Even 'gentry' is stretching it - Freemen is a better translation - the ones in the UK had (at the time Poland had its 1st Republic) an analagous legal status to Polish szlachty, were often affluent in relation to their neighbours and during that same period were gentrifying.
Exactly - nobility is the wrong word and the wrong concept.
You are trying to define Polish nobles by using English definitions and this is wrong approach. In case of Polish nobility you will never get the same or even close result to British, French, Spanish etc. nobility. You can't compare noble classes of those countries and claim which was more "noble". Every country, although they are European, had distinctily different social, political history. What was considered noble in Poland, wasn't necessarily in any other country and vice versa.
Norman Davis compares them to a caste rather than a stratum
If we agree that nobility is a high social class, to which one belonged by virtue of hereditary or honorary rank; possessed privileges and rights not granted to members of other classes in a society, then Polish szlachta and British nobility were the same.
In Poland the wealth of a noble didn't matter. Even if he was poor as peasant, he still had the same privileges and rights as other nobles.
I don't know why Davis is using such silly comparisons,... maybe because British can't get that wealthy doesn't mean noble ;)
Szlachta (nobility:) within it's class was very democratic. The principle of equality within the nobility was almost sacred. And it has been adopted by all Poles. Panowie bracia! :) Many of the principles which governed the Ist Republic of nobility, are also a modern democracy principles.
This is spot on - the best way to describe them is as Freemen who due to an antiquated system surviving developed entrenched customs and marriage rules - there are interesting parallels with Mauretanian society today.
If you will use the definitions used in other countries you will always get the wrong result. With those definition comes theirs original meaning, which is always to some degree different from the thing you want to apply it that comes from another country.
Any comparisons, be it British nobility, gentry, Roman citizen etc will always fail. Szlachta is nobility in Poland, end of story.