"The Tree of Commonwealth": The Social Order in the Sixteenth Century by Yale / Keith Wrightson
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Date Added: June 15, 2011

Lecture Description

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.

Reading assignment:
Wrightson, English Society, chapter 1

Course Index

Course Description

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.

Course Structure:
This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Fall 2009.

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