at court rather than in his own domains.

A major factor in the transformation of the ideal of the gentleman was the rise of the state. This in turn was precipitated by changes in the technology of warfare. The "gunpowder revolution" ensured the obsolescence of the knight on horseback and the increased importance of the mass infantry. Whereas in the Middle Ages nobles could often afford to field armies against the king, by the sixteenth century, no noble could compete with the king's army, which was equipped and trained by means of taxation. In the newly created state, the king did not need as many nobles to fight for him; rather he needed bureaucrats and administrators to ensure the efficient mobilization of resources. That, more than noble valor, increasingly determined the outcome of war. Nobles filled lucrative offices in the state administration, spending less time in their feudal domains and more time at court. Here they retained their social prominence, but they declined in their political power in relation to the king. The king increasingly distanced himself from his fellow nobles through propaganda aimed at his glorification. By the late seventeenth century, most kings no longer led their troops into battle. The king hired non-nobles to government offices, sometimes rewarding them with titles of nobility. In order to distance themselves from these newly ennobled officials, the old nobility focused on their genealogies. Pedigree became more important than valor in the definition of a gentleman. However, the conflict between the new nobility and the old, as well as the conflict between the nobility and the king, has been downplayed by recent historians who stress that nobles had much to gain from the state. Life at court offered intellectual stimulation, the society of women, and a certain kind of political power that operated through networks of patronage.

Attendance at court required "civility," and the code of gentlemanly conduct placed a new emphasis on self-discipline. A proliferation of etiquette manuals occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, regulating behavior in a courtly environment. Claiming a monopoly on violence, the state no longer tolerated private violence between nobles. The gentleman distinguished himself through culture and refinement rather than through military prowess or political domination.

The nature of the gentleman changed again in the eighteenth century in response to a new economic reality: the capitalist economy. Whereas in the past the gentleman derived his income from land or government offices, by the eighteenth century the gentleman was permitted to engage in certain forms of trade. Thus nobles adapted to the new capitalist economy, while simultaneously maintaining their position at the top of the social and economic hierarchy.

In terms of culture, the seventeenth-century concern with "civility" gave way to the eighteenth-century emphasis on "sociability." Whereas civility dictated relations among people of unequal status in the hierarchical world of the court, sociability was a bond of friendship between equals. Sociability governed relationships outside the court, especially in the setting of the salon, a social environment often dominated by women. Increasingly, the ideal gentleman inhabited private spaces untouched by the state. There was a new emphasis on intimacy that appeared in the architecture of country houses. These reflected the individuality of their owners. Private rooms testified to an increased desire for private space. The courtier's proper appearance and conduct, so important in the seventeenth century, became less important than introspection and consciousness of self. This interiority is reflected in the rise of the novel, a genre made possible by the new emphasis on individuality.

A debate going back to the Italian Renaissance posed the question whether birth or virtue defined the true gentleman. The debate continued throughout the early modern era, despite major changes in the meaning of the word "virtue." Whether he exhibited superior valor, refinement, or sensitivity, the gentleman retained his position at the top of the cultural hierarchy throughout the early modern era.

See also Aristocracy and Gentry ; Class, Status, and Order ; Court and Courtiers ; Duel ; Estates and Country Houses ; Hunting .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ariès, Philippe, and Georges Duby, eds. A History of Private

Life. Vol. 3, Passions of the Renaissance. Edited by Roger Chartier. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, Mass., 1989.

Clark, Samuel. State and Status: The Rise of the State and

Aristocratic Power in Western Europe. Montreal, 1995.

Dewald, Jonathan. The European Nobility 14001800. Cambridge, U.K., 1996.

Duindam, Jeroen. Myths of Power: Norbert Elias and the

Early Modern European Court. Translated by Lorri Granger and Gerard T. Moran. Amsterdam, 1994.

Elias, Norbert. The Court Society. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. New York, 1983.

Schalk, Ellery. From Valor to Pedigree: Ideas of Nobility in

France in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Princeton, 1986.

Rebecca Boone

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"Gentleman." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Gentleman." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gentleman

gentleman

gent·le·man / ˈjentlmən/ • n. (pl. -men) 1. a chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man: he behaved like a perfect gentleman. ∎  a man of good social position, esp. one of wealth and leisure. ∎  (in the UK) a man of noble birth attached to a royal household. 2. a polite or formal way of referring to a man: opposite her an old gentleman sat reading. ∎  (gentlemen) used as a polite form of address to a group of men: “Can I help you, gentlemen?” ∎  used as a courteous designation for a male fellow member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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"gentleman." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"gentleman." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gentleman-1

gentleman

gentleman gentleman's agreement an arrangement or understanding which is based upon the trust of both or all parties, rather than being legally binding.

See also when Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?, it takes three generations to make a gentleman at generation, little gentleman in black velvet.

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"gentleman." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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gentleman

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"gentleman." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"gentleman." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/gentleman-0