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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Esquire (abbreviated Esq.) is a term of British origin (ultimately from Latin scutarius in the sense of shield bearer via Old French "esquier"), referring only to males, and used to denote a high but indeterminate social status. Esquire is cognate with the word squire, which originally meant an apprentice or assistant to a knight. Relics of this origin can still be found today associated with the word Esquire. For example in the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem 'Esquire' is today the most junior grade of membership.



The most common occurrence of term Esquire today is the conferral as the suffix ""Esq."" in order to pay an informal compliment to a male recipient by way of implying gentle birth. Today there remain respected protocols, especially in the US, for identifying those to whom it is thought most proper that the suffix should be given in very formal or in official circumstances. The social rank of Esquire is that above gentlemen. 19th century tables of precedences further distinguished between esquires by birth and esquires by office (and likewise for gentlemen).[citation needed]. Today however the term gentleman is rarely found in official tables of precedence and when it is invariably simply means a man. One extinct English usage of the term was to distinguish between men of the upper and lower gentry, who were "esquires" and "gentlemen" respectively (between, for example, "Thomas Smith, Esq." and "William Jones, Gent."). A late example of this distinction is in the list of subscribers to The History of Elton, by the Rev. Rose Fuller Whistler, published in 1882, which clearly distinguishes between subscribers designated Mr (another way of indicating gentlemen) and those allowed Esquire.

According to one typical definition[1], esquires in English law included:

  • The eldest sons of knights, and their eldest sons in perpetual succession
  • The eldest sons of younger sons of peers, and their eldest sons in perpetual succession (children of peers already had higher precedence)
  • Esquires created by letters patent or other investiture, and their eldest sons
  • Esquires by virtue of their offices, as Justices of the Peace and others who bear any office of trust under the Crown
  • Esquires of knights constituted at their investiture
  • Foreign noblemen
  • Persons who are so styled under the Royal sign manual (officers of the Armed Forces of or above the rank of Captain in the Army or its equivalent)
  • Barristers (but not Solicitors)

A slightly later source[2] defines the term as

Esquire — A rank next below that of Knight. Besides those Esquires who are personal attendants of Knights of Orders of Knighthood, this title is held by all attendants on the person of the Sovereign, and all persons holding the Sovereign's commission being of military rank not below Captain; also, by general concession, by Barristers at Law, Masters of Arts and Bachelors of Law and Physic.

However, formal definitions such as these were proposed because there was, in reality, no fixed criterion distinguishing those designated Esquire: it was essentially a matter of impression as to whether a person qualified for this status. William Segar, Garter King of Arms (the senior officer of arms at the College of Arms), wrote in 1602: "And who so can make proofe, that his Ancestors or himselfe, have had Armes, or can procure them by purchase, may be called Armiger or Esquier." Honor military, and civill (1602; lib. 4, cap. 15, p. 228). (By Armes he referred to a coat of arms; it is not clear from this quotation whether Segar made a distinction between esquires and gentlemen.)

Although Esquire is the English translation of the French Ecuyer, the latter indicated legal membership in the nobilities of ancien régime France and contemporaneous Belgium, whereas an esquire belongs to the British gentry rather than to its nobility. Ecuyer in French (11th to 14th century) means Horseman, or Squire, i.e. a Knight, or a knight in training (Squire), age 14 to 21.

Modern British usage

The breadth of Esquire (as Esq.) had become universal in the United Kingdom by the late 20th century, for example being applied by some banks to all men who did not have a grander title. Although the College of Arms continues to restrict use of the word Esquire in official grants of arms to a limited set (smaller even than that outlined by the list above), it uses the term Esquire without restriction in addressing correspondence. Many people in the United Kingdom no longer perceive any distinction between "Mr" and "Esquire" at all so that, in everyday usage, a distinction is very rarely intended.

