Social structure: contemporary views 05
Shakespeare got a coat of arms for his father John in 1596; but he continued to write plays, make money, and invest in property in Sratford until he retired around 1613.
Wealth and ancestry remained key factors in social status; but education, manners, and contribution to the public (e.g. through office-holding) became increasingly important.
Social structure: contemporary views 06
Humanists (Desiderius Erasmus d.1536; Sir/ St. Thomas More; d. 1535) argued that true nobility consists in virtue (= public service by the educated class).
Virtus vera nobilitas (virtue is the true nobility) is the motto of Trinity College, Cambridge, founded by Henry VIII.
This view of nobility dovetailed neatly with attitudes of Henry VII and later monarchs, who wanted nobles to be public servants, not independent warlords.
The poor could not afford education, and so could not become virtuous public servants.
Trinity College, Cambridge
Social Structure: Realities 01
Many (minor) gentry got university education, high office, and high social position (e.g. Cecils).
The church, medicine, and law offered prospects for young men to rise in status.
Royal family at top of social scale.
Titled nobles next; roughly 50-60 families under Tudors, more than doubling under Stuarts; James I sold noble titles for cash.
Social Structure: Realities 02
Only the eldest son of a noble inherited the title (and seat in the House of Lords); younger sons/ daughters were commoners; nobles paid taxes.
Taxpayers (subsidymen) assessed each other’s tax liability; low, and falling, taxes.
Duke (Duchess); Marquess (Marchioness); Earl (Countess); Viscount (Viscountess); Baron (Baroness).
Social Structure: Realities 03
Noble title inherited by primogeniture (sons inherit in order of age).
If there were no sons, the monarch could let title die out (Henry VII and Elizabeth happy to do that; they preferred giving people the order of the Garter rather than noble title).
Or the monarch could let the husband of a daughter get the title.
Social Structure: Realities 04
Land was also generally passed on by primogeniture; but if there were no sons, the daughters inherited equally.
Alternative methods of inheritance applied in some localities: Borough English in Northampton; gavelkind in Kent.
Below the nobles: gentry: baronets 1611: 200; 1641 400+; 1688 800; Sir + Bart./ Bt./; hereditary.
Social Structure: Realities 05
Knights: different orders: Garter, Bath, etc; Sir + Kt., non-hereditary; usually made by monarch, but sometimes on license by a lesser person; e.g. the Earl of Essex in anti-Spanish war 1590s.
Esquires: upper gentry; heirs of knights; minor members of noble families; officeholders.
County and parish gentry (or Upper and Lower; Greater and Lesser)
The Winter Habit of an English Gentlewoman (Hollar)
A Bowing Gentleman
Lady of the Court of England
Wife of a Citizen or Artisan of London
Social Structure: Realities 06
County gentry: key office was Justice of the Peace (J.P.; e.g. Justice Shallow); prison/ stocks; quarter sessions; theft of a shilling or more = death; most serious crimes reserved for assizes.
Other commissions: sewers; subsidy.
Gentry less than 2% of population; owned 65% of land; nobles owned 15%; crown and church much of the rest.
Minor gentry had farms of 50+ acres; county gentry 1,000+ acres.
Stocks (Cerne Abbas, Dorset)
Social Structure: Realities 07
Gentry – especially county gentry – were increasingly elected as members even to borough seats in House of Commons – establishing technical residency just before election.
Size of House of Commons kept pace with population: 300 1500; 462 1600; 500+ 1640.
Next rank down from gentry were yeomen; farmers holding 50+ acres; yeomen of Kent especially prosperous.
Social Structure: Realities 08
Yeomen made £40-50 a year (£25-35 after expenses).
Husbandmen had farms of around 30 acres; made £15 (£4-5 after expenses); bad harvests could jeopardize their families.
Labourers and cottagers had some land, but not enough to maintain family; so they worked for others at about 1 shilling a day, when they could get work; total income around £9 a year.
Social Structure: Realities 09
Husbandmen, labourers and cottagers relied on local common land to graze animals and get fire-wood; but gentry increasingly enclosed this land, asserting it was their private property, and putting hedges/ fences around it.
Enclosure seen as selfish and divisive, and as leading to vagrancy.
Some farmers held land freehold; if you had 40s (per annum) worth of freehold land, you could vote in county elections.
Enclosure ended the Open Field system and extinguished common (Grazing and other) rights
Social Structure: Realities 10
Inflation meant that many people had 40s of freehold land, and the county electorate was very large.
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