Gentry

   Other than the PEERAGE, no social class in fifteenth-century England was more actively involved in the WARS OF THE ROSES than the gentry.
   The English gentry consisted of nontitled landholders who exercised extensive political and social influence in their localities. Although they stood below the peerage in terms of political power, social position, and economic resources, they formed the backbone of the military forces that titled peers led into battle. The gentry were subdivided into knights, esquires, and mere gentry—categories based roughly on income and social status. As knights of the shire, and increasingly as representatives for the towns, the gentry comprised the greater part of the House of Commons. As the century progressed, the gentry served more frequently on the royal COUNCIL and in important COURT and household offices. By the late fifteenth century, the total number of gentlemen of all subclasses probably stood at 2,000 to 3,000 persons.
   As the natural leaders in their counties, the gentry usually could not avoid participation in the civil wars. Almost all gentlemen were linked by family ties or long traditions of service to the king or a local nobleman. Many gentlemen holding offices in the household of HENRY VI, or in the households of Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU or Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER, fought for the house of LANCASTER, while many members of families that had long served the house of YORK, like William HASTINGS, Lord Hastings, fought for Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, and his sons. Gentlemen who were paid RETAINERS of a particular nobleman (see Bastard Feudalism), or who hailed from a region where a particular noble or family was dominant, as the NEVILLE FAMILY was in parts of the north, risked losing their income, or worse, by refusing their lord’s call to arms. However, self-interest and ambition led some gentlemen to ignore ties of kinship or service and switch sides or refuse to fight. The retainers of George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, grew increasingly reluctant to follow the duke through his frequent changes of coat, and otherwise loyal Percy retainers ignored the summons of Henry PERCY, fourth earl of Northumberland, to fight for EDWARD IV in 1471—too many of their male relatives had died fighting against Edward at the Battle of TOWTON in 1461. The severe penalties that accompanied defeat also persuaded gentlemen to refuse, delay, or limit participation. Almost 200 Welsh gentlemen fell at the Battle of EDGECOTE in 1469, and the Yorkists executed ten gentlemen after the Battle of MORTIMER’S CROSS in 1461 and almost thirty after the Battle of HEXHAM in 1464. Besides death in battle or execution afterward, gentlemen also risked confiscation of their estates. Under Edward IV, PARLIAMENT passed bills of ATTAINDER against ninety-three gentlemen, and under RICHARD III seventy gentlemen were attainted for involvement in BUCKINGHAM’S REBELLION in 1483. The wars inflicted heavy losses on the gentry, especially among wealthier members of the class.
   Further Reading: Carpenter, Christine, Locality and Polity: A Study of Warwickshire Landed Society, 1401-1499 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Pollard, A. J.,“The Richmondshire Community of Gentry during the Wars of the Roses,” in Charles Ross, ed., Patronage, Pedigree and Power in Later Medieval England (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton, 1979), pp. 37–59; Pugh,T. B.,“The Magnates, Knights and Gentry” in S. B. Chrimes,C.D. Ross, and Ralph A. Griffiths, eds., Fifteenth-Century England, 1399-1509, 2d ed. (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton, 1995), pp. 86–128; Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

Synonyms:
, (between the nobility and the vulgar)


Look at other dictionaries:

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