Thursday, 25 September 2014

Street Name Equality

I was contacted by a resident back in autumn 2013 about putting a motion to council for gender equality in street naming. The idea came from an Italian movement (Toponomastica Femminile), and I duly brought the motion to Labour group for discussion and then to full council. Anyway, it got picked up by the press as the puff piece of the week and I got to go on BBC Radio Wales to talk about it, in addition to doing a few newspaper pieces.

Street name photo with Cllr Bob Wellington for Torfaen Talks

Normally, I think I would have loved it but it coincided right with my 'mini' nervous breakdown. I was signed off work for a couple of months with depression and anxiety, and basically slept or stared into space for weeks. It wasn't good, and the 'lol mad feminazi' reporting didn't help any. So, yeah, it doesn't hold nice memories for me at all but, for his (the resident's) sake, I am pleased it got so much coverage. I might have been told I was an idiot for wasting time and money on frivolity (roughly 5 minutes and £0 of council resources, way too much of my personal time), but it obviously touched a nerve with people or it wouldn't have had as much mileage...

You can kind of see illness there...

13/12/2012 - Western Mail.
15/12/2012 - Western Mail.
07/01/2013 - Blog post from Northern Scrivener.
08/01/2013 - Civil Liberty blog post.
13/01/2013 - Daily Star.
08/02/2013 - The Times. (!!)
07/02/2013 - South Wales Argus.

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Saturday, 20 September 2014


Webcasting - i.e. transmitting over the internet - is a relatively inexpensive way of broadening access to local government. People who can't (or won't) attend public meetings can watch the relevant bits, whenever and wherever is convenient for them. I put forward a motion to council that Torfaen webcast its meetings back in autumn 2012, with the webcasting actually beginning in the following year.

It had a bit of media coverage:

 10/07/2013 - Argus.
 10/11/2013 - South Wales Argus.

You can now watch most Torfaen council meetings HERE.

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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Five Minutes With (South Wales Argus)

I was interviewed for the South Wales Argus' 'Five Minutes With' piece back in December 2012. You can read it on their website HERE.

FIVE MINUTES WITH: One of Torfaen's youngest councillors Jessica Powell 
Friday 21 December 2012 / Gwent news 


Nick Grimshaw. He'd be entertaining and easy on the eyes.


A roomful of spiders. Like that scene in Something Wicked This Way Comes.


Not really; life is what you make it.


Such a cruel question. Probably Silver Moon by Donkeyboy because I still love it no matter how many times I hear it.


My computer or, judging by my SLC statements, my education.


Do your own research and come to your own conclusions.


Crisps. Potentially with chocolate...


My Blackberry. I can't even imagine life without it.


I wish I was more confident. I used to be really painfully shy, so it's much better, but it would be nice not to have to work so hard at it.


No idea. Hopefully somewhere hot and sunny.

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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Guardian Debate: Attracting Young Councillors

Back in July 2014 I took part in a live online debate for the Guardian about whether or not enough is done to attract young councillors. You can read the full piece on their website HERE.

This was their round up of my contribution:

Jessica Powell was elected in May, to Pontnewydd ward in Torfaen 

Age 18 is a suitable time to become a councillor: 
That's not saying all 18-year-olds would or should want to do it, but I don't see why an 18-year-old is any less suitable that an 81-year-old. A good diverse range of opinions and characters is what you want in any organisation.

Given public opinion, people are afraid to claim the expenses that they are entitled to: 
Nobody wants to be criticised on local messageboards and in the local paper – particularly the latter as people like my grandparents read it every evening.

Limiting terms would attract more young people: 
Before I stood for election I was dating a politician and it was pretty intolerable. They never have any free time, and when you do get hold of them people keep coming up to interrupt and ask them about constituency issues. I understand a bit better now, but it's definitely no fun for the partner. The attitude sometimes seems to be that you go into local politics for life, and in your teens or early 20s that's not very appealing.

