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My 5th great grandfather Archibald Campbell, PhD, married Mary Lycett in Staffordshire in 1776. Mary was the daughter of Francis Lycett, Gentleman of Weston Hall, and Ann Thompson, who was from a yeoman's family.

Francis left a significant fortune in his will, which I believe was from interest from properties he owned in the local area. However, I do not know much about the title of "Gentleman", and if social mobility permitted someone to become one or whether it was inherited. His parents appear to have been a Joseph Lycett and an Elizabeth Cooke but I can't find out anything about Joseph's profession.

Can someone help me find out whether Francis was born into wealth or whether he became wealthy?

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    this question is relevant to my interests
    – Michael
    Jun 13, 2020 at 1:18
  • @Michael are you a relative?
    – Charlie
    Jun 13, 2020 at 10:38

3 Answers 3

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Gentleman is not a formal title that you are admitted to, it's just a way that somebody might describe themselves.

Like the phrase "living on own means" it usually implies that the person has enough assets or income to support themselves without having to work and it's mostly a way of explaining that succinctly in census and church and civil registration documents when they ask for an occupation.

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  • I used to think it was a lower position in the peerage but it seems you are correct, but I'd like to know more about his family background to ascertain how he may have accumulated his wealth and properties in the first instance.
    – Charlie
    Jun 13, 2020 at 10:38
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Archibald Campbell and Mary Lycett are also my fifth great grandfather and mother. I think you will find that the Lycett family owned property and land far beyond the generation of Francis Lycett, back into the 16th century. I am researching that part of the family myself, and see a number of court cases involving the Lycett family, and a number of leases and legal documents in the Staffordshire Record Office involving members of the Lycett family. As you will know, Lycett is a pretty unusual name, and so it is likely that those Lycetts are related to "our" Lycetts, although this is speculation at present. You may be interested to know that Joe Lycett, the comedian is also descended from Francis Lycett and Ann Tompson, parents of Mary Lycett. They are his seventh great grandparents and our sixth. I had high hopes that the Who do You Think You are? from last night would cover the Lycetts but alas it was not to be. The link between those Lycetts and Archibald Campbell appears in a marginal note on the will of Francis Lycett, as you may have seen.

Although it was hard to move from one social strata to another in the 18th century, it was possible to move upward if you inherited land or property or titles from another branch of the family, and it was definitely the case that you could be designated gentleman while owning very little. Often in families with estates, the eldest son would inherit everything, and the younger sons had to go into the army or the church because all the money would follow the estate. Thus the son of a decided gentleman with land and property might end up with very little except the title gentleman to his name.

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A "Gentleman" was originally a man of 'good family', but one who was not part of the English nobility. My understanding is that the "yeoman" title developed during the 1400s, especially following the Black Plague, as wealthier members of the lower classes were able to accumulate sufficient land holdings as to work their way upwards socially.

Initially, a 'Gentleman' was simply a person who owned arms (sword, armor, and horse. etc). However, being in a position to own those things also required that you have money to afford them. This ended up eventually changing around in social view such that a couple of hundred years later, anyone who wore arms was a 'Gentleman', if they had no other title. (In essence, originally, 'the man owned the clothes', now 'the clothes made the man'). 'Gentlemen' therefore were the odd in-between group. They were wealthy enough to be ignoble, but held insufficient lands to be yeomen, and not holding a title, were not 'noblemen'.

I cannot speak directly for Francis Lycett, but as for his being a Gentleman, it was essentually unheard of for such wealth to suddenly be in the hands of a previously poor family in the 1700s; the time of social migration that allowed that class to develop was more during the 1400s and 1500s, and much less commonly in the 1600s. In the 1700s, it would have implied inherited wealth, not "nouveau riche".

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