My uncle, who lived at Quirindi, northern NSW, was a shearing contractor. He was not a knight in training.
But he would regularly receive in the mail either the Women’s Weekly or the Northern Daily Leader, I can’t remember which one, addressed to him plus the suffix Esquire. Admittedly, this was in the last century, probably 60 or more years ago.
The Women’s Weekly was in the big format and it actually came out weekly, usually with a member of the royal family on the cover. he address on this newspaper or magazine was the only occasion he was addressed as esquire. I had felt he must have been important. He probably was. But he didn’t get the word esquire by attending knight school.
The word came from a boy who attended a knight, often carrying the knight’s shield. It comes from the French esquire, shield bearer. Knights eventually went out of style, when gunpowder was introduced. The word esquire had lots of meanings. It meant raising to the rank of a squire or to attend to a lady as a squire. The word even led to many other words. How about esquiredom, or esquirehood, or esquireship, or esquiry?
They even had esquiress, a female squire. This last word dated from 1596 and sometimes meant a small slave girl carrying the musket. I still don’t know why my uncle was called esquire. He was a shearing contractor for goodness sake. Of course, he was a good one and I learnt a lot in the shearing sheds around Quirindi, none of which I can repeat here. I believe esquire is a longer version of squire. The first use of the word that I could find came in 1290 and it represented a man of good birth (you should have heard those stories in the shearing sheds) who attended a knight. My big dictionary says it represented “one ranking next to a knight under the feudal system of military service and tenure”.
Many years later it was placed after the surname as a designation of rank, or a person who held a rank similar to a medieval squire. So a squire was a person who was similar to a squire. That sounds a bit redundant to me. It referred to a nobleman or “other high dignitary” but then the dictionary says the word was often used jestingly by Shakespeare.
The dictionary said the word has been used for a country gentleman not formally a squire. It goes on to say the word has been used for a justice of the peace, a lawyer, or a judge, or more widely to any local dignitary. Finally, it says the word “squire” was sometimes in “contemptuous” use. Now we’re getting somewhere.
The word is apparently used more frequently in the United States than in Australia, or in New Zealand. It often means an escort to an escort. I think I know what that means.