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Monday, 15 September 2014

Working to Live vs Living to Work

Letter I had printed in the Metro (29/03/2012).

I feel sorry for Joanne from London. By her own admission, she doesn't 'enjoy' her six-figure salary, yet she has chosen to sacrifice her quality of life in pursuit of it. Britain's work ethic isn't the problem; it's the idea that money is everything. You need enough to live but is it really worth living only to earn?

(Joanne from London wrote: Having read lots of comments regarding negativity towards the 50p tax rate being cut to 45p, I feel compelled to share my views on the topic. As a young woman from a modest background, I have risen through the ranks of various companies thanks to sheer hard graft. After ten years of working 14-hour days and many weekends (with no overtime), I now 'enjoy' a six-figure salary in what little spare time I have.

I live in a two-bedroom flat in London, hardly a glamorous lifestyle, and see more than half my salary disappearing straight from my account each month. I have no influence over where this money goes and how it's spent, yet all I hear is envy and resentment from the peope my taxes go to support.
Who is standing up for people such as me, who work hard, pay huge amounts of tax and never complain? When did success from hard work become something to be vilified rather than celebrated?)

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Saturday, 13 September 2014

...and three turn up at once

The Western Mail printed the first - and only - letter I'd ever written them (04/02/2012). It was about public transport, of course.

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Friday, 12 September 2014

Revision Notes: C18th Law and Order

Paper 10:

Eighteenth Century Law and Order Revision Notes

Past Paper Questions: 

  • ‘Whether or not law in Britain was biased by class, there is no doubt that it was biased by gender.’ Discuss with reference to either the eighteenth or the nineteenth century. 
  • ‘Illogical and Uncivilised.’ How accurate was this characterization by early nineteenth-century reformers of the eighteenth-century criminal code and its implementation? 
  • Why was there such a discrepancy between the fierceness of criminal legislation in the eighteenth century and the actualities of its implementation? 
  • Assess the changes in the nature and extent of interpersonal violence in any period of at least one hundred years. 
  • What was the role of discretion in the eighteenth-century legal system? 
  • ‘The criminal justice system in eighteenth-century England was designed for a pre-industrial society, a largely rural country dotted with villages and market towns.’ Discuss. 
  • ‘Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law.’ (Oliver Goldsmith) Does modern historical investigation confirm Goldsmith’s contention about law in eighteenth-century society? 
  • Whom did the law protect in the eighteenth century? 


1624 – Infanticide becomes a felony.
1688 – 50 capital offences. 1 in 4 chance of being hanged if convicted.
1690 – Locke writes that ‘government has no other end but the preservation of property.’
1690s – Removal of the benefice of clergy from robberies of goods or money over 5s.
1697 – Coining made high treason.
1701 – Pamphlet entitled: ‘Hanging not punishment enough’.
1704 – Military Act. Provides service in the armed forces as an alternative to hanging.
1719 – Transportation Act.
1723 – Workhouse Act.
1752 and 1754 – Subsides introduced for poor prosecutors. Henry Fielding had argued for this to increase conviction rates. (1752) Murder Act: gives the bodies of murderers to medical science to add ‘some further Terror and peculiar mark of infamy’.
1765 – 160 capital offences.
1772 – Abolition of pressing with weights.
1779 – Abolition of branding.
1783 – Invention of the long drop. Radzinowicz said it was because it was more humane. Gatrell says it was just so horses and carts wouldn’t have to be manoeuvred in the crowd.
1808 – First capital statute repealed. 1812 – In the aftermath of the Gordon Riots, Edmund Burke advises that only 6, high profile, executions are carried out. Shows UC fear of an uprising.
1815 – 225 capital offences. 1 in 10 chance of being hanged if convicted.
1830 – By this point the population of England and Wales had doubled from 7 to 14 million.
1868 – Executions moved behind prison walls.

