Magnate, from the Late Latin magnas, a great man, itself from Latin magnus 'great', designates a noble or other man in a high social position, by birth, wealth or other qualities. In reference to the Middle Ages, the term is often used to distinguish higher territorial landowners and warlords such as counts, earls, dukes, and territorial-princes from the baronage.
In England, the magnate class went through a change in the later Middle Ages. It had previously consisted of all tenants-in-chief of the crown, a group of more than a hundred families. The emergence of Parliament led to the establishment of a parliamentary peerage that received personal summons, rarely more than sixty families.
In the Tudor period, after Henry VII defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field, Henry made a point of executing or neutralizing as many magnates as possible. Henry VII would make parliament attaint undesirable nobles and magnates, thereby stripping them of their wealth, protection from torture, and power. Henry VII also used the Court of the Star Chamber to have powerful nobles executed. Henry VIII continued this approach in his reign; he inherited a survivalistic mistrust of nobles from his father. Henry VIII ennobled very few men and the ones he did were all "new men": novi homines, greatly indebted to him and having very limited power.
Poland and Lithuania
Magnates were a social class of wealthy and influential nobility in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania (and later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), see Magnates of Poland and Lithuania
In the Middle Ages, the Serbian nobility was roughly divided into the "magnates" and "nobles".
In Spain, since late Middle Ages there is the highest class of nobility who hold appellation of Grandee of Spain.
In Sweden, wealthiest medieval lords were known as storman (plural stormän), "great men", a similar description as magnate, and same meaning.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press