A gentlewoman (from the Latin gentilis, belonging to a gens, and English ‘woman’) in the original and strict sense is a woman of good family, analogous to the Latin generosus and generosa. The closely related English word “gentry” derives from the Old French genterise, gentelise, with much of the meaning of the French noblesse and the German Adel, but without the strict technical requirements of those traditions, such as quarters of nobility.
By association with gentleman, the word can refer to:
A woman of gentle birth or high social position;
A woman attending a great lady (as, for example, the character in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth called only ‘Gentlewoman’, who attends Lady Macbeth). This might be a court appointment as the female equivalent to a valet de chambre.
A woman with good manners and high standards of behaviour.
A form of address for a woman.
A woman of the nobility.