The gentry over time
Each individual family has its own dynamic and its own evolution, from poverty to establishment, and from there either to great riches or back to poverty. The Thynnes became the Marquesses of Bath, the Lascelles the Earls of Harewood, while the Plumptons, Oxindens and le Neves all disappeared from history, and the Throckmortons, the Aclands and the Cliffords are still all, in their different ways, gentry families.
But for all that lack of typicality, there are patterns that can be discerned in the history of the class as a whole. The pattern of land ownership over the last six centuries reveals a great deal about the evolution of English society, while the origins of those who rose into the gentry throws some light on to another dimension to their story. The ready-for-action figure on Richard Brathwait’s title page is symbolic of many thousands of gents, across many ages, while the beautiful embroidered textile, made in England in the 1640s and now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York is a depiction of many of their shared dreams and fantasies. Percyvall Hart’s wonderful tomb makes articulate the thoughts and prejudices which have motivated many of the gentry over time, while Horace’s Second Epode was repeatedly quoted across the centuries, almost as if it were the gentry anthem.