The Style of Esquire

 
Joseph McMillan
 
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Joseph McMillan
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19 April 2015 11:39
 

I finally found this fairly authoritative reference to English practice during the colonial period, from Blackstone’s Commentaries, bk 1, pt 2, ch 12:

"These [peers, vidames [obsolete], baronets, various sorts of knights], sir Edward Coke says, are all the names of dignity in this kingdom, esquires and gentlemen being only names of worship. But before these last the heralds rank all colonels, serjeants at law, and doctors in the three learned professions."

 

The edition I’m looking at online, which is St. George Tucker’s 1st American edition, clarifies this last sentence in a table of precedence, which lists (well down the order) "...baronets’ younger sons, knights’ younger sons, colonels, serjeants at law, doctors, esquires, gentlemen, yeomen, tradesmen, artificers, labourers." I don’t know whether the table was in Blackstone’s original, but it is cited to various sources, all apparently early 18th century.

 

Doctors in the "three learned professions" would be doctors of medicine (M.D.), doctors of laws (LL.D.), doctors of civil law (D.C.L.), and doctors of divinity (D.D.). The distinction between LL.D. and D.C.L. was essentially whether the degree was granted by Cambridge or Oxford respectively; either was the qualification to practice as an advocate in the civil ("Roman") law courts—probate, admiralty, and [by then obsolescent] chivalry.  The Archbishop of Canterbury could, and still can, award these degrees and some other degrees as well, independently of any university.

 

Blackstone goes on:

 

"Esquires and gentlemen are confounded together by sir Edward Coke, who observes, that every esquire is a gentleman, and a gentleman is defined to be one qui arma gerit, who bears coat armour, the grant of which adds gentility to a man’s family…. It is, indeed, a matter somewhat unsettled, what constitutes the distinction, or who is a real esquire: for it is not an estate, however large, that confers this rank upon it’s [sic] owner. Camden, who was himself a herald, distinguishes them the most accurately; and he reckons up four sorts of them: 1. The eldest sons of knights, and their eldest sons, in perpetual succession; 2. The eldest sons of younger sons of peers, and their eldest sons in like perpetual succession; both which species of esquires sir Henry Spelman entitles armigeri natalitii. 3. Esquires created by the king’s letters patent, or other investiture; and their eldest sons. 4. Esquires by virtue of their offices; as justices of the peace, and others who bear any office of trust under the crown. To these may be added the esquires of knights of the bath, each of whom constitutes three at his installation: and all foreign, nay, Irish peers; for not only these, but the eldest sons of peers of Great Britain, though frequently titular lords, are only esquires in the law, and must be so named in all legal proceedings."

 

Note that armiger at this time was used only as the Latin translation of esquire, and that armigeri natalitii therefore means "esquires by birth."

 

Cowel’s Law Dictionary (London, 1708 ) gives the same categories as Blackstone, adding "the four Esquires of the King’s Body… Those that serve the King in any Worshipful Calling, such as are created Esquires by the King, with a Collar of SS of Silver; the chief of some ancient Families are likewise Esquires by Prescription… and Utter-Barristers.

 

An "utter barrister" is what would now be called a "junior barrister," i.e., one who has not been appointed either a King’s/Queen’s Counsel or a serjeant at law (the latter title having been abolished in the 19th century). KC/QCs and serjeants at law would have been "esquires" within the category of holding offices of trust under the Crown, so Cowel’s inclusion of "utter barristers" means that, in his scheme, if not in Blackstone’s, all barristers were esquires.

 
zebulon
 
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19 April 2015 17:32
 

liongam;103993 wrote:

Max,

At the time of which you speak Lords of the Manor in England and Wales as well as Lords of the Manor or their equivalent in the thirteen colonies and those others who were considered ‘gentry’ would have in main been undoubtedly armigerous (if would be unusual if they were not) so would have been accorded the style/appellation of Esquire and in case they were not deemed be to of the rank of Esquire they certainly would been accorded the style/appellation of Gentleman and therefore allowed the armorial incidents of an Esquire/Gentleman, ie: a closed helm whether it be a tilting helm, barrel/pot helm or a helmet with a closed visor.

