By Jonathan Barry, Christopher Brooks

This quantity of essays seeks to supply an intensive second look of so much of our preconceptions concerning the early-modern English social order. the vast majority of those who lived in early-modern England have been neither very wealthy nor very terrible, but a disproportionate volume of historiography has been directed in the direction of accurately those teams. This booklet intends to outline the time period 'middle sessions' and deal with them as lively individuals of background, instead of as an easy derivative emerging and falling in keeping with others' actions.

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Additional resources for The Middling Sort of People: Culture, Society and Politics in England, 1550–1800

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This was the 'Old Society', the very essence of an ancien regime sociologique which was to be shattered only with industrialisation, the social and political conflicts of the early nineteenth century, the rise of political economy, and the 'birth of class' . It is one of the underlying themes of this chapter that such comfortable assumptions need to be questioned and reappraised. Only by doing so can we gain a deeper appreciation of the social dynamism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the place of the early modern period in the long-term transition in perceptions of society and in social identities which took place between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries.

National political involvement often arose out of this local role, but also from a broader sense of the connection between national institutions, such as parliament, and the interests of the middling sort. As Barry and others argue, all of these forms of activity spawned association, as did the countless other ways in which the middling sort sought to protect and advance their households. A new approach to public life in this period, which takes these efforts seriously, is just beginning to emerge, particularly for the later part of our period, but much further research will be required in this area.

For the term 'the middle sort of people', now rendered commonplace, stuck. In the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was routinely adopted as an established mode of summing up the tradesmen, manufacturers, and farmers who occupied the middle ground in the hierarchies of wealth, status and power, and the outcome was the consolidation of a tripartite perception of the social order. Such a perception might be implicit, as when Secretary Nicholas expressed his anxiety in 1661 about the affection of 'the middle sort of people in city and country' for the restored monarchy.

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