European World 1500-1750
1. Social structure
Marxism (determined by the struggle for control of the means of production)
use ‘estates’ or ‘orders’ rather than ‘class’
Medieval division into those who pray (clergy), fight (nobles) and work (commoners)
Secular clergy (popes, cardinals, curia, prelates, priests); regular (abbots, priors, monks,
friars, priests); sacraments
Nobility: dukes, marquis, earls, viscounts, barons, knights
Feudalism; vassals; noblesse de robe; noblesse d’épée; seigneurial; subsistence; serfdom
2. Social status
Endogamy; oligarchisation; ‘conspicuous consumption’; sumptuary laws
3. Social relations
Feudalism; patronage
Desiderius Erasmus (d.1536); Albrecht von Haller (d.1777)
‘Weapons of the weak’ (James C. Scott)
Peasants’ Revolts in England (1381) and the Holy Roman Empire (1524-25); John Ball;
Twelve Articles; French Revolution (1789); egalitarianism
4. Conclusions
Early modern society was heterogeneous and dynamic
A differentiated and evolving society built on inequality and collective identities
Status is displayed, acknowledged and negotiated in various forms of social exchange
Strong bonds and mutual dependencies coexist with (periodically erupting) tensions
Gradual advance of the ‘middling sort’ create discrepancy between socio-economic and
political power
Jonathan Dewald, The European Nobility 1400-1800 (Cambridge, 1996)
Henry Kamen, Early Modern European Society (London, 2000)
Sharon Kettering, Patrons, Brokers and Clients in Seventeenth-Century France (Oxford, 1986)
C. Scott Dixon and Louise Schorn-Schütte (eds), The Protestant Clergy of Early Modern Europe
(Basingstoke, 2003)
Henry French, The Middle Sort of People in Provincial England 1600-1750 (Oxford, 2007)
Tobias Hug, Impostures in Early Modern England (Manchester, 2009)
James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance (New Haven & London, 1990)
Tom Scott (ed.), The Peasantries of Europe (London, 1998)
Kathy Stuart, Defiled Trades & Social Outcasts (Cambridge, 1999)
Phil Withington, ‘Company and Sociability in Early Modern England’, Social History 32 (2007)
Keith Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680 (London, 2003)
‘None shall wear any cloth of gold, tissue, nor fur of sables: except duchesses, marquises, and
countesses in their gowns; [none shall wear] silver, tinseled satin or silk …: except all degrees
above … baronesses, and other personages of like degrees in their kirtles and sleeves.
[None shall wear] velvet … embroidery or … lace of gold or silver: except all degrees
above mentioned, the wives of knights of the Garter and of the Privy Council ...
[None shall wear] satin, damask, or … fur whereof the kind groweth not within the
Queen's dominions …: except the degrees and persons above mentioned, or the wives of those that
may dispend £100 by the year and so valued in the subsidy book.
No persons under the degrees above specified shall wear any guard or welt of silk upon any
petticoat, cloak, or safeguard.’
‘Statute of Apparel’ issued by Elizabeth I in 1574, cited in ‘Elizabethan Era’
(; accessed 19/10/2010).
In Star Chamber, Giles Dobell of Minhead (Somerset) complained that Robert Heyward and others
‘with force of arms, that is to say with swords and daggers and other weapons … took out
Margaret, [my] wife, out of her pew where she was kneeling in the church and brought [her] out
into an aisle … against her will and then and there did beat and ill use her.’
Pre-Reformation lawsuit cited in K. French, The Good Women of the Parish (Philadelphia,
2008), 115.
[Diary entry by Felix Platter for 13 October 1552] Travelling with a group of scholars from Basel
to Geneva, ‘we arrived at [Mézières in Vaud]. There was a bad tavern and a few scattered houses,
only the landlady was in attendance and all she had was one big lounge on the ground floor, with
one open window. In the room several peasants and beggars from Savoy sat around a long table …
. We would have liked to move on, but it was wet and dark, forcing us to stay, even though the
landlady told us that she had neither beds nor stables. … [The peasants] got drunk and staggered
across to the fireplace in the hall, where they fell asleep. We were very worried, closed the shutters,
moved a broken bed against the lounge-door … stayed awake [and fled the place in the middle of
the night].’
V. Lötscher (ed.), Felix Platter – Tagebuch [Diary] (Basel, 1976), 132-4.
‘When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman ? From the beginning all men by
nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of
naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have
appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the
time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage,
and recover liberty.’
John Ball’s sermon to the rebels in the English rising of 1381; cf. R. B. Dobson, The Peasants’
Revolt of 1381 (2nd edn, London, 1983).
‘Third, until now it has been the custom for us to be regarded as a lord’s personal property, which is
deplorable since Christ redeemed us all with the shedding of his precious blood.
Eighth, we are aggrieved, especially those that have their own land, because these lands cannot
sustain the payments on them, and because these peasants must then forfeit the land and are ruined.’
Extracts from the ‘Twelve Articles’ of the German Peasants (1525) in: Michael G. Baylor (ed.),
The Radical Reformation (Cambridge, 1991), pp 231-238
HI203 6
SMJB 10/12