In French the word *paysan (fem. paysanne) translates to English as 'farmer', as well as 'peasant'. (Collins).
It is by no means demeaning in many European countries (including France) to refer to someone as a paysan. It means a type of country person, but not necessarily one of low social status. Many landowners are described thus.
According to the OED almost all the meanings of peasant are demeaning, indeed they take the trouble to point out that it is a word which has effectively ceased to refer anyone in Britain, and is generally applied to agricultural communities in poor countries. Peasant is nowadays mostly used in Britain as a term of abuse. Not even agricultural labourers are referred to as 'peasants'.
Was there ever a wealthy peasant class in Britain, and in her original dominions such as America, Australia etc, and if so where has it gone?