5 Pages

Social history

The fortunes of the landowning classes have been widely debated in the ‘storm over the gentry’ controversy, which dates back to 1941. The key publications in this saga are R.H. Tawney, ‘The rise of the gentry, 1558-1640’, EcHR 1st series 11 (1941); L. Stone, ‘The anatomy of the Elizabethan aristocracy’, EcHR 1st series 18 (1948); H.R. Trevor-Roper, ‘The Elizabethan aristocracy: an anatomy anatomised’, EcHR 2nd series 3 (1951); H.R. Trevor-Roper, ‘The gentry, 15401640’, EcHR supplement (1953); J.H. Hexter, ‘The storm over the gentry’, in his Reappraisals in History (1961); and Lawrence Stone, Social Change and Revolution in England, 1540-1640 (1965), which contains edited extracts from the works of historians who contributed to the gentry debate (see also Lawrence Stone, ‘The bourgeois revolution of seventeenth-century England revisited’, PP 109 (1985)). In another work, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (Oxford, 1965), the same author gives a brilliant survey of the social activities and lifestyle of the aristocracy, also putting forward a widely challenged argument that they were in a state of relative decline. A helpful synthesis of all the most recent work on the landed families has been provided in three articles by John Habakkuk:

30, 31 (1979, 1980, 1981). A most valuable and more recent study of the behaviour and influence of the gentry is to be found in Felicity Heal and Clive Holmes, The Gentry in England and Wales, 1500-1700 (1994).