Tudor hierarchy - or perhaps just Kentwell

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becklaxton
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Tudor hierarchy - or perhaps just Kentwell

Postby becklaxton » Mon Mar 11, 2013 5:21 pm

My first post, so please be kind (and I can't find a newbie FAQ)...

I'm confused by the social hierarchy at Kentwell (1559). At the costume intro, several people talked about the 'merchant' class, but I didn't get the hang of what those people did. One of them was liveried household staff, so I can see that's a cut above. But what are merchants?

Is it that in the bakhouse, say, there's a master baker who's better off and wears classier clothes than some of the workers there? (Or in a village would own the bakery?) Or does 'merchant' imply specific trades? I'd always thought smiths were high in the pecking order, fr'instance, but I suspect I've just got that from Kipling. A very simple explanation would be much appreciated!



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Re: Tudor hierarchy - or perhaps just Kentwell

Postby aendr » Tue Mar 12, 2013 10:36 am

I found http://www.tudorgroup.co.uk/articles/so ... cture.html a good start. With http://www.historyonthenet.com/Tudors/society.htm giving a better idea of where the church lies in. For more depth you start reading Proper Books.
As a newbie, we will be at the bottom of the pile generally so in a way it's better to see who we look up to... so that's pretty much everyone(!)

Children obey their parents. ("Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.")
Women obey the male head of their family - first father then husband. It was perfectly reasonable to beat a wife who did not obey.
This goes right the way up, so once married Queen Mary had to obey Philip of Spain which was rather annoying to many nobles to be under the rule of effectively a foreigner. That, no doubt, influenced Elizabeth remaining unwed.
A Master of any occupation is both richer and better than an apprentice or worker in that occupation.
While it can be obvious that some occupations are higher than others - Spice merchants wear better clothes than smiths - others I haven't got the hang of e.g. the difference between a weaver and a smith. Perhaps that more depends on how good a weaver or smith they are so how good their business is going. Tailors, obviously, have to show off their skill in what they wear themselves, so might be dressing upwards as far as they dare.
People lived more closely together. The gentry would see the people working for them especially in the house, being assisted in so many aspects of life by them. Apprentices would bed down in the next room to their master, and eat meals cooked by the master's wife (I think it's Sabine Johnson whose letters say she sent her husband's apprentice's mother some bread to show how well she baked it after the apprentice told his mother he was ill fed and his mother complained). Alison Sim's book The Tudor Housewife was an excellent read!

Status is shown by how fancy your clothes are (how flash your car is, to remind you of the open day). There were "sumptuary laws" (though I don't know what applied in 1559) whereby you wore clothes as directed to your station in life (okay, so there's no law now saying that being on benefits means you aren't allowed a Rolls but I think there'd be questions in the tabloids). If you went too high, you had to pay a fine (higher road tax and insurance). You might flaunt your money by being rich enough to pay those fines. They restricted colour, material and items of apparel, but in many senses the richer fabrics and expensive or dark dyes cost too much coin anyway. Laws could be designed to support industry. Men had to wear a hat made of English wool ... supporting the English wool trade. So many days of eating fish and not meat supported the fishing trade which meant we had working boats and experienced sailors and therefore a navy. Having to practise archery weekly meant we had lots of people ready to be archers in battle (until the long bow was no longer effective against advances in armour.)

The merchants at Kentwell are generally stationed on the great sward, in tent, and above the inn by the barnsward. They get to wear nicer clothes (harder to make and more expensive) but don't get to take their upper layers off when it's hot, so swelter more in the warmer weather. They sell expensive items that commoners don't have the coin for, generally. They have to know lots about what they are selling, so the Spice Merchants have a great set of frightfully precious spices for example and can tell you all about each one. The traders are lower status, more common folk, and they sell items the common folk would buy. A common woman would make all her family's clothes. Sophia will correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I can tell a tailor (merchant) would make a (rich) merchant's or gentry's clothes. A less well off merchant might do a mix. Gentry would still sew some clothes - on visiting Kentwell, you can see the Gentry ladies embroidering fine collars and cuffs for shifts.


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Re: Tudor hierarchy - or perhaps just Kentwell

Postby aendr » Tue Mar 12, 2013 10:44 am

To continue the car analogy, your clothes would also be practical. There's no point having a 2 seater sporty number as your only car if you have 2 kids, a dog and do a lot of camping. There's no point having your clothing only suitable for walking around daintily if you spend the day lifting, carrying, banging, sawing, stirring or generally getting mucky.