The Bloody Code

  • The name given to the English law code; refers to the high number of capital offences. 1688 = 50 such offences. 1765 = 160. 1815 = 225. Other European states were actually becoming less reliant on capital punishment; in Amsterdam for example there was less than one execution p.a. by the 1780s. 
  • Hawkins explained the increasing specification of crime in English statute in 1788 as necessary: as ‘the increase of commerce, opulence and luxury has introduced a variety of temptations to fraud and rapine.’ English law lacked generality so each ‘new’ crime required a new statute. 

It was never a real deterrent 

  • Gilmour (1992): the fate of hangmen. John Price (hangman 1714/15) hanged for murder. William Marvell transported for theft. Edward Dennis was involved in the Gordon Riots, but was reprieved and pardoned so he could hang his fellow rioters! 
  • Gatrell (1994): ‘In theory, a Londoner growing up in the 1780s could by 1840 have attended some 400 execution days outside Newgate alone.’ 

The Law is the tool of the rich 

  • Hay et al (Albion’s Fatal Tree, 1975. Marxist.) argue that the Bloody Code is rarely, if ever, used against the rich. 
  • Gatrell (The Hanging Tree, 1994) openly admits that, on an emotional basis, eighteenth-century law persecuted the lower orders. 
  • It protects property, rather than authority argues Gilmour (1992). Foreigners often commented on the disrespect of the mob. 
  • Gilmour (1992) describes the frenzied attempts to save Dr. Dodd, chaplain to the king, from the gallows in 1777. He contrasts this with the apathy towards the 15-year-old ‘nobody’ hanged with him. 
  • Court cases were time consuming and expensive. They could also leave the prosecutor open to retribution. Even when subsides were introduced they did not cover costs adequately. 
  • The appeal system put a lot of faith on respectability, and the status of the signatories of one’s petition. Eg. 1769 the Kennedy Brothers had their sentences (for a brutal murder) reduced to transportation following the intervention of aristocrats who ‘kept’ their sister. 

The Law is actually the protector of the poor 

  • Langbein (Albion’s Fatal Flaw, 1983) criticises the sentimental approach of historians like Hay; we shouldn’t get bogged down in the tragedy of the individual. His study of four sessions at the Old Bailey show most felony cases were brought by what we would think of as the lower middle or upper working classes. 
  • King (1987) studied the Essex quarter sessions. Found that 90% of prosecutors were farmers, labourers, tradesmen or artisans. Similarly Brown found that only 1/8 of the Essex population were farmers, but they still initiated 35% of felony prosecutions. 
  • From the 1750s there were subsides available to poor prosecutors. In addition there were often financial rewards attached to the prosecution of highwaymen and gangs. In 1748/9 the treasury paid out £200 and £300 on rewards. 1750/1 = £4600 and £6500. 
  • Status didn’t count for everything. Eg. 1754 Judge Ryder refused to reprieve Richard Tickner despite requests from the speaker of the HofC, the Lord Lieutenant, and the high sheriff of Surrey on the grounds that ‘there was no reason to doubt’ his guilt. King found that good character references were far more important. 

