This course is intended to provide an up-to-date introduction to the development of English society between the late fifteenth and the early eighteenth centuries. Particular issues addressed in the lectures will include: the changing social structure; households; local communities; gender roles; economic development; urbanization; religious change from the Reformation to the Act of Toleration; the Tudor and Stuart monarchies; rebellion, popular protest and civil war; witchcraft; education, literacy and print culture; crime and the law; poverty and social welfare; the changing structures and dynamics of political participation and the emergence of parliamentary government.
01 - General Introduction
Professor Wrightson provides an introduction to the course. He briefly discusses the main features of the political and social landscape of early modern England and then summarizes the broad social and structural changes that occurred during the period. Professor Wrightson offers some thoughts on the nature of history and the study of history and focuses, in particular, on the benefits of studying the history of early modern England. He notes that the history of Britain in this period affected many other nations, such as early America and Canada, as well as later colonies such as those in Africa and India, and that studying these events helps us to better understand ourselves in time and contextualize many of the features of modern society that we take for granted.
02 - "The Tree of Commonwealth": The Social Order in the Sixteenth Century
Professor Wrightson provides a broad sketch of the social order of early modern England, focusing on the hierarchical language of "estates" and "degrees" and the more communitarian ideal of the "commonwealth" by which society was organized. The differences between the social structure in rural and urban areas are addressed and the subordinate roles of women and the young are also outlined. Professor Wrightson discusses the differences between members of peerage, the gentry, and the commonalty and the social positions of servants, yeoman, husbandmen, and apprentices are explained. The mechanisms by which the social order was preserved, such as prescriptive literature and ecclesiastical injunctions, are also considered. Professor Wrightson concludes that, while in the theory the social order was rigidly hierarchical and rooted in relationships of authority and subordination, in practice there was a great more flexibility and ambiguity within every day interpersonal social relationships.
03 - Households: Structures, Priorities, Strategies, Roles
Professor Wrightson lectures on the structures of households in early modern England. Differentiating between urban and rural households, the households of great lords and those of yeoman, husbandmen, and craftsmen, the varying structures and compositions of households are discussed. The process by which households were established, courtship and marriage, are addressed. Stressing the various ways in which early modern households differed from modern notions of the home, Professor Wrightson analyzes the roles played by individuals within them. The positions occupied by women and the array of tasks that they were expected to perform in furtherance of the household economy receive detailed attention, as do the experiences of children. Professor Wrightson discusses the manner in which households could be affected by external crises, such as plague or harvest failure, and touches on the strategies and steps employed by householders to ensure survival of this important unit.
04 - Communities: Key Institutions and Relationships
Professor Wrightson begins by discussing how modern perceptions of the 'traditional' community have informed the manner in which the early modern social landscape is discussed. From here he moves on to address the lived reality of community and social bonds in the period. The roles that the intertwined ideas of lordship and tenancy, custom, neighborliness and social 'credit' played in rural manors and parishes are examined, as are urban institutions like the guilds, and relationships of kinship more generally. Professor Wrightson argues that the social bonds of community and neighborliness were indeed key features of early modern society and could occupy a pivotal position in people's lives, but also warns that communities could also be restrictive and riven by conflicts and tensions. While recognizing the importance of bonds of mutual obligation, we must not sentimentalize them.
05 - "Countries" and Nation: Social and Economic Networks and the Urban System
Professor Wrightson discusses local particularism and regionalism in early modern England and highlights the importance of local customs and economic patterns. He then focuses on the manner in which these local areas, while enjoying a measure of cultural, institutional, and economic autonomy, were simultaneously integrated into a larger national whole. The role of trade (both between English regions and with the Continent via the Netherlands), the importance of market towns within the localities as nexuses of social and economic interaction, the place of 'provincial capitals,' and the pivotal position of the metropolis of London are all considered. Throughout the lecture Professor Wrightson also provides details of early modern regional topography and information concerning the role of urban areas in early modern social and economic life.
06 - The Structures of Power
Professor Wrightson begins by discussing recent trends in English political history, which has expanded from focusing solely on institutions to include analysis of political culture. After this, the formal institutions of government, such as the various law courts, the offices of royal administration, and Parliament, are briefly defined and situated. In the remainder of the lecture, Professor Wrightson explores the dynamics of royal power and authority. The impact of the personalities of Henry VII and Henry VIII on their individual reigns are noted and their relationships with the nobility are focused upon. Professor Wrightson addresses the manner in which the early Tudor kings solidified and extended royal authority through the uses of propaganda, patronage, consultations, and coercion. He ends by signaling the expansion of government which was to occur post-1530 as a result of the issues of the succession and religious change.
I really enjoyed this. Brilliant, wish history was taught like this when I was at school.
I found this fascinating from start to finish. The lecturer is extremely clear, the examples and quotations from other historians apt and memorable and his style charming with occasional little quirks to add some flavour. His attitude is one of humanity and balance. A wonderful survey of the period. Can’t recommend highly enough. Thank you Professor Wrightson!
Extremely Well constructed and presented series of lectures on early modern English History. People, times and places are players in a beautifully woven narrative of ideas. Wrightson is a master storyteller whose passion and authority for his subject is clear - a truly inspiring and entertaining 25 hour course truly fulfilling it's aims detailed in the concluding 18 minutes. Just begun a second run of the whole series and am discovering new depths in the text not previously heard. This is podcasting at its best and long may it continue.