On the style of Gentleman and Esquire

From the Supplement to the Memorial of the Jersey Reform Committee to the Commissioners apppointed by Her Most Gracious Majesty to enquire into the civil, municipal, and ecclesiastical laws of Jersey and for other purposes, 1859, p. 39. The Jersey upper classes appropriate a Guernsey Order in Council, to ensure they are correctly addressed by the lower orders.

The 'aristocratic' classes of Guernsey also took issues of title very seriously. Originally, the title Ecuyer, or Esquire, seems to have been reserved for the Bailiff. The most influential and wealthiest inhabitants would, like French dukes, been adressed as Monsieur, or 'Sieur', and their wives as Madame, or Dame; but the debasement of these titles led to their searching for an alternative. Below, we see 16th-century Jurats addressed as Gentilshommes, in the Jersey style, apparently by then a long-standing arrangement (according to TWM de Guérin,¹ les gentilshommes in 1433 were the 'tenants in chief owing suit of court'). In the mid-17th century they took to calling themselves 'Messire;' 'Sieur' seems to have been the usual title of address equivalent to Seigneur, in as much as it was applied to the Gentilshommes, and at that period these were the Seigneurs of fiefs. As these titles themselves became degraded, they eventually settled on Ecuyer, or Esquire, on the Jersey model, though the connotation of Ecuyer is far grander than that of English Esquire; the next echelon (known then as Gentilshommes in Jersey) were then addressed as Sieur, and the skilled tradesman as Maître.² In 1786, no doubt owing to some confusion amongst the lower orders, they sought to make the title of Ecuyer official, and applicable only to those who were at least Captains of the local militia, that is to say, to themselves.

On the Style of Gentleman and Esquire.

By an Order in Council of the 19th July 1672, it is ordered that 'no inhabitant of the Island [Jersey] who hath or shall be styled a Gentleman or Esquire in any Order shall receive any advantage therefrom unless he can make out his title thereto by authentic testimony as is usually allowed.'³ This Order is disobeyed. In 1786, an Order in Council was issued granting the title of Esquire to all Officers in the Guernsey Militia who held the Commission of Captain and upwards. That Order did not extend to Jersey nor was there a similar one sent to this Island. But nonetheless our authorities were determined not to be outdone. They obtained a copy of the Order in Council, under the seal of the Island of Guernsey, which was presented to them by John Dumaresq, Esq., on the 8th November 1786,4 when they ordered that it should be registered on the rolls of the Court, in order that it might acquire its full and entire effect! Upon the popular error that it was the registration of an Order in Council that gave it force, they pretended that by this manoeuvre the Guernsey Order acquired force of law in Jersey. Since then Commissions in the Jersey Militia always grant the style of Gentleman or Esquire according to rank.

Ordonnance de la Cour Royale, 1546/7. Guernsey.

Chief Pleas after Christmas, held 17th January, 1546, Jean Herivel, Bailiff; present Nicolas Fouaschin, Thomas De Vic, Piers Martin, Jean Le Mesurier, Jean Effart, Nicolas Carey, Nicolas Blondel, Jean Martin, Jean Le Marchant, and Jean Le Feuvre, Jurats.

It is ordered by law that Jean Le Marchant and the heirs of Nicolas Le Marchant should take the title of Gentleman, with the rank of Gentleman, at all future Chief Pleas, as has always been the case.5

In 1614, Thomas Le Marchant wished to be called upon to attend Chief Pleas under the title of gentilhomme, 'au rang des gentilhommes,' referring to the preceding case, and appearing to claim right to the title of Gentleman as Seigneur of the fief of Vaugrart.

Edith Carey, in her book, 'The Channel Islands,' makes this observation concerning the title used for priests: 

In the Channel Islands, up to the Reformation, all ecclesiastics under the rank of a dean were invariably styled 'Sire,' probably as the French equivalent of the Latin dominus, by which term they were known in the more ancient deeds. The practice must have been the same in England, for in Shakespeare's Love's Labour Lost we find the curate is called 'Sir Nathaniel,' and ''Sir Oliver Martex' is the vicar in As You Like It, this prefix indicating that the priest, though not a University man, was ordained.