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Re: Tudor hierarchy - or perhaps just Kentwell

Postby red razors » Tue Mar 12, 2013 12:44 pm

common women did not generally make their family's clothing, just their linens. in fact, the women of most households would make the family linens. anne boleyn lost the plot over the fact that katherine of aragon still made henry's shirts for him after he had put her aside - that was her duty as his wife, and she insisted on carrying it out.

generally, tailors would make the main items of clothing. they weren't necessarily all as upwardly mobile as the kentwell tailors - imagine the merchant class as business people. some do better than others. some do very well indeed. some do not. it's a spectrum; all social classes are a spectrum. many poorer tailors or bodgers were older and more infirm, with less skillful fingers. some travelled around to pick up enough business to keep them going, doing repairs and making over old garments. these are most likely to be the kind that commoners would have employed to make their clothing.

to get back to the original question, the merchant class are basically like a modern upper-middle class. most of us are working class. smiths are tradesmen rather than merchants. the merchants buy and sell things, ergo they are more like successful business-owners. they are not quite doing the manual trades that carpenters, smiths, etc do. sticking with modern analogies, it would be along the lines of comparing a self-employed plumber with a rolls-driving entrepreneur.



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Re: Tudor hierarchy - or perhaps just Kentwell

Postby guthrie » Tue Mar 12, 2013 1:57 pm

Merchant usually implies buying and selling stuff. we tend to use it as a short term because there were different occupations; e.g. a clothier makes and sells cloth, often acting as a bit of a merchant by buying space in ships, having an agent abroad to sell their cloth and so on, but is a clothier. The Merchant venturers company is quite young in the 1550's.

The master tradesman is of course one who has convinced others of his ability. Below that you often get journeymen, who have not yet produced a masterwork or cannot afford the fee's to be recognised as a master or cannot afford to set up on their own, so just work under a master. Then there's apprentices who are learning the trade. This medieval system was still in use into I am sure the 17th century, but of course with varying expectations over the years.

Once you get accepted you can ask for access to the Kentwellies website which answers a lot of this in a little wiki of its own.


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Re: Tudor hierarchy - or perhaps just Kentwell

Postby becklaxton » Tue Mar 12, 2013 3:33 pm

Thank you all very much! Not sure whether that's made it clearer, or made it clear how complicated it is.... :-) Have always thought it a flaw of history teaching that you know so much about monarchs and the upper crust and so little about everyone else.



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Re: Tudor hierarchy - or perhaps just Kentwell

Postby guthrie » Tue Mar 12, 2013 8:07 pm

Your homework* is to read "Masters and servants in Tudor England" by Alison Sim. It seems to be a good introduction to the levels of working society of the period. She also wrote books on food and the Tudor housewife.



* okay not really homework and we won't test you.


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Re: Tudor hierarchy - or perhaps just Kentwell

Postby becklaxton » Wed Mar 13, 2013 7:18 pm

Oh, please do! I *love* tests....

This seems to be the only one of hers not in paperback, so I might try some others first. Thank you for the recs! Nice timing as I see that The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England is just out in paperback a week ago. Time for a little Amazon splurge (I am boycotting them after the tax revelations, but still have birthday money to spend, oh joy)....



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Re: Tudor hierarchy - or perhaps just Kentwell

Postby gregory23b » Wed Jul 03, 2013 9:18 pm

The big problem of the late middle ages is trying to define class then as we accept it now, they are not analogous. There was not a 'mercantile class' as such, but simply commoners who sometimes were very well off (or not) due to trade, some of them become ennobled and others do not as Red says. They are still 'peasants' though.

You can have wealthy landowning 'peasants' who finally send their kids of to become lawyers (still commoners) who then become knighted - John Paston III.

A wealthy merchant may have lots of sway in say a city guild, but in terms of his 'class' was simply an influential commoner. The competition between companies or guilds was immense, some having their own version of nobility by virtue of when they were chartered, e.g. mercers and bakers, or others smaller but wealthy; goldsmiths versus painters etc. The Lord Mayor of London was a hugely powerful individual, able enough to snub a king's dinner and get away with it and get an apology.

There were people who turned down knighthoods because the incumbent expectation of maintaining that status was more than they could cover, so moving up a 'class' was not always desired.

The issue of hierarchy and social mobility or status was a medieval obsession, reading any set of letters, the Pastons being an easy example shows the relative scale of position simply between a bunch of commoners - the household servants of the lowest order had the lowest status, bailiffs and stewards higher status, then the householder then their own interactions with dukes, earls and kings.

Apprentices were not servants, their apprenticeship contracts usually specified that they were not to be treated as servants and to be exempt from those lower tasks, yes that was abused, but not the expected norm, as has been posted before, the hierarchy of the apprentice system was as complex as any other.

I suggest Barbara Hanawalt's The Ties that Bound and Growing up in Medieval London - both mainly covering 14th to early 16th century.


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