The historical record has an inherent class bias. The majority of sources that are available to historians were created by, and reflect the opinions and experiences of, men from the upper ranks of society – the aristocracy and the gentry in our period – and to a lesser extent those of men from the professional and mercantile middling classes. The lower ranks of society, the labouring classes and the rural smallholders, leave a much lighter historical footprint. This is especially true of the pre-modern era, when the bulk of the population that these latter groups represented were not fully literate. In seventeenth-century England only 30 per cent of adult males and 10 per cent of adult females were able to sign their own names, the best indicator we have for measuring their ability to write, and those that could were concentrated in the upper echelons of the social hierarchy. 1 Most people, especially of more humble social status, lacked the ability to commit their own thoughts to paper and parchment, and to preserve them for posterity. Indeed, the great Tudor historian Sir Geoffrey Elton thought it was ‘the essence of the poor that they do not appear in history’. 2