In war, certainly. Also in other times of crisis, wizardry being more flexible than skill at arms. And the status has stuck, even as it spread owing to more and more education. Not so bad as knighthood, where the ceremony of knighting soon meant that any rich man could flaunt the honor without being able to so much as pick up a sword, there is still testing for ability, but -- widespread.
So what do we call this group? Knights, squires -- too military. Gentlemen and gentlewomen carry too many connotations of birth -- even though it's good at being passed on, it's not that good -- and just don't feel right.
Mandarin shrieks of the wrong era.
Bachelors, masters. . . hmmm. . . maybe something academic will do the trick. But I shall have to ponder.