1) The word ‘gentleman’ was applied properly to a man who was entitled to bear arms but did not rank among the nobility.
It was deemed important for a gentleman to live without manual labour and it was said by John Ferne, the eminent writer on heraldry, that being a merchant was ‘no competent or seemelye trade of lyfe for a gentleman’. From the late 1300s the word was used frequently, after a man’s name, as an indication of his rank: 1399 Thomas Hagthorpe, gentilman, Hemingbrough
1426 Richard Lorymer, gentilman, York. It was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that members of the gentry became increasingly conscious of their position or degree, and the subject was one they frequently commented on. After Sir Henry Savile of Methley, had accepted his baronetcy he wrote I desyre neither to be first nor laste
I can be content to followe Mr Wentworth and Sir Henry Bellasis … for any other I yet heare of I may without any great incongruitye be rank’t afore them. Nevertheless, it was to some extent a man’s neighbours who decided whether or not he was a gentleman, and the right to be addressed as ‘Mr’ was a recognition of that. The status was therefore determined as much by common estimation as by legal distinctions. The Ramsden family of Longley were among the gentry in the Almondbury area from the mid-1500s but early references to William Ramsden, who was the architect of the family’s fortune, seems to reflect a hesitation among his contemporaries about the exact status that he enjoyed. In 1547, for example, he was described as William Ramsden of Longley, Yorkshire, gentleman, alias late of Almondbury ... yeoman, alias of Elland, yeoman, alias late of London, esquire .