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
A Kitchen Maid
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; countygentry 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.