AskDefine | Define esquire

Dictionary Definition



1 (Middle Ages) an attendant and shield bearer to a knight; a candidate for knighthood
2 a title of respect for a member of the English gentry ranking just below a knight; placed after the name [syn: Esq]

User Contributed Dictionary


Etymology 1

escuyer, escuier, properly, a shield-bearer, écuyer, (by apheresis) |, scutarius, from scutum, akin to Greek skin, hide, from a root meaning to cover; probably akin to English hide to cover. Compare equerry, escutcheon.


  1. a squire; a youth who in the hopes of becoming a knight attended upon a knight
  2. a lawyer
  3. a shield-bearer, but also applied to other attendants.
    • 1801: Joseph Strutt, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England - The office of the esquire consisted of several departments; the esquire for the body, the esquire of the chamber, the esquire of the stable, and the carving esquire; the latter stood in the hall at dinner, carved the different dishes, and distributed them to the guests.
  4. a male member of the gentry ranking below a knight
  5. an honorific sometimes placed after a man's name
    • , III-ii - I am Robert Shallow, sir; a poor esquire of the county, and one of the king's justices of the peace.
    • 1875 Herbert Broom and Edward Hadley, notes by William Wait, Commentaries on the laws of England, I-317 - 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 was thought to add gentility to a man's family. It is indeed a matter somewhat unsettled what constitutes the distinction, or who is a real esquire; for no estate, however large, per se confers this rank upon its owner.
  6. A gentleman who attends or escorts a lady in public.
Usage notes
  • In England this title is given to the eldest sons of knights, and the elder sons of the younger sons of peers and their eldest sons in succession, officers of the king's courts and of the household, barristers, justices of the peace while in commission, sheriffs, gentlemen who have held commissions in the army and navy, etc.: but opinions with regard to the correct usage vary. There are also esquires of knights of the Bath, each knight appointing three at his installation. The title now is usually conceded to all professional and literary men. In the United States the title is regarded as belonging especially to lawyers.
  • In legal and other formal documents Esquire is usually written in full after the names of those considered entitled to the designation; in common usage it is abbreviated Esq. or Esqr., and appended to any man's name as a mere mark of respect, as in the addresses of letters (though this practice is becoming less prevalent than formerly). In the general sense, and as a title either alone or prefixed to a name, the form Squire has always been the more common in familiar use. - Century, 1914
  • See also the Wikipedia article on "Esquire"
Derived terms
  • Esquire bedel - See bedel
a squire
  • Spanish: escudero
shield bearer
  • Spanish: escudero
a gentleman who escorts a lady in public
  • Spanish: acompañante


  1. transitive obsolete To attend, wait on, escort.

Etymology 2

esquiere, esquierre, esquarre


  1. A bearing somewhat resembling a gyron, but extending across the field so that the point touches the opposite edge of the escutcheon.


External links

Extensive Definition

Esquire (abbreviated Esq.) is a term denoting social status. Always rather vague in its extent, the term carries little social distinction today outside of the United States. Within the U.S., its use as a postnominal honorific is used to indicate licensed attorneys.
The term is British in origin. Ultimately deriving from the medieval squires who assisted knights, the term came to be used automatically by men of gentle birth. Thus use of the word postnominally represented nothing more than the claim to be a gentleman. More specifically, though, a distinction was made 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."
Thus, practically speaking, the term "esquire" may be appended to the name of any man not possessing a higher title (such as that of knighthood or peerage) or a clerical one. In practice, however, "esquire" in the US is most commonly used by lawyers in a professional capacity; it has come to be associated by many Americans solely with the legal profession.
Regardless of whom it is applied to, the term "Esq." should not be used when talking about oneself, or in directly addressing somebody else. Rather, it is used in third-person contexts, such as envelope addresses.

Origins and later British usage

In eras when great importance was attached to social status, tables of precedence were drawn to determine its precise hierarchy. Beginning with royalty and continuing down through officers of state, church dignitaries, the nobility and knights, they invariably concluded with common or garden Esquires and Gentlemen, in that order. (It was presumed that everybody at a social event where precedence was relevant would be at least a gentleman.) Until the 19th century, tables of precedences further distinguished between "esquires by birth" and "esquires by office" (and likewise for "gentlemen").
But the precise limits of these vague terms were never easy to determine. Some authors attempted to draw up guidelines distinguishing "esquires" from "gentlemen".
According to one typical definition, esquires 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)
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.)
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 and so, for practical purposes and in everyday usage, there is no such distinction.
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.
Modern UK Usage: To be used with the name in initial format - e.g. S.J. Hooper, 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'). The same practice applies for other post from the palace (e.g. to employees etc.).

United States

In the United States the suffix "Esq." is most commonly encountered in use among individuals licensed to practice law. Although the origins and traditional usage of "esquire" limited its application to men, this more recent usage is frequently applied to both male and female lawyers.
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 assume the prefix "The Honorable" (abbreviated Hon.) as a title of respect.
The prevalence of "esquire" among lawyers in America is perhaps an echo of its use distinguishing the two kinds of lawyer in English law — barristers were "esquires" while solicitors were simple "gentlemen".
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 more formal than "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. The term is also sometimes used when addressing naval officers in formal correspondence.
As a form of address "Esq." is never used with any prenominal form of address, such as Dr. or Mr., nor used in the first person to refer to oneself. Thus, it may be used as in the following, namely, "John Smith, Esq.," but not "Mr. John Smith, Esq." If one desired to use the prenonimal "Mr." one could write, for example, "Mr. John Smith" without any postnominal designation. The form of address "Esq." is used only when the reference is in the third person, such as addressing an envelope or making a formal introduction.
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. Samuel B. Jones," or "Samuel B. Jones, 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 — "Samuel B. Jones, Esq., M.D., J.D.," when referred to in the third person, but never "Dr. Samuel B. Jones, Esq."
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. One appendant body in Freemasonry also uses "Esquire" as a degree title.


esquire in German: Esquire (Titel)
esquire in Italian: Esquire
esquire in Portuguese: Esquire
esquire in Russian: Эсквайр

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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