What Does "Esq." Mean in Late 19th Century England?

+10 votes

I am find the use of the honorific "Esq." in newspaper articles in 19th century England.  I know that people were not lawyers or solicitors and they were not noble.  Here is an example:

 "On the 13th inst., at St. Barnabas, Homerton, by the Rev. Josiah Ballance, vicar of Horsford and perpetual curate of St. Faith's, Norfolk, uncle of the bridegroom and brother-in-law of to bride, John Descarriers, son of Thomas Ballance, Esq., of Sydney House, Homerton, to Rosa, youngest daughter of James Edmeston, Esq., of Homerton."
(Rosa Edmeston Marriage Announcement; ''The Morning Advertiser'' (London, England); Friday, 16 Sept 1864, page 8. Accessed 22 May 2016 at FindMyPast.com (http://search.findmypast.com/bna/viewarticle?id=bl%2f0001427%2f18640916%2f076))

What does it signify?  Where do these people fall in the hierarchy of titles?

WikiTree profile: Rosa Ballance
in Genealogy Help by Vic Watt G2G6 Pilot (364k points)
There were originally precise sets of rules as to who qualified as an esquire but even by Shakespeare's time it had become a bit of a joke that virtually anyone was using it. Certainly by the 19th century any man who wasn't working class would be described formally as esquire by default.

2 Answers

+8 votes
Best answer

Although there are many meanings,attorney or nobleman seems to be the most common.
Oxford Dictionaries currently provides for the following definition of Esquire:[15]

  • British: A polite title appended to a man’s name when no other title is used, typically in the address of a letter or other documents: J. C. Pearson Esquire.
  • Historical:
    • A young nobleman who, in training for knighthood, acted as an attendant to a knight.
    • an officer in the service of a king or nobleman.
    • a landed proprietor or country squire: the lord of the manor, Richard Bethell Esquire.
by Living Lykins G2G6 Mach 1 (13.0k points)
selected by John Orchard
Jenn's answer is good. In practice by the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth it was a label applied to most men who owned property.
I can vouch for this too. As late as 1946 when my father was negotiating a mortgage he was addressed as esq, in all the letters and he was just an ordinary office worker.
+3 votes
Wikipedia has a really specific listing off on its usage in different periods.


I do note however in the 1830s it specifically states 'barristers (not solicitors).' This is not accurate from my research experience; I've seen Esq utilized by solicitors and bailiffs for example.
by Darian Zam G2G Rookie (290 points)

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