The concept of gentleman in England is more flexible than that of nobleman in France. A gentleman is distinguished by his personal qualities as much as by his status as a member of the landed gentry. He does not need to be of noble lineage, like his French counterpart thegentilhomme, or to have a noble name. As the successor to the franklin, the free landed proprietor, who occupied the lowest rank of the nobility in the Middle Ages, the simple gentleman therefore comes after the Esquire (title derived from Squire, the chief landed proprietor in a district), who in turn is inferior, in ascending order of precedence, to theKnight, the Baronet, the Baron, the Viscount, the Earl, the Marquess, and finally to theDuke. Only the titles of Baron or higher belong to the peerage, to which simple knights or baronets do not therefore belong.
It is the gentleman of the Georgian period who is the precursor to the gentleman of the Victorian period in that he establishes a code of conduct based on the three Rs: Restraint, Refinement and Religion. During the reign of George III, the British begin, by their reserve and emotional control, to distinguish themselves from the peoples of southern Europe who are of a more hot-headed temperament. The literature of the 19th century does nevertheless privilege emotion, often to the point of pathos, as in Dickens.