From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search

Esquire (abbreviated Esq.)[1] is a term of West European origin. In the United Kingdom, it is a title of respect previously accorded to men of higher social rank,[2] but which has since come to be used as a general courtesy title for any man in a formal context, usually appended to the name as in "John Smith, Esq.", with no precise significance.[3][4] Esquire is cognate with the word squire, which originally meant an apprentice or assistant to a knight. The title "Esquire" has been used continuously since it was created in the late 14th century and many uses continue uninterrupted today. For example, in the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, "Esquire" is the most junior title. In the United States, the suffix Esq. designates individuals licensed to practice law, and may now be used by both men and women.[5]



Chief Justice Coke (1552–1634) defined "gentlemen" as those who bear coat armour, and are therefore superior to esquires. He followed Sir William Camden (1551–1623, Clarenceux King of Arms), who defined esquires as:

By the end of the 16th Century, the pretentious use of the title, especially in its Latin form, "Armigero" was being mocked by Shakespeare in his character, "Robert Shallow, esquire,"

...a gentleman born, master parson; who writes himself 'Armigero,' in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, 'Armigero.'

to which Shallow directly replies,

Ay, that I do; and have done any time these three hundred years.

Nineteenth century tables of precedences further distinguished between esquires by birth and esquires by office (and likewise for gentlemen).[citation needed] But today the term gentleman is rarely found in official tables of precedence and when it is it invariably means simply a man. One extinct English usage of the term was to distinguish between men of the upper and lower gentry, who were "esquires" and "gentlemen" respectively (between, for example, "Thomas Smith, Esq." and "William Jones, Gent."). Examples of this may be found in the Parish Tithe Map Schedules made under the Tithe Commutation Act 1836.[7] Later examples appear in the list of subscribers to The History of Elton, by the Rev. Rose Fuller Whistler, published in 1892, which distinguishes between subscribers designated Mr (another way of indicating gentlemen) and those allowed Esquire.

According to one typical definition,[8] esquires in English law included:

A slightly later source[9] defines the term as

Esquire — A rank next below that of Knight. Besides those Esquires who are personal attendants of Knights of Orders of Knighthood, this title is held by all attendants on the person of the Sovereign, and all persons holding the Sovereign's commission being of military rank not below Captain; also, by general concession, by Barristers at Law, Masters of Arts and Bachelors of Law and Physic.

But formal definitions like 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.)

Although Esquire is the English translation of the French écuyer, 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, albeit that the term "gentry" in England came to be used to describe what is elsewhere labelled the untitled nobility.[10] Écuyer in French (11th to 14th century) means "Shield-bearer", a knight in training, age 14 to 21. In the later stages of the Middle Ages, the cost of the adoubement or accolade became too important for many noblemen to bear. They stayed écuyers all their life long, making these title synonymous with nobleman or gentleman.

The most common occurrence of term Esquire today is the conferral as the suffix "Esq." in order to pay an informal compliment to a male recipient by way of implying gentle birth. Today, there remain respected protocols, especially in the US, for identifying those to whom it is thought most proper that the suffix should be given, especially in very formal or in official circumstances. The social rank of Esquire is that above gentleman.

Modern British usage

The breadth of Esquire (as Esq.) had become universal in the United Kingdom by the mid 20th century, with no distinction in status being perceived between Mr and Esquire. Esquire was used by many individuals and organisations such as banks as the default title of all men who did not have a grander title when addressing correspondence, with letters addressed using the name in initial format (e.g., K.S. Smith, Esq.) but Mr being used as the form of address (e.g. Dear Mr Smith). In the 1970s, the use of Esq. in addressing correspondence, having no female equivalent, started to be perceived as discriminatory, so that by the end of the century many individuals and organisations had stopped using it and changed to using Mr, with Esq. generally considered to be rather old-fashioned, but is still used by some individuals and organisations that wish to give the impression of being 'traditional' such as Christie's and Berry Bros. & Rudd. 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).[11] The same practice applies for other post from the palace (e.g., to employees).