 

With every good wish

 

John


yes, that’s correct

 
zebulon
 
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19 April 2015 17:37
 

liongam;104049 wrote:

According ‘Honours and Titles’ published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO), it states that the style of ‘Esquire’ is ‘Legally it is a ‘title, honour or dignity’ pertaining hereditarily to the eldest sons and male successors of knights and younger sons of peers; also personally (by reason of office) to military officers of and above the rank of Captain*; Queen’s Counsel; Royal Academicians; Justices of the Peace; and persons in positions of trust in the service of the Crown’.


Thank you for this succinctly-presented and topical note. In other words, it appears that -


McMillan wrote:

use of esquire by attorneys reflects continuity of meaning from 17th century England


- is not a correct statement, as previously noted.

 
zebulon
 
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19 April 2015 17:44
 

Joseph McMillan;103999 wrote:

Follow me here; this is really complicated, advanced logic.


Certainly you can make the choice to present yourself, and word your contributions to the forum, with a bit more grace than this? While I can’t speak for others, I know I would appreciate not being treated to this kind of sneering sarcasm during discussions. Thanks.

 
Joseph McMillan
 
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Joseph McMillan
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19 April 2015 18:15
 

zebulon;104106 wrote:

While I can’t speak for others, I know I would appreciate not being treated to this kind of sneering sarcasm during discussions. Thanks.


You are quite right, and I apologize for stooping to that level.  I would welcome a moderators’ decision to revise that introductory sentence of that post.

 
Joseph McMillan
 
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19 April 2015 18:27
 

zebulon;104105 wrote:

Thank you for this succinctly-presented and topical note. In other words, it appears that -

 

 

- is not a correct statement, as previously noted.


It is not clear how a statement of the College of Arms current policy can have a bearing on whether the use of "esquire" by lawyers in the United States demonstrates continuity of practice since 17th century England.

 

I have given evidence from a 1708 source to support the idea that all barristers were called esquire by that time, which is only eight years from the end of the 17th century.  I suppose I can keep looking for a quotation from a book published prior to 1701, but frankly I’m just as happy to say "continuity of meaning from the opening years of the 18th century in England, if not before."

 

Circling back to the key point:  all American attorneys must be admitted to the bar as a precondition of practicing law.  The term "admitted to the bar" comes to us from England, and is the rite of passage that makes one a barrister.  At independence (well after the publication of Cowel’s Dictionary of Law), those qualified to plead at the bar of the King’s courts, in America as in England, were called "esquire," whether technically entitled to it or not.  Those qualified to plead at the bar of the state courts after Independence—mostly the same men who had been qualified to plead at the bar of the King’s courts a few months before—continued to be accorded the same distinction.

 

How is this not a reflection of continuity?  Where’s the break that makes the modern usage a revival instead of a survival?

 
Michael F. McCartney
 
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19 April 2015 19:05
 

Can’t speak for others, but I do find all this complicated - how many Esquires can dance on the head of a pin, or maybe that’s just on my pinhead…

The note that at or somewhere near the colonial period under discussion the titles "esquire" and "armiger" were considered essentially interchangeable ranks, which I’m sure I’ve read in the past, reminds me why I’m uncomfortably rankiled by the terms "armiger" and "armigerous" in American armory.  Granted that this equivalency is obsolete now, it’s still IMO likely to suggest or imply a claim of specialness,  or at least to be perceived as such, based on the mere possession or use of arms.

 

I accept that many if not most using those terms nowadays don’t intend to convey or imply such a claim, but the terms do carry some etymological baggage.  And in some cases - present company of course excepted - I have my suspicions… smile

 

But that’s likely just me.

 
zebulon
 
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19 April 2015 19:38
 

Joseph McMillan;104108 wrote:

It is not clear how a statement of the College of Arms current policy can have a bearing on whether the use of "esquire" by lawyers in the United States demonstrates continuity of practice since 17th century England.

I have given evidence from a 1708 source to support the idea that all barristers were called esquire by that time, which is only eight years from the end of the 17th century.


"everyone who was a barrister was styled esquire" ≠ "everyone who was styled esquire was a barrister"

 

Again, and as noted by others,


Joseph McMillan wrote:

use of esquire by attorneys reflects continuity of meaning from 17th century England


is not correct.

