The Gentry is a history of England told through its families. This website contains family trees, a few maps and many images illustrating some of the background to the twelve families who carry the story of England in the book.

Read a sample chapter about Sir John Oglander, the 17th-century squire of Nunwell in the Isle of Wight, his life and family, his dreams and ambitions and the tragedies that struck him....

Land and the gentry - ownership patterns

It was perfectly possible to be a member of the gentry, to be as rich as one, to think, look, act and be treated as one, without owning land, whether as a merchant, lawyer, soldier or government official. Nevertheless, land, which was both the safest place for money and provided a theatre in which gentry virtues could be displayed, looms large in their story. The pattern of landownership in England over the last 600 years can never be more than informed guesswork, but as will be seen from the figures in the table below, the gentry rose into prominence in the 16th century, as the crown and church lost much of its land.  They remained there until the early 20th century. Yeomen farmers rose, fell and in the 20th century have risen again, reclaiming the acres they had in the 1600s . The great lords (now including environmentalist bodies such as the National Trust) have maintained an extraordinarily steady landholding. The Crown did well in the 20th century. The gentry have sunk almost to the point of invisibility. Perhaps 10% of the country now belongs small urban and suburban householders and industry.

Distribution of landownership in England 1436 to 2000

Percentage of land owned by:

1436

c.1690

c.1790

1873

2000

I. Crown and Church

25-35

5-10

10

10

20

II. Great lords

15-20

15-20

20-25

25

25

III. Gentry

20

45-50

50

50

  1

IV. Yeomen

20

25-33

15

10

40

V. Urban

1

1

1

5

10

 

The figures for 1436 and c.1690 are derived from J.P. Cooper, ‘The social distribution of land and men in England 1436-1700,’ Economic History Review 2nd Series xx (1967); those for 1790 and 1873 from F.M.L. Thompson, ‘The social distribution of landed property in England since the sixteenth century’, Economic History Review xix (1966);  English Landed Society in the Nineteenth Century , London,  1963; and G.E. Mingay English Landed Society in the Eighteenth Century (1963). Twentieth-century figures are adapted from Kevin Cahill, Who Owns Britain, Edinburgh 2001.

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