To be used with the name in initial format (e.g., K.S. Smith, Esq.) it is still used by many offices of the Chairman in business and also many traditional carriage trade businesses such as Christie's and Berry Bros. & Rudd. This rather old-fashioned usage is generally employed to imply that the addressee would be of the gentry by the mere fact of the sender's interaction when addressing those without another, higher, rank or title. British men invited to Buckingham Palace receive their invitations in an envelope with the suffix Esq. after their names while men of foreign nationalities instead have the prefix Mr (women are addressed as Miss, Ms, or Mrs).[citation needed] The same practice applies for other post from the palace (e.g., to employees etc.).[3]

United States

In the United States, the suffix Esq. is most commonly encountered in use among individuals licensed to practice law.[4] This usage applies to both male and female lawyers.[5] The term Esquire is assumed by the legal profession, and has not been awarded to it by any government or authority.

As a matter of custom, the suffix Esq. is not used when referring to sitting judges, who are members of the bench rather than members of the bar, and are prohibited from practicing law in most United States jurisdictions. Judges will generally be referred to with the prefix The Honorable (abbreviated Hon.) as a title of respect. In some jurisdictions, it is also customary to refer to attorneys who are members of that jurisdiction's bar with the title Hon. as such attorneys are officers of the court.

These legal associations in America, although strong, have not completely blotted out the unmarked use of "esquire" in the modern British fashion, as an honorific simply an alternative to Mister (Mr.). In some states, however, using the term deceptively (in a manner that might lead others to assume you are licensed to practice law in that state) can be used as evidence of unauthorized practice of law.[6]

The form of address Esq. is not used to refer to oneself. It is used only when the reference is in the third person, such as addressing an envelope, making a formal introduction, or on business letterhead. Esq. is never used with any prenominal form of address, such as Dr., Mr., or Ms.. Thus, John Smith, Esq. or Mr. John Smith would be correct, but Mr. John Smith, Esq. would be incorrect.[7]

When addressing a person who has an academic degree or other post-nominal professional designation, such as a Certified Public Accountant, a writer may use the post-nominal designation after the Esq. For example, an attorney who is also an accountant could be addressed as James A. Smith, Esq., CPA. Likewise, an attorney who is a Doctor of Medicine could be styled as Dr. Jane Kelly, or Jane Kelly, Esq., M.D., or, if a holder of both degrees (some states do not require attorneys to hold a J.D. degree in order to practice law), Jane Kelly, Esq., M.D., J.D., when referred to in the third person, but never Dr. Jane Kelly, Esq.[8]

Similarly, when addressing social correspondance to a commissioned officer of the United States Foreign Service, Esquire may be used as a complimentary title. While the abbreviated Esq. is correct, Esquire is typically written in full when addressing a diplomat. [9] [10] If any other titles are used on the same line, Esquire is omitted.

Some fraternal groups use the title of Esquire. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks uses the title of Esquire for an appointed office position.[11] One appendant body in Freemasonry also uses Esquire as a degree title[12].

In India

Before 1947, the term Esquire was used by most senior government officers, especially the former members of the Indian Civil Service and the rest of the higher services of the Imperial Civil Services. The term was used by members of the anglicised segments of the Indian society who could join the government services. It was mostly used by government officials who could claim to have received their education in England, especially in either Oxford or Cambridge University, or had become Barristers in London.


  1. ^ Burn, Richard; Chitty, J.; Black, Philip (1975, reprint of the 1831 edition) The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer, pages 884–885; see also [1], pages 540–541
  2. ^ Boutell, Charles (1899) English Heraldry, page 120; see also [2], page 120
  3. ^ Hardman, Robert (2007-11-29). "Fountain of Honour". Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work. Druck, Wemding, Germany: Ebury Press. pp. 121. ISBN 978-0-09191-842-2. "British men have 'Esq.' after their name [...] whereas all men from overseas are called 'Mr'" 
  4. ^ Thompson, Kathryn. Tussle Over Titles, ABA Journal, January 2006.
  5. ^ Jones, Brenda. Forms of Address Including Use of "Esquire", Beeson Law Library Newsletter, Cumberland School of Law, February 2, 2002.
  6. ^ Ex. Rules of the Supreme Court of Arizona, Rule 31(a)(2)(B)(2).
  7. ^ Everyday Etiquette, The Emily Post Institute, last accessed September 18, 2008.
  8. ^ Forms of address chart.xls
  9. ^ [3]
  10. ^ [4]
  11. ^ Austin Lodge No 201 BPOE 2007-2008 Committees
  12. ^ York Rite Allied Invitational Bodies

