Esquire “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “esquire” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and Webster’s Dictionary (1828):




The term is applied to barristers-at-law, and in the United States it is customary to append the title to attorneys at law in addressing them by letter.

Blackstone has said it is a matter somewhat unsettled what constitutes the distinction between a gentleman, and an esquire, or who is a real esquire [see 1 Bl Comm 406].



  1. A title applied by courtesy to officers of almost every description, to members of the bar, and others. No one is entitled to it by law, and, therefore, it confers, no distinction in law.
  2. In England, it is a title next above that of a gentleman, and below a knight. Camden reckons up four kinds of esquires, particularly regarded by the heralds:
      1. The eldest sons of knights and their eldest sons, in perpetual succession.
      2. The eldest sons of the younger sons of peers, and their eldest sons in like perpetual succession.
      3. Esquires created by the king’s letters patent, or other investiture, and their eldest sons.
      4. Esquires by virtue of their office, as justices of the peace, and others who bear any office of trust under the crown.


In English law, a title of dignity next above gentleman, and below knight. Also a title of office given to sheriffs, serjeants, and barristers at law, justices of the peace and others [1 Bl. Comm. 406; 3 Steph. Comm. 15, note; Tomlins; on the use of this term in American law, particularly as applied to justices of the peace and other inferior judicial officers, see Call v. Foresman, 5 Watts (Pa.) 331; Christian v. Ashley County, 24 Ark. 151; Com. v. Vance, 15 Serg. & R. (Pa.) 37].



ESQUI’RE, n. [L. scutum, a shield; Gr. A hide, of which shields were anciently made].

A shield-bearer or armor-bearer, scutifer; an attendant on a knight. Hence in modern times, a title of dignity next in degree below a knight.

  • In England, this title is given to the younger sons of noblemen, to officers of the king’s courts and of the household, to counselors at law, justices of the peace, while in commission, sheriffs, and other gentlemen.
  • In the United States, the title is given to public officers of all degrees, from governors down to justices and attorneys. Indeed the title, in addressing letters, is bestowed on any person at pleasure, and contains no definite description. It is merely an expression of respect.

ESQUI’RE, v.t.

To attend; to wait on.

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