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1. a. Chivalry. A young man of gentle birth, who as an aspirant to knighthood, attended upon a knight, carried his shield, and rendered him other services. (Now only arch., the form SQUIRE being commonly used Hist.) Cf. ARMIGER, PAGE.
1475 CAXTON Jason, Ther ne abode knight ne esquyer in the sadyl.
b. As a rendering of L. armiger armour-bearer, Gr. shield-bearer. Obs.
1553 BRENDE Q. Curtius 172 (R.) Alexander..willed a weapon to be deliuered to hys hands, as other esquiers vsed.
c. Applied to various officers in the service of a king or nobleman, as esquire for (or of) the body, esquire of the chamber, esquire of the stable [cf. EQUERRY, which was sometimes confused with this], carving esquire, etc.
1495 Act 11 Hen. VII, c. 32 §7 David Philippe, Esquyer for the body of oure Sovereign Lord the Kyng.
2. A man belonging to the higher order of English gentry, ranking immediately below a knight.
Of esquires, legally so called, there are, according to some authorities, five classes: ‘(1) younger sons of peers and their eldest sons; (2) eldest sons of knights, and their eldest sons; (3) chiefs of ancient families (by prescription); (4) esquires by creation or office, as heralds and sergeants of arms, judges, officers of state, naval and military officers, justices of the peace, barristers-at-law; (5) esquires who attend the Knight of the Bath on his installationusually two specially appointed’ (Encycl. Brit., s.v.). The correctness of this enumeration, however, is greatly disputed; it would be impossible here to state the divergent views on the subject. In heraldic Latin the equivalent of esquire was armiger, properly = ‘armour-bearer’, but often taken in the sense ‘one bearing (heraldic) arms’; hence, in 16th and 17th c. esquire was sometimes explained as meaning a man entitled to coat-armour; but by accurate writers this is condemned as involving the confusion between ‘esquire’ and ‘gentleman’.
b. A landed proprietor, (country) ‘squire’. arch.
1597 SHAKES. 2 Hen. IV, III. ii. 63, I am Robert Shallow (Sir) a poore Esquire of this Countie, and one of the Kings Justices of the Peace.
3. As a title accompanying a man's name. Originally applied to those who were ‘esquires’ in sense 2; subsequently extended to other persons to whom an equivalent degree of rank or status is by courtesy attributed. a. Following the surname preceded by the Christian name. In formal documents written in full; elsewhere commonly abbreviated Esq. or Esqr. (In ceremonious use, e.g. in legal writings or in genealogy, when the name of the person's estate or of his place of residence is given, the title is, by English custom, placed last, as ‘A.B., of C., Esquire’; in Scotland, on the contrary, the title immediately follows the surname. Similarly, in England the title ‘esquire’ traditionally follows the designation ‘Junior’ or ‘The Younger’, but in Scotland precedes it.)
The designation of ‘esquire’ is now commonly understood to be due by courtesy to all persons (not in clerical orders or having any higher title of rank) who are regarded as ‘gentlemen’ by birth, position, or education. It is used only on occasions of more or less ceremonious mention, and in the addresses of letters, etc.; on other occasions the prefix ‘Mr.’ is employed instead. When ‘esquire’ is appended to a name, no prefixed title (such as ‘Mr.,’ ‘Doctor,’ ‘Captain,’ etc.) is used. In the U.S. the title belongs officially to lawyers and public officers.
1552-3 Inv. Ch. Goods, Staffs. in Ann. Litchfield IV. 46 Walter Wrotcheley & Edward Lyttylton, esquyors, by vertue of the kynges majesties comyssion. 1599 SHAKES. Hen. V, IV. viii. 109 Davy Gam, esquire.
4. [transf. use of 1.] A gentleman who attends or escorts a lady in public. Cf. SQUIRE.
1824 BYRON Juan XVI. ci, Their docile esquires also did the same.