¹ TWM De Guérin considered the matter of titles and the exact physical constitution of the States of Guernsey in 'Notes on some old documents,' Transactions of the Guernsey Society of Natural Science, 1914.


'One modification of the language indicates social castes which are still maintained. If one is a common worthless sort of fellow, he is called Jean, for short; if a grade better, perhaps with his own cottage and pig, and some self-respect, he is addressed as Maitre Jean; a small farm, a couple of cows, and a better position generally, would entitle him to be called, Sieur Jean Marquand; he must have a comfortable property, and be a man of good standing in his parish, to be called Mess. Marquand; and it takes official dignity, or the best social position to entitle him to be called Monsieur Marquand. Years ago the bailiff was the only Monsieur in Guernsey.' From A Farmer's Vacation, 1873.

³ In the 17th century in Jersey, 'At the top of the tree were the Squirearchy, the Seigneurs.' Numbers then ranged from 100 to 130, perhaps about 600 including family members. 'They expected to be addressed by the name of their fiefs, Monsieur des Saumarès, Monsieur de Sotel, Monsieur de St Ouen. They spoke of themselves as the Noblesse, for in Jersey as in France, Nobility was considered to begin with the Ecuyer and not as in England with the Baron.' From N.V.L. Rybot, 'Social Life in Jersey in the early 17th century', Bull. Annuel de la Société Jersiaise, 1941 XIV (2), pp. 76 ff. The same applied in Guernsey; Pierre de Beauvoir, for example, was known as 'Monsieur des Granges,' or simply, 'des Granges.' Elie Brevint, Minister of Sark, writing in his Notebook in the first quarter of the 17th century, remarks that 'In Guernsey they give the title of Maître to the Jurats, whoever they are, so they say for example Mre Brehaut, Mre Febvre. In Sark they say honneste homme M. and N. principally when writing.'

4 Briefly reported in the Gazette de L'Isle de Jersey, 2nd December, 1786. It was accepted that commissions in the Guernsey militia were distributed almost entirely on class and familiy lines, so the official title of Ecuyer now merely reflected and reinforced existing social divisions. Neither the 1672 Jersey order nor the 1786 Guernsey Order in Council were considered important enough by the 19th-century editors of the relevant volumes of Acts and Orders to be included in them, so we cannot reproduce them here. (Before 1803 Orders in Council, which record those matters that have been dealt with by the Privy Council, are included in the relevant volumes of the Actes des Etats, which are available at the Library. The editor, Reverend George Lee, however, omitted this Order from their publication in 1907.)

5 'Les Plets Capitaux d'apres Nouell, tenus le xvije jour du moys de Janvier, l'an 1546, par Johan Haryvell, Baillif; presens à ceu Nicollas Fouaschin, Thomas Devic, Pieres Martin, Johan Le Mesurier, Johan Effart, Nicollas Careye, Nicollas Blondell, Johan Martin, Johan Le Marchant, et Johan Le Feyvre, Jurez. Il est regardé par Justice que Johan le Marchant et les hers Nicollas Le Marchant seront appelés comme gentilshommes, au renc des gentilshommes, à chescun Ciefs Plets, ainsy qui a esté acoustumé d'ansienneté.' From Recueil d'Ordonnances de la Cour Royale de l'Isle de Guernesey, ed. Robert MacCulloch, Vol. I: Smith Street, Guernsey, Etienne Barbet for the Guernsey States, 1852.

See: Actes des Etats de l'Ile de Guernesey, Vol. III. Actes des Etats de l'Ile de Jersey, 1524-1700; Société Jersiaise, 1897. Jean Dumaresq was very busy that year: see the Library's Copie d'une proposition faite aux états par Jean Dumaresq, Ésc. Connétable de la paroisse de S. Pierre: et logée au Greffe le 12 Août 1786, touchant le rétablissement des enquêtes dans l'isle de Jersey, en matières civiles, mixtes et criminelles.