United States

Legal profession

In the U.S., the title Esquire is most commonly encountered among members of the legal profession.[5] This usage is used nowadays by both male and female lawyers.[12] Additionally, in some States, ministerial officers, such as justices of the peace, commissioners of deeds, and notaries public, customarily append "Esquire" (usually abbreviated, "Esq.") to their surnames.[citation needed]

The title Esquire is not allocated by the law of any State to any profession, class, or station in society. Because it is commonly employed by lawyers, however, use by an unlicensed person may be evidence of the unauthorized practice of law, which can subject a person to sanctions by a state bar association.[citation needed] The concern is that by appending "Esquire" to their name, a person may create a false perception of acting in the capacity of a lawyer, which might induce a layman to consider the person to be a lawyer, and create a lawyer-client relationship.[13]

Honorifics are not used with courtesy titles, so Jane Smith, Esq. or Ms. Jane Smith would be correct, but Ms. Jane Smith, Esq. would be incorrect.[14]

Diplomatic use

Similarly, when addressing social correspondence to a commissioned officer of the United States Foreign Service, Esquire may be used as a complimentary title. While the abbreviated Esq. is correct, Esquire is typically written in full when addressing a diplomat.[15][16] If any other titles are used on the same line, Esquire is omitted.

Fraternal groups

Some fraternal groups use the Esquire title. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks uses the title for an appointed office position. Similar to the old position of assistant to a knight, the BPOE Esquire serves as the chief assistant to the Lodge's Exalted Ruler, and is in charge of the ballot box, instructing and initiating new members, and examining visiting Elks members.[17] One appendant body in Freemasonry also uses Esquire as a degree title.[18]

Proper use

When addressing a person who has an academic degree or other post-nominal professional designation, such as a Certified Public Accountant, a writer should use either the post-nominal designation (usually abbreviated) or the Esq., but not both; as Esquire is a courtesy title, it should not be used with post-nominals.[19]


Before 1947, the term Esquire was used by most senior government officers, especially the former members of the Indian Civil Service and the rest of the higher services of the Imperial Civil Services. The term was used by members of the anglicised segments of the Indian society who could join the government services. It was mostly used by government officials who could claim to have received their legal education in England, especially in either Oxford or Cambridge University, and had become barristers in London.


  1. ^ 'esquire, n.1' and 'esq., n.1.3.a.': Oxford English Dictionary Online: Accessed October 4, 2011 00:41BST
  2. ^ The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 25 see statutoril prescribed post-nominal titles of L.M. and N.O. in Schedule B. Form of Certificate.
  3. ^ "esquire." Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 03 May. 2010. [].
  4. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, second edition (1991)
  5. ^ a b Thompson, Kathryn. Tussle Over Titles, ABA Journal, January 2006.
  6. ^ Sir Edward Coke, Institutes vol 2, 688
  7. ^
  8. ^ Burn, Richard; Chitty, J.; Black, Philip (1975 reprint) The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer, pages 884–885. See also pages 540–541 in Vol. II of Burn, Richard The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer. [1], .
  9. ^ Boutell, Charles (1899) English Heraldry, page 120; see also [2], page 120.
  10. ^ [3], Esquire, Penny cyclopedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, vol.9-10, p.13, accessed online on 12 March 2012.
  11. ^ Hardman, Robert (2007-11-29). "Fountain of Honour". Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work. Druck, Wemding, Germany: Ebury Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-09-191842-2. "British men have 'Esq.' after their name [...] whereas all men from overseas are called 'Mr'" 
  12. ^ Jones, Brenda. Forms of Address Including Use of "Esquire", Beeson Law Library Newsletter, Cumberland School of Law, February 2, 2002.
  13. ^ Tussle Over Titles, ABA Journal
  14. ^ Everyday Etiquette, The Emily Post Institute, last accessed September 18, 2008.
  15. ^ McCaffree, Mary Jane; Pauline Innis and Richard M. Sand, Esquire (2002). Protocol: The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage (25th Anniversary (3rd) ed.). Dallas, Texas: Durban House Publishing Company. ISBN 1-930754-18-3. 
  16. ^ "Appendix VIII. Protocol and Forms of Address". UMW Style Guide. University of Mary Washington. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  17. ^ Austin Lodge No 201 BPOE 2007-2008 Committees
  18. ^ Red Branch of Eri, Allied Masonic Degrees
  19. ^ [4]

External links