From the poorest knight to the King himself, this is the social elite and by default the wealthiest social class. Though a population minority, perhaps 5% give or take, they maintained control through almost complete military monopoly and by being the ones who managed and enforced the law. The ruling class is divided up generally into the royalty, nobility, and gentry. At the top are Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses. The Nobility are the Barons and Earls which were nearly as rich and powerful as the royalty with control of massive swaths of territory and governmental influence. We portray the household of a Knight and do not seek to represent an ensemble or individual impression of Nobility or Royalty. The Gentry are the ‘minor nobility’ such as knights and esquires. The knightly class had a stratum which is important to be aware of:
- Knight Banneret: A knight with a household wealthy enough to include other Knights and Esquires as part of his retinue.
- Knight: Though not wealthy enough to employ other gentry in their service, a knight had enough lands and income to maintain his social status and could provide armed and armored men when called to fight.
- Knight Bachelor: A knight who, by social status, is gentry but does not have the lands or income to support himself and so is in service to a Knight Banneret until such a time as he acquires an estate which can support himself. These are generally younger knights waiting to prove themselves to higher nobility who would grant them the land they would need to be self-sustaining.
- Esquire: Knighthood was expensive, and the title of Esquire developed as men who were trained and equipped as knights opted to eschew the financial burdens of the expensive fief and armed retinue requirements of knighthood. An esquire was the lowest of the gentry, though was not a commoner, and may or may not own land.
While there were rich esquires and poor knights, as a guiding principle we aim to represent the typical member of each social class and not the exceptions. There were also various sumptuary laws (which were enforced to varying degrees) which specified which materials were acceptable for each social class, many of them aimed at regulating an aesthetic divide between the peasantry and the gentry, and again between the esquires and the knights. Likewise, while knights and esquires were men, these guidelines also apply to the wives and daughters of their equivalent station. Since gentry impressions are typically made by members after completing a common one a certain level of familiarity with the hobby is implied. As such, this guideline is meant as an overview while specific rules and regulations (such as sumptuary laws influencing material culture choices) are not covered in granular detail here. It is assumed the individual will have acquired the relevant knowledge by the time they are assembling a gentry impression.
Just as the Yeomanry were defined by the elements and ornaments they were able to afford or allowed to use which augmented the outfit, the gentry tended to likewise be defined by how lavish they were able to make their clothing and the accessories by which they could afford to add to their clothing and not so much by a completely different uniform. The gentry did, however, have social pressures to wear more progressive and fashionable clothing. Gentry impressions are discouraged from using antiquated tunic-style garments and gowns and are encouraged to wear more form-fitting doublets, cotehardies, and houppelandes. Garments could be embroidered more intricately than the lower classes could afford, and in metallic threads appropriate to their stations, or made out of brocades or velvets and adorned with jewelry, feathers, and semi-precious stones. Belts would be plaque belt in style, or adorned with mounts and made from fine leather or silk tablet weave as a foundation (and sometimes even covered in velvet before mountings were added.) As the “warrior cast” esquires and knights would wear fighting knives of various levels of decorative value and wear pouches which could also be decorated with mounts. Shoes can be ankle height, as well as calf and knee height. Knights and esquires would and could wear jewelry of precious metals and set with semi-precious stones.