 
Joseph McMillan
 
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19 April 2015 20:04
 

zebulon;104110 wrote:

"everyone who was a barrister was styled esquire" ≠ "everyone who was styled esquire was a barrister"


Yes, this is what I said in the post to which you objected.

 

I’ve never, ever said that all esquires were barristers. I just quoted, at length, sources listing all the categories of people who were considered esquires, most of whom were not barristers.

 

That we Americans stopped using the term for government officials, military officers, etc, etc, at some point reflects discontinuity of usage.

 

Consistently using it for lawyers from colonial times to today is continuity.

 

This seems so elementary. If that’s not adequate to explain my case, I give up.

 
zebulon
 
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19 April 2015 20:20
 

Joseph McMillan;104111 wrote:

Yes, this is what I said in the post to which you objected.

I’ve never, ever said that all esquires were barristers. I just quoted, at length, sources listing all the categories of people who were considered esquires, most of whom were not barristers.

 

That we Americans stopped using the term for government officials, military officers, etc, etc, at some point reflects discontinuity of usage.

 

Consistently using it for lawyers from colonial times to today is continuity.

 

This seems so elementary. If that’s not adequate to explain my case, I give up.


That’s your right.

 
liongam
 
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20 April 2015 09:10
 

Quote:

reminds me why I’m uncomfortably rankiled by the terms "armiger" and "armigerous" in American armory.


Dear Michael,

 

I cannot see why you are at all discomforted by the terms of ‘armiger’ and ‘armigerous’ within American armory.  However much (and please note no offence is implied or intended here) all American citizens are deemed equal under the terms of your Constitution, all citizens are differentiated by birth (affluent or not), education (high school, private, non-university, university), residence (apartment, house, farm, ranch, etc), military service (regular or reserve, non-commissioned or commissioned), type of car one drives (Buick or Rolls Royce) and so on.  There are many such nuances that set us apart from our fellow citizens otherwise we would all be clones of one another.  Differences are what make the human condition both interesting, diverse and fascinating.  When such differences exist one should accept them as a given.  The only caveat should be that one does not ‘crow’ about them or present oneself as superior to those lacking such achievements or merits.  But on the other hand one should neither deny or devalue one’s achievements.  Let them stand on their own merits.

 

To the question of the use of the terms of ‘armiger’ and ‘armigerous’ with the corpus of American armory:

 

1) ‘Armiger’ at its most simple describes an individual as bearing arms.

 

2) ‘Armigerous’ describes the state of bearing arms.

 

Therefore, whereever you reside be it within a monarchical or republican system of government or whether there is official/state recognition of arms or not, if you bear arms you are deemed both an armiger and armigerous.  There is no intimation of rank in the use of these terms as such and can therefore be employed by American citizens without fear or favour or, indeed, rancour.

 

Of course, there will be undoubtedly, the unfortunate perception amongst many if you have arms and use them you may be considered to be ‘getting above your station’ and by virtue of bearing arms you are declaring yourself that you are in some way socially superior, but this is not fault of the armiger it is the fault of those who think that way through ignorance of matters heraldic.  Otherwise, if heraldry, especially personal heraldry, is not used and displayed it will wither and die and become, sadly, an arcane and forgotten science.

 

With every good wish

 

John

 
Joseph McMillan
 
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20 April 2015 11:43
 

Another data point on who was or wasn’t an esquire in England at various times in history as well as where they ranked in the scheme of precedence, this one from Charles Boutell’s English Heraldry (1867), p. 299.  I don’t take Boutell as authoritative regarding the law of who was or wasn’t officially an esquire, but he was a knowledgeable observer of actual practice on such matters during his time.  It’s a much more extensive list than in the 1708 law dictionary, which was in turn more extensive than Blackstone a few years later.

