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The term was originally applied to all ranks above commoners, so as to include earls, barons, knights, and esquires. The establishment of the House of Lords created a clear distinction between the hereditary nobility (the peerage) and lower ranks, but in the 17th century the gentry were still thought of as noble. By the 19th century the exclusion of the gentry from the nobility led to the use of the inclusive term aristocracy.

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