I'm currently working on english social classes in the early 19th century, and wondered: was aristocracy including royal members, or only gentry + peers?

  • 2
    I'm not sure why this isn't answered by the definition of the word aristocracy – Mark C. Wallace Feb 10 '15 at 17:33
  • 2
    aristocracy as a word is very vague, and the meaning is fluid in each part of Europe at given points. for example an extremely rich merchant, in the 1500s cant really hang out with a high ranking noble, however, nobles and the rich(socialites) and famous musicians, writers, interact far more as time progresses. so i assume hes asking specifically how the mingling is or the specific definition of aristocracy in the 1800's – Himarm Feb 10 '15 at 17:50
  • I read that aristocracy was starting with the gentry, so landowners that can live off the income from their estates. So I - approximately !- know where it starts, but where it ends... mystery... – A.A.-S. Feb 10 '15 at 18:54

I would suggest the answer is "No" - and the aristocracy would not actually include gentry either. Social gradations at that time were subtle but strong, a wealthy "gentleman" would still defer to a peer, even if the peer were the poorer. Read Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope for examples. But royalty was in a different category, as, indeed, it is today; the tabloids might titter if a Duke were caught in a compromising position, but it would not be the headline news that a royal scandal would provoke. Also - and I stand to be corrected on this - the aristocracy's influence came from land (vast holdings in many cases) industry (they weren't above exploiting coal or other resources) and their power of patronage. Royals, to the best of my knowledge, lacked the first two - Parliament frequently was asked to bail out profligate Princes! And - a final touchstone - would a Duke, say, challenge a prince to a duel (rare occurrences but not unknown)? The answer is almost certainly not, such an act would be treasonable.

  • Thanks. I'm actually working on a Jane Austen's book, that's why... Are you 100% sure that gentry doesn't belong to aristocracy? I've readen it was its lowest category... – A.A.-S. Feb 12 '15 at 11:41
  • 3
    @A.A.S. Well, I'm 90% sure! grin If you're working on Austen, look at Mr Collins. As a clergyman, and heir to a landed estate, he is definitely a "gentleman" - but he is cringingly obsequious to Lady Catherine de Burgh, who is not even a peeress, merely the daughter of an Earl.Difficult but generally I stand by my original answer. – TheHonRose Feb 12 '15 at 13:39

This question should probably be closed as opinion based, particularly given the lack of prelimnary research. There is no clearly and objectively acceptable answer. I'm reluctant to contradict TheHonRose, but from my perspective, the fundamental division of society is between the aristocrats and the common folk. Royals are clearly part of the aristocracy.

Within the aristocracy the royalty are recognized as distinct from the "ordinary" aristocracy, and the gentry are generally also recognized as distinct.

Ultimately though I think the terms are imprecise, and it isn't possible to answer without context. If a cab driver refers to the Prince of Wales as "an aristocrat", nobody will be confused. If the Marquis Rippon were to refer to the same individual by the same term, it might cause confusion. There are no simple answers.


This depends on how you define the word aristocracy. Its not a legal term or anything, just a convenient categorization. Havng said that, 19th century writings refer to Britain's aristocracy and royalty distinctly. Most of the time, the two are just too different to be lumped together in descriptions. Aristocracy is usually considered below the royals today too.

Besides, "the rest of the nobility or aristocracy" is a mouthful.

  • Bit late to comment but the aristocracy is always considered below royalty - because, in terms of status and prerogatives (at least in the UK) - it is! – TheHonRose Jul 29 '15 at 22:18

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.