Archiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 2001-10 > 1004487950

From: "Chris Dickinson" <>
Subject: Re: Irritating Posts
Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 00:25:50 -0000
References: <>, <>, <9rmf0f$8ar$>

Please excuse if this duplicates an existing message. I hit 'Reply
to All' to the copy of the post that Bronwen kindly sent me; but
realised afterwards that, as I'm not a subscriber to the list, the
post probably won't get through. So I'm posting this to the
newsgroup as well. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Bronwen Edwards writes:

>Oh come now! Of course it was rigid - by the standards of
today certainly. One had a "station" in life from which
they were strongly discouraged (or prevented) behaving as
if they were of a different station.

The reference was, as I understood it, to the nineteenth century.
Then, class was ultimately based on money. Make enough of it, buy
a country estate, get a peerage - and your family's social rank
was transformed. Social movement happened at all levels. There
were very few restrictions.

Of course, because the rigidity was familiar but also resented,
it became the
basis for much folklore about "trading places" (as in "The
Prince and the Pauper" and countless other examples).

Are there countless other examples? There is far more in folklore
about the peasant boy or peasant girl making good - that's simply
the 'who wants to be a millionaire' type of wishful thinking,
nothing to do with class.

>I recall my Cambridge-educated English graduate adviser in
anthropology delivering a lecture on the importance of
one's school tie and of being careful not to wear a tie
that could be confused with another school.

Oh well, as an Oxford-educated graduate in History, may I remind
you that the public school system is really a mid-nineteenth
century invention (yes, I know Eton/Harrow/Rugby predate this!).
>From the foundation of Cheltenham College (the school of 'IF')
onwards, there was a massive increase in such education for the
middle classes and for the running of the British Empire. The
real relevance of such schools is that, by standardising accent
and providing boarding places, they reinforced the new class
system of the Industrial Revolution and unified the upper and
middle classes across the nation. There was much more evidence of
class division in 1900 than there had been in 1800.

>And that was in the 20th century - the medieval period was
more rigid with its church sanctions and brutality from
those with power over you (by being of a higher station).

Church sanctions? Brutality? What on earth do you mean?

Never assume that because something existed in one century it
must have existed, or been worse, in an earlier one.

However, I would agree that society was more rigid in the
medieval period - as I commented above, the reference in the
thread was, as I understood it, to the nineteenth century.

That said, English society has never been as stratified or as
rigid as some seem to think (I'm not commenting on Scottish,
Welsh or Irish - simply because I don't know enough about their
local social structures). There was a huge amount of documented
social movement in Early Modern England, a thriving middle class,
and growing urban centres to provide a social melting pot. This
sort of social environment can probably be traced back to the
mid-fourteenth century.

Earlier than that, because of the lack of documentation, it's
difficult to tell. There seem to be no reasons why the three
standard routes of social movement couldn't have existed then -
men gaining gaining promotion through war, women through
marriage, and generally up-and-down through the acquisition or
loss of wealth. Nor it is easy to assess the impact that monastic
communities had on social mobility.

>History may have recorded individuals from medieval England
who were more liberal in their thinking and behavior, but
the system was certainly rigid. Best, Bronwen Edwards

Of course, there are really two separate issues to this. There is
the question of whether society was stratified and the question
of whether people could move between the strata. One of the
problems in discussing such issues over a 'medieval' period is
that the timescale is huge and the strata change.

Bear in mind that the medieval genealogist has a much more
limited window onto the past than the medieval historian. The
only genealogies that have survived are of families that have
been successful or of families at the top that have been
noticeably unsuccessful, a tiny percentage of the general
population. These pedigrees tell us very little about social
movement - indeed quite the reverse. Marriages that don't add
assets or status to the clan won't be included, or if they are,
the descendant lines disappear. Wives who aren't heiresses may be
no more than a name, if that. The only certainties in discussing
this are presumptions.


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