Following knights bachelor, Boutell lists (his capitalization and punctuation):


<ul class=“bbcode_list”>
<li>Serjeants-at-Law</li>
<li>Masters in Chancery and in Lunacy</li>
<li>Companions of the Various Orders.</li>
<li>Eldest Sons of the Younger Sons of Peers.</li>
<li>Eldest Sons of Baronets</li>
<li>Eldest Sons of Knights</li>
<li>Esquires to Knights of Orders</li>
<li>Esquires:—Including the Eldest Sons of the Eldest Sons of Viscounts and Barons, the eldest Sons of all the younger Sons of Peers, and their eldest Sons in perpetual Succession:  the younger Sons of Baronets: persons holding the Queen’s Commission, or who may be styled "Esquire" by the Queen in any Official Document: Members of the Royal Academy of Arts: Barristers at Law: Masters of Arts, and Bachelors of Law.</li>
<li>Clergymen.</li>
<li>Gentlemen.</li>
</ul>

 

 
Michael F. McCartney
 
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20 April 2015 15:02
 

"Masters .. in Lunacy" - not offered at UCLA, but might fit those majors which will likely never allow you to earn a living or even repay your educational loans smile

John - Esquire, while a bit pompous, in the US at least signifies a defined legal status based on personal effort and accomplishment - a demanding advanced degree and admission to the bar.

 

In contrast,  Armiger in the US strikes me as merely a pretentious anachronism linked to a hereditary symbol representing identity and kinship, not inherited social or legal standing.  Using arms is not a legal status, and does not represent any personal accomplishment or merit.  It [edit: i.e. the term "armiger"] was historically equivalent to the inherited varieties of Esquire which have no relevance or legitimacy in a small-r republican context.  IMO, in this context, it tends to discredit heraldry as an appropriate practice for Americans.

 

Even if we argue that despite the historic baggage, Armiger merely means "I use arms" the word serves no useful purpose.  Used in connection with an armorial display, it is redundant and thus unnecessary; and if used absent an armorial display, it serves no purpose other than boasting about something that in our context is not a legitimate reason to brag.

 

Anyway that’s how I see it; others may see it differently.  And of course none of this necessarily applies in any other countries, with different legal, historical and cultural systems

 
Joseph McMillan
 
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20 April 2015 15:37
 

My objection to "armiger," such as it is, is etymological and academic rather than philosophical or political.  Its modern use to mean someone who possesses a coat of arms creates enormous confusion when people apply it backward to the time when it was simply the Law Latin word for the Anglo-French esquire.

I was just looking at the consolidated edition of the Roll of Arms of the New England Heraldic Genealogical Society (worth the price, although the shipping charge is absurdly high) and found an example in the "additions and corrections" section in the back:


Quote:

John Stockman of Barford…was styled "Gent" as early as 1560 and "Armiger" by 1575.  Yet several indentures from 1582 show him sealing with a circular yeoman’s [i.e., non-armorial] seal…


The "yet" here implies puzzlement.  But being described as "armiger" in 1575 didn’t mean John Stockman had a coat of arms; it meant he was regarded as an esquire.  Perhaps he was a J.P. or held some other office, who knows?

 

Similarly, I’ve run across history/genealogy discussion boards in which people lament that they can’t place the fellow with the armorial bookplate labelled "Jacobus Tilghman, Armiger."  Richard, Matthew, James, even Tench Tilghman, but no Jacobus.  Well, no, of course not.  Jacobus is Latin for James, and Armiger is Latin for esquire.  The bookplate owner was James Tilghman, Esq, a prominent lawyer and public official.  So he wasn’t being redundant in labeling his coat of arms with the word "armiger"—just showing off his classical education.

 

All that said, I have to concede that the modern corruption of "armiger" serves the useful purpose of giving us a noun to refer to people who have heraldic coats of arms and I unfortunately can’t think of a better one.

 

But I agree with Mike that calling a modern family "armigerous" does seem to have snobbish connotations, whether the arms are granted, assumed, or fell from the sky.  I hate to be on Fox-Davies’s side in anything, but have to applaud his naming his book Armorial Families instead of Armigerous Families.

 
Joseph McMillan
 
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20 April 2015 15:47
 

Michael F. McCartney;104118 wrote:

"Masters .. in Lunacy" - not offered at UCLA,


At Berkeley, though, I would imagine.

 

The Masters in Lunacy were senior lawyers appointed by the Lord Chancellor of England to carry out his responsibilities vis-a-vis the mentally incompetent, such as competency and commitment hearings and oversight of treatment in insane asylums.

 

The term "master" in this case is the same as a "special master" in the U.S. court system, meaning a lawyer appointed to carry out some specific set of responsibilities delegated by a judge.