A Matter of Britain
And so, my lord, it is needful both in this regard and others that you should know who they are who you should hold for gentlemen, who for nobles, and who for non-nobles.
The Gentleman is he who from old springs from gentlemen and gentlewomen, and such men and their posterity by marriage are gentle.
And with regard to nobility, which is the beginning of gentility, it is acquired fi rstly by those who hold great office under the prince, and by this means they are ennobled and their posterity after them. And the heirs of such, who come after, may,by maintaining the free condition and leading the honorable life of the nobleman, call themselves gentlemen.
Thirdly, when the servant of the prince of any other has led an honorable existence, and the prince has made him a knight, he thus ennobles him and his posterity.
Fourthly, to follow the profession of arms in the rank of man-at-arms and to serve the prince valorously and long at war, this ennobles a man.
And fifthly, when a prince wishes to ennoble a man, he may do so and may give him letters to make him noble, for his good or his virtuous living, or for his riches. And although it is true that to be ennobled by letters patent is the least well authorized manner of ennoblement, yet it is apparent enough that ancient nobility comes from ancient riches. And he is the happier, and is to be the more esteemed, who commences his nobility in virtue, than he who brings his to an end in vice.
—Oliver de la Marche (1425–1502), Castellan of the Burgundian court