ESQUIRE (from the French ocuier, or shield-bearer) is the next title or dig nity to that of knight. The esquire was the second in rank of the aspirants to chi valry, or knighthood, and had his name from carrying the shield of the knight, whose bachelor, or apprentice in arms, he was. The gradations of this service, of apprenticeship to arms, were page, es quire or bachelor, and knight, who, in his turn, after the formation of degrees of knighthood, was called a knight bachelor, as aspiring to the higher honours of chi valry. The esquire was a gentlemat and had the right of bearing arms on his escutcheon or shield: be had also the right of bearing a sword, which denoted nobility or chivalry, though it was not girded by the knightly belt; he had also a particular species of defensive armour which was distinguished from the full panoply of the knight This is the es quire of chivalry, which order is only preserved in the almost obsolete esquires for the king's body, whom antiquaries have pronounced to be the king's esquires in chivalry (that is, his esquires, as being a knight), and in the esquires of knights of the Bath.
There was also another class, who may be called feudal esquires, and consisted of those tenants by knight's service who had a right to claim knighthood, but hat never been dubbed. They were in Ger many called raters, or knights, but were ' distinguished from the actual knights, who were called dubbed knights, or Ritter Geschlagen, and had many of the privileges of knighthood. This distinction still exists in many of the countries which formed part of the German em pire. In Hainault, Brabant, and other provinces of what was Austrian Flanders, the antient untitled nobility, or gentry as they are called in England, to this day are styled collectively the Ordre Equestre, or knightly order. It also ex
isted in England until James the First had prostituted the honour of knighthood, for Camden frequently speaks of knightly families (families equestres, or families ordinis equestris), where the heads of them were not, at the time, actual knights. Writers on precedence make mention of esquires by creation, with investiture of a silver collar or chain of ss, and silver spurs : but these seem to have been only the insignia of the esquires for the king's body, which being preserved in a family as heir-looms, descended with the title of esquire to the eldest sons in succession. The sons of younger sons of dukes and marquesses, the younger sons of earls, viscounts, and barons, and their eldest sons, with the eldest sons of baronets, and of knights of all the orders, are all said to be esquires by birth, though their pre cedence, which differs widely, is regu lated by the rank of their respective an cestors. Officers of the king's court and household, and of his navy and army, down to the captain inclusive, doctors of law, barristers, and physicians, are re puted esquires. A justice of the peace is only an esquire during the time that he is in the commission of the peace, but a sheriff of a county is an esquire for life. The general assumption of this title by those who are not, in strictness, entitled to it, has virtually destroyed it as a dis tinct title or dignity. It is now usual to address most people as esquires on the outside of a letter ; but even in this prac tice and other cases, the title is not gene rally given to inferior tradesmen and shopkeepers. The heads of many old families are, however, still deemed es quires by prescription.