English Society in the 17th Century
English society was hierarchal, meaning that there were different classes of people based on their wealth. The three classes are upper class, middle class, and lower class. The three different classes had very different lives. All of these people however, had to pay tax to the king. The rich paid more than the poor because they could spare it. Those who were seen as a traitor did not have the right to make a will and therefore the king would have the rights to the traitor’s possessions once they were dead. He would also take the land of those he accused with treason.
The upper class consisted of the king, king’s advisors, nobles, and high church officials. The upper class had a very expensive and elegant life style. They would often eat fancy meals consisting of many courses. Of course, the rich could not be seen as poor or less than they really are, so they would use fancy eating utensils. The fork was becoming popular in this period. Since they could afford it, the upper class people would eat a lot of meat, which was quite expensive. The meat was very hard to preserve, so it was often heavily flavoured to hide the rotten taste. By the end of the 17th century, about 50% of people ate meat regularly, meaning that they were making a decent wage.
The middle class was where the everyday worker would be. The type of workers in the middle class would have been merchants, manufactures, landowners, professionals, military officers etc. many craftsmen would belong to a guild. Craftsmen would include carpenters, blacksmiths, dressmakers etc. The middle class was not rich, nor poor.
The lower class people would be considered peasants and were very poor. They often had trouble getting dinner on the table. They could usually only afford bread and beer, occasionally enjoying meat and cheese. Unlike the upper class, peasants did not use eating utensils, only their hands. It was hard to enjoy life considering that the men working in agriculture would make a mere ten pennies, give or take. The women made even less, making it difficult to support their families.
Trade was very important in England. New goods had started coming from all over. Some major imports to England were coffee beans, cacao, beaver skin hats, tea, and tobacco. In exchange, the English would trade goods such as cloth, tin, lead, and coal. The new items in England started a new social gathering for the wealthy men. Coffee shops were a great place for men to catch up on all of the latest gossip. The shops would sell tea, tobacco, snuff, sandwiches, and yes of course, coffee. Although the coming of all these new goods was great, they were very costly, meaning that only the rich could enjoy such luxuries.
Religion played a very big role in England’s society. Most people were Protestant and a select few were Roman Catholic. The Church of England was the official church. Some people, however, did not follow this church. Calvinists, or Puritans, were a different conjugation of Protestant that led very sober lives. They believed that their followers must be 100% devoted to God and were not allowed to take part in drinking, gambling, or theatre. The Puritans had very strict laws and wore all dark clothing. They also believed in witches. Woman who didn’t marry, were seen as unnaturally smart, or quite simply were misfits, were seen as witches. The Puritans would have witch hunts to track down witches and either torture or kill them. Many Puritans ended up leaving due to the Church of England fining and imprisoning Puritans for not following them.
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The 17th century England can be summarized by 3 terms: sexism, disease and the class system.
For example, sexism illustrates that men’s authority was greater then women, this can be seen in the position men held which included: Duke of Buckingham, Prince, and Police Authorities. This is in contrast to woman’s lack of authority in the government and house hold. For instance, woman held no roles in government and had no control over their husbands or house hold. Furthermore, woman could be persecuted for suspicions of being witches, while men would usually not be.
In the 17th sentry disease ran rampant because of the low living standards. For example there was no proper sewage system. Because of the poor sewage system the water was contaminated. In addition people had poor hygiene, didn’t shower, and dental hygiene wasn’t important. Furthermore because of the absence of sterilization of medical equipment usually lead to death. With the lack of proper sewage system people would through their garbage out their windows and in to the streets.
Class system was a contrast between the power of the rich and the poor. In British culture the more servants one had the more power one held. The rich had expensive tests because object held higher value. Also money gave influence in the government was the aristocracy. Life was not as valued as highly. In the political side of things people with higher class had the opportunity to sponsor a person they chose. The difference between the classes made it hard to have respect for their superiors.
In summary, 17 century society Brittan had many hurdles they needed to overcome.
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