The device of hereditary coat-armour, a growth of the 12th century, did much to define and mark out the noble class throughout Europe.
Those who would elsewhere have been counted as the nobility, the bearers of coat-armour bygood right, were hindered from forming a class holding any substantial privilege.
There can be no doubt that the class in England which answers to the noblesse of other lands is the class that bears coat-armour, the gentry strictly so called.'
That coat-armour has been lavishly granted and often assumed without right, that the word "gentleman" has acquired various secondary senses, proves nothing; that is the natural result of a state of things in which the status of gentry carries with it no legal advantage, and yet is eagerly sought after on social grounds.
If coat-armour, and thereby the rank of gentry, has been lavishly granted, some may think that the rank of peerage has often been lavishly granted also.