Friday, December 04, 2009

Squires or esquires?

Here is an experiment in polling your potential audience, expert and amateur.

I am currently writing a book on 14th century military affairs. I talk a lot about "squires" or "esquires." I am not sure which word to use.

The early 14th century was a period when "squire/esquire" went from meaning "a military servant, usually lightly armed" to meaning "a lesser gentleman warrior" of the kind who had substantial equipment and might have been a knight bachelor in an earlier era. At least this seems to have happened in the Anglo-French world. Although there seem to have been a few squires/esquires hanging around in the mid-14th century who were not considered gentlemen, my sources show that they mostly were gentleman, quite distinct from other military servants like sergeants or valets, even when the latter had some armor and were considered effective fighters.

I am very interested in hearing from you about which word seems more suitable to you, and why. I would appreciate it if you answered in my comment section here, rather than on Facebook.

I would appreciate expert opinion, but if you consider yourself an ordinary reader don't hold back.

goofy gamer squires.


  1. Squires.

    At the time, the word described both a particular rank in the domestic servant hierarchy and the social class those servants were drawn from. Esquires emphasizes the second but not the first.

    Also squires was the more typical English word, and you are writing in English

  2. Jolanta Komornicka3:20 pm

    Esquires is more common for French, and if you were translating from that language I'd recommend that term. But given your project and use of English, I have to agree with McLean on using Squires instead. I am not as convinced that the term conveys both meanings as neatly as McLean implies. A note upon first usage would thus not go amiss.

  3. It seems that "squire" is a better word for you use, even if "esquire" is just as correct. In all of my reading about chivalry (which is pretty extensive - it was one of the topics of my PhD comps), I have only very rarely seen the word "esquire" - Richard Barber, Maurice Keen, and all the others who write about knights and squires just use "squire." Also, to my mind, "esquire" conjures up a 19th-century lawyer or something - the kind of guy who would sign his name "Esq.". Sticking to "squire" seems like the best way of avoiding

  4. Etymologically, each fits your bill, but I would suggest "squire" over "esquire" for two reasons.

    1) "Esquire" has extra, non-medieval associations (e.g., esquire as title appended to the names of nineteenth century lawyers) which make it sound precious in the context you want to use it.
    2)"Esquire", with its stress on the first syllable, will often break up the cadence of a sentence. Try speaking sentences aloud with "esquire" in them, then the same sentences with "squire". In most cases, the second version will sound like more natural speech.

  5. Anonymous8:01 am

    I would suggest "Squires" as "Esquire" has overtones of the legal profesion today.

  6. I agree with Jolanta that an initial note or passage of explanation is desirable.

  7. I've been doing a fair amount of reading recently (primary and secondary sources) on England & France between around 1370 and 1400. Both 'squire' and 'esquire' are used, but from what I can determine, the use of 'esquire' is more common in the French language sources. It's an interesting question, which makes me wonder if the word is one marker of the transition from French & Latin to vernacular English. The historian Nigel Saul (in 1997's 'Richard II') points out that it was during this period that Richard II created the first magnate-style knightly affinity that operated outside a broadly military sphere (therefore possibly also adding new nuances to what the term 'squire' or 'esquire' meant in a non-military context).

  8. I firmly suggest "squires". The only reason to deviate from the common modern word is to expressly point out (or create) a narrower meaning than the modern word suggests. You won't be writing "knygts", "kynges", or "swerdes", will you?

    Thus, medieval armour students use "maille" to refer to properly made, riveted chain mail, and "chain mail" to refer to the more common butt-joined links that (barely) pass the 20' Rule. Likewise, medieval costumers use "cotte" or "cote" for something much more specific than the word "coat".

    But with squire, the word already implies what you are speaking of. Only secondarily do images of obese 19th-C English landowners, or US ambulance chasers, come to mind.

    "Squires" is good, and will suffice.

  9. nualaseamus4:13 pm

    As a complete layperson, especially with military history, I would agree with the majority here and use squire. Even though esquire could be used, it doesn't seem to serve any purpose to use the it. Whereas, squire is easily understood.

  10. Twenty-first century American lawyers still use "esquire." I would go with "squire" for what you're trying to communicate.