Squire: Wikis

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The English word squire comes from the Old French escuier (modern French écuyer), itself derived from the Late Latin scutarius ("shield bearer"), in medieval or Old English a scutifer. The Classical Latin equivalent was armiger, "arms bearer". The term has evolved in its uses, referring in the Middle Ages to a trainee knight, after that to the leader of an English village, and currently as a term of address.

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Knights in training

A squire was originally a young man who aspired to the rank of knighthood. A squire was the second stage to becoming a knight, after serving first as a page. One became a squire at the age of 14. As part of his development to that end, he served an existing knight as an attendant or shield carrier. The squire would sometimes carry the knight's flag to battle with his master. If he proved his loyalty in battle, he would have a dubbing, an official ceremony to become a knight. However, during the Middle Ages the rank of the squire came to be recognized in its own right, and once knighthood ceased to be conferred by any but the monarch, it was no longer to be assumed that a squire would in due course progress to be a knight. The connection between a squire and any particular knight also ceased to exist, as did any shield-carrying duties.

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The typical duties of a squire included:

  • Carrying the knight's armor, shield, and sword,
  • Holding any prisoners the knight takes,
  • Rescuing the knight should the knight be taken prisoner,
  • Ensuring an honorable burial of the knight in the event of his death,
  • Replacing the knight's sword if it was broken or dropped,
  • Replacing the knight's horse with a new horse or the squire's should the horse be injured or killed,
  • Dressing the knight in his armor,
  • Carrying the knight's flag,
  • Protecting the knight if needed
  • Taking care of the knights horses
  • Accompanying their Knight to tournaments and during the time of war to the battlefield
  • Ensuring the armor and weapons of the knight were in good order

In literature

The young King Arthur serves as Sir Kay's squire in the traditional tale of the sword in the stone that appears in literary works including Le Morte d'Arthur and The Once and Future King. One of the pilgrim-storytellers in The Canterbury Tales is a squire whose father is the knight who also tells a tale. In Cervantes's Don Quixote, the babbling Sancho Panza serves as squire of the deluded Don Quixote.

Village leader

In English village life from the late 17th century through the early 20th century, there was often one principal family of gentry, owning much of the land and living in the largest house, maybe the manor house. The head of this family was often called "the squire."

Squires were gentlemen with a coat of arms and were often related to peers. Many could claim descent from knights and had been settled in their inherited estates for hundreds of years. The squire usually lived at the village manor house and owned an estate comprising the village, with the villagers being his tenants. If the squire "owned the living" (i.e. -- "was patron") of the parish church—and he often did—he would choose the rector, a role often filled by a younger son of the squire. Some squires also became the local rector themselves and were known as squarsons—a portmanteau of the words squire and parson. The squire would also have performed a number of important local duties, in particular that of justice of the peace or Member of Parliament.

Such was the power of the squires at this time that modern historians have created the term squirearchy. Politically, during the 19th century, squires tended to be Tories whereas the greatest landlords tended to be Whigs.

The position of squire was traditionally associated with occupation of the manor house, which would often itself confer the dignity of squire. It is unclear how widely the village squire may still be said to survive today; but where it does, the role is likely more dependent upon a recognition of good manners, lineage and long family association rather than land, which, while relevant, is nowadays likely to be considerably smaller than in former years due to high post-war death duties and the prohibitive costs associated with maintaining large country houses.

In Scotland, whilst Esquire and Gentleman are technically correctly used at the Court of the Lord Lyon, the title Laird, in place of squire, is more common. Moreover, in Scotland Lairds append their territorial designation to their names as was traditionally done on the continent of Europe (e.g., Donald Cameron of Lochiel). The territorial designation fell into disuse in England early on, save for peers of the realm.

In literature

The later form of squire as a gentleman appears in much English literature, for example in the form of Squire Trelawney in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. William Makepeace Thackeray's depiction of a squire in Vanity Fair showed the class to be lecherous, ill-educated, badly mannered relics of an earlier age. However, he clearly shows their control of the life of the parish. Others include Squire Hamley in Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters and Squire Allworthy (based on Ralph Allen) in the novel Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, who was himself a squire and magistrate.

Term of address

The formal term "esquire"

In the post-mediaeval world, the title of esquire came to belong to all men of the higher gentry; an esquire ranked socially above a gentleman but below a knight. In the modern world, where all men are assumed to be gentlemen, the term has correspondingly often been extended (albeit only in very formal writing) to all men without any higher title. It is used post-nominally, usually in abbreviated form: "Thomas Smith, Esq.", for example.

In the United States, this style is most common among attorneys, borrowing from the English tradition whereby all barristers were styled "Esquires". (Solicitors were only entitled to the style "Mr".) In earlier years in the U.S. the title squire was given to a Justice of the Peace, for example Squire Jones. It was also used to mean Justice of the Peace as in the example "He was taken before the squire."

The linguistic and social development of squire is paralleled by that of the German junker, which originally meant "young lord" and denoted the poorer and unimportant part of the aristocracy, but "went up in the world" in much the same time as squire did in England.

The slang term "squire"

The term 'squire' is sometimes used, particularly in cockney slang, by men when addressing another man. In this context it is interchangeable with other slang terms such as 'mate', 'pal' or 'chum', but possibly less familiar (i.e. used when the person addressed isn't known to the speaker) and/or when there is an implied subordinate relationship to the person being addressed. This usage crops up frequently in comedy sketches by Monty Python, et al. Example: "Yes squire, what can I do for you?".


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SQUIRE, an abbreviated form of "esquire" (q.v.), originally with the same meaning of an attendant on a knight. In this form, however, the word has developed certain special connotations. Thus in England it is used partly as a courtesy title, partly as a description of the chief landed proprietor, usually the lord of the manor, in a parish the lesser proprietors being "gentlemen" or yeomen. In some parts also it is not uncommon for the title of "squire" to be given to small freeholders of the yeoman class, known in Ireland half contemptuously as "squireens." In the United States the title has also survived as applied to justices of the peace, local judges and other dignitaries in country districts and towns. In another sense "squire" has survived in its sense of "attendant," "to squire" being used so early as Chaucer's day as synonymous with "to wait upon." A "squire of dames" is thus a man very attentive to women and much in their company. Footpads and highwaymen were termed sometimes "squires of the pad" as well as "gentlemen of the road."


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