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ESQUIRE (O. Fr. escuyer, Mod. Fr. ecuyer, derived through the form escudier from Med. Lat. scutarius, " shield-bearer"), originally the attendant on a knight, whose helm, shield and lance he carried at the tournament or in the field of battle. The esquire ranked immediately below the knight bachelor, and his office was regarded as the apprentice stage of knighthood. The title was regarded as one of function, not of birth, and was not hereditary. In time, however, its original significance was lost sight of, and it came to be a title of honour, implying a rank between that of knight and valet or gentleman, as it technically still remains. Thus in the later middle ages esquire (armiger) was the customary description of holders of knight's fees who had not taken up their knighthood, whence the surviving custom of entitling the principal landowner in a parish "the squire" (see Squire). Camden, at the close of the 16th century, distinguished four classes entitled to bear the style: (1) The eldest sons of knights, and their eldest sons, in perpetual succession; (2) the eldest sons of the younger sons of peers, and their eldest sons, in like perpetual succession; (3) esquires created by royal letters patent or other investiture, and their eldest sons; (4) esquires by office, e.g. justices of the peace and others who bear any office of trust under the crown. To these the writer in the 3rd edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1797) added Irish peers and the eldest sons of British peers, who, though they bear courtesy titles, have in law only the right to be styled esquires. Officers of the king's courts, and of the royal household, counsellors at law and justices of the peace he described as esquires only "by reputation"; and justices of the peace have the title only as long as they are in commission; while certain heads of great landed families are styled "esquires" by prescription. "But the meaner ranks of people," he adds indignantly, "who know no better, do often basely prostitute this title; and, to the great confusion of all rank and precedence, every man who makes a decent appearance, far from thinking himself in any way ridiculed by finding the superscription of his letters thus decorated, is fully gratified by such an address." It is clear, however, that the title of esquire was very loosely used at a much earlier date. On this point Selden is somewhat scornfully explicit. "To whomsoever, either by blood, place in the State or other eminency, we conceive some higher attribute should be given, than that sole Title of Gentleman, knowing yet that he hath no other honorary title legally fixed upon him, we usually style him an Esquire, in such passages as require legally that his degree or state be mentioned; as especially in Indictments and Actions whereupon he may be outlawed. Those of other nations who are Barons or great Lords in their own Countries, and no knights, are in legal proceedings stiled with us, Esquires only. Some of our greatest Heralds have their divisions of Esquires applied to this day. I leave them as I see them, where they may easily be found." Coke, too, says. that every one is entitled to be termed esquire who has the legal right to call himself a gentleman (2. Institutes, 688).

At the present time the following classes are re cognized as esquires on occasions of ceremony or for legal purposes: - (1) All sons of peers and lords of parliament during their fathers' lives, and the younger sons of such peers, &c., after their fathers' deaths; the eldest sons of peers' younger sons, and their eldest sons for ever. (2) Noblemen of all other nations. (3) The eldest sons of baronets and knights. (4) Persons bearing arms and the title of esquire by letters patent. (5) Esquires of the Bath and their eldest sons. (6) Barristers-at-law. (7) Justices of the peace and mayors while in commission or office. (8) The holders of any superior office under the crown. (9) Persons styled esquires by the sovereign in their patents, commissions or appointments.' (10) Attorneys in colonies where the functions of counsel and attorney are united (in England solicitors are "gentlemen," not "esquires").

In practice, however, the title of esquire, now to all intents and purposes meaningless, is given to any one who "can bear the port, charge and countenance of a gentleman." The word has followed the same course as that of "gentleman", and for very similar reasons. It is still not customary in Great Britain to address e.g. a well-to-do person engaged in trade as esquire at his shop; it would be offensive not to do so at his private residence. In America, on the other hand, the use of the word "esquire" is practically obsolete, "Mr" ("Mister" or ."Master," at one time the title special to a "gentleman") being the general form of address.

See Selden, Titles of Honor (1672); Camden, Britannia (ed. London, 1594); Coke, Institutes; Enc. of the Laws of England, s. "Esquire"; Du Cange, Glossarium (ed. 1886), s. "Scutarius," "Scutifer" and "Armiger"; New English Dictionary, s. "Esquire." (W. A. P.)

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