History 367 Society and Ideas in Shakespeare’s England



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Other kinds of tenure included copyhold (entry fine, plus annual rent), leasehold, and tenancy-at-will.

  • Villeinage (serfdom) no longer existed; Pigge’s Case 1618.

    Social Structure: Realities 11

    • Not a caste society; social mobility possible – e.g. by moving to London and writing plays;

    • More common was being a yeoman, farming efficiently, saving money, buying land, and getting recognition as a gentleman;

    • Or getting a university (Inns of Court) education, entering the church (or the legal profession) and working your way up; or entering royal administration (members of the Privy Council automatically counted as nobles).

    Social Structure: Towns 01

    • Merchants in towns (especially London) could get very rich, though their status remained ambiguous (theory was based on the countryside).

    • In Spain/ France, merchants lost social status; but not in England; their families often intermarried with nobles/ gentry.

    • Citizens (fully qualified traders) in London and other towns ranked somewhere around yeomen/ gentry.

    Social Structure: Towns 02

    • The elite merchants of London were the office-holding aldermen.

    • A great mine-owner and financier was Thomas Sutton (d. 1611); he was wealthier than anyone other than the royal family and some nobles;

    • James I tried to have Sutton’s will declared legally invalid, so the crown could get the cash;

    • Sir Edward Coke upheld the will; it founded Charterhouse school (a public = private school).

    The London Charterhouse (Sutton’s Hospital); now a charitable retirement home (the school moved to the countryside)

    Towns. Rural variations.

    • Immigrants to London had a good chance of qualifying as a trader or skilled industrial producer (30-50% of male population did so); new suburbs arose in the East end (Stepney; Whitechapel); but disease struck.

    • Countryside: southeast more prosperous and hierarchical than northwest; local variations: many gentlemen in Lancashire; few in Lincolnshire. Society hierarchical in arable areas but not in wood-pasture districts, which were much more egalitarian (and poorer).

    • Idea of a link between puritanism, parliamentarianism, and wood-pasture areas.

    Women 01

    • Idea that as population grew, and economic problems increased, women were forced into private roles in family, and out of public/ economic roles.

    • Brewers. Problems with the theory.

    • Women in power: Matilda (1100s); Mary I; Elizabeth I; Mary II; Anne.

    • Women often exercised power informally rather than as office-holders.

    Women 02

    • Ladies-in-waiting under Elizabeth.

    • Elizabeth Hardwick (Bess of Hardwick; c. 1527-1608); 4 husbands (including Sir William Cavendish, and George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury); great wealth (annual income in 1560s has been calculated as about $20 million at modern values).

    • Women in business: Jacqueline Vautrollier: took over husband’s business as printer/ publisher on his death; later married an apprentice from Stratford - Richard Field.

    Bess of Hardwick (Elizabeth Hardwick; Barlow; Cavendish; St Loe; Talbot) (at c. 65, 1592)

    Built for Bess 1590-97: Hardwick Hall, More Glass than Wall.

    Jacqueline Vautrollier and Richard Field in Partnership, 1588.

    Women 03

    • Richard Field printed Venus and Adonis (1593), The Rape of Lucrece (1594), and The Phoenix and the Turtle (1601).

    • Women took status from their families (by birth or marriage); gentlemen were expected to be highly deferential towards noble women.

    • Women were (in theory) subordinate to their husbands/ fathers; widows were freer.

    Women 04

    • Women held only limited property rights in common law; but equity law, enforced in the Court of Chancery, gave them greater rights.

    • Women seen as usually less well qualified to govern than men; some countries forbade female monarchs altogether (France; Salic Law).

    • In England, thinkers acknowledged that women could rule, and that there could be exceptionally able women who would be good rulers – Deborah (Old Testament); Elizabeth.

    Women 05

    • Elizabeth acknowledged her physical but not mental/ emotional inferiority to men: 1588: “I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a King, and of a King of England too”.

    • Few writers challenged the idea that women are generally inferior to men in some respects; a pioneering feminist was Mary Astell (1666-1731).

    Mary Astell’s Some Reflections upon Marriage, 1700.

    Women 06

    • Mary Astell was the daughter of a Newcastle coal merchant. She argued for the equality of women, and also for an intolerant episcopalian church, opposing the views of John Locke.

    • Women were generally regarded as more emotional and less rational than men.

    • Wives were seen as subordinate to their husbands; but husbands and wives were regarded as partners in running the family.

    Families 01

    • The husband was regarded as the senior partner in running the family; he was granted limited rights to discipline his wife and children, but was generally denied the power of life and death over them.

    • Most thinkers held that a key purpose of family life is the welfare of the children, and argued that allowing the father to kill his children would not promote that purpose.

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