Conviction Rates 

  • Surprisingly Low. Of around 35,000 people condemned to death in England and Wales between 1770 and 1830, only around 7,000 were actually executed. Eg. Petty larceny being found instead of Grand larceny, which carried the lesser punishment of whipping or branding. Around 70% of convicted felons at the Old Bailey between 1718 and 1769 ended up being transported. 
  • Jury Discretion. Although they often sided with the judge, they were, theoretically at least, impartial. They were not ‘peers’ as we might understand the term: there was a £10 income qualification, at a time when 2/3 of London’s population were too poor to even pay taxes. 
  • Jury Apathy. ‘Gaol Fever’ could be rife in the unsanitary conditions, and the days were long and tiring. The average trial lasted only eight and a half minutes. Age Bias. 2/3 of capital convicts aged 21-30 (the reckless and dangerous sector of society) were hanged, compared to 1/3 of 30-50 year olds. The average age of marriage was 27/28: the latter group were thus more likely to have dependent families. Few teenagers went to the gallows, as they, it was believed, could be reformed. 2/5 of those hanged at Tyburn in the eighteenth-century had started an apprenticeship (‘a tedious seven years slavery’ according The London Tradesman in 1747). 
  • Gender Bias. Beattie (2001) found that women were twice as likely to get off as men. Up to 4x as likely to be found for a lesser crime. Pregnant women could be reprieved until the child was born. (parole board took into consideration the fact they’d have to support a motherless child). Particular crimes associated with women, like infanticide, become better understood. Eg. By 1771 the ‘lung test’ was no longer seen as decisive evidence – in some cases. In addition domestic violence against women becomes increasingly unacceptable and is accepted as defence. 
  • So judges had to urge the jury to find in their favour. Eg. Judge Ryder in the 1750s urged the jury to find highwayman, Thomas Rolf, guilty, as even though he had been non-violent and driven to crime through poverty ‘compassion could not justify finding contrary to truth.’ 
  • Women suffer as prosecutors. A woman’s word against a man’s, eg. rape cases. 
  • Women at a disadvantage under the law. Property rights curtailed, becoming a chattel of their husbands on marriage. Women could not sue for a divorce to an unfaithful husband (although he could if she strayed.) 

In fact, relatively few cases even made it to the courts 

  • Informal, out of court, settlement was the preferred solution for many. 
  • Compassion. Perhaps the victim of crime did not deem it bad enough to warrant the death of the criminal. 
  • Shame. And/or fear of retribution. Eg. Rape cases hard to prove. Blackstone: ‘One excellence of the trial by jury is that the jury are triers of the credit of the witnesses, as well as the truth of the facts.’ 
  • The major difficulty was finding the criminal in the days before a police force. There needs to be consensus within the community on what is criminal activity to flush the perpetrator out. Eg. Non-fatal violent crime within the family or between employers/employees not seen as a crime. Only a problem when it disturbs the common order. That’s why gangs were so reviled. 
  • Eg. 3 million pounds of tea was illegally imported every year, some 20% of total British imports. Around 20,000 people were regularly engaged in smuggling in Kent and Sussex alone. BUT, the community clearly did not view it as a serious crime. 

Crime Rates 

  • Seem to rise in later eighteenth-century as attitudes change. Violence within the family had always existed, only recently had it been perceived as a problem. Perhaps this explains why at Surrey (1660-1800) well over 2/3 of the men hanged had been convicted of robbery or burglary. 
  • Linked to outside factors. Eg. Sharp rise in prosecutions for theft in 1740/1; coinciding with famine. Wheat was 27s a quarter in London in 1739. By Summer 1740 that figure had risen to 54s. 
  • Especially linked to war. Eg. Surrey (1660-1800), 75% of peacetime years saw above average numbers of indictments vs. 14% of wartime years. (Obviously not just because there’s more crime then.) 

The Law upholds social structure 

  • Archdeacon Paley in 1785: ‘he who falls by a mistaken sentence may be considered as falling for his country.’ 
  • Fear of the perceived rise in violent crime. ‘Crime Waves’ occur with the frequent stop-starting of war; large numbers of returning soldiers put strain on employment and food resources. Newspaper reporting also adds to this ‘moral panic’. 
  • Harshness of the bloody code was believed to be a necessary deterrent. If the rights of the rich were more thoroughly protected, it was the inevitable result of the composition of parliament and officialdom. 
  • The law is needed by the poor too as the statistics show. Criminals such as Jack Sheppard were popular heroes only as long as their crime did not affect the personal property of those who idolised them. 
  • Relatively speaking the law provided a means of redress for a large proportion of the population. The system appears riddled with inequalities because society itself was.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Revision: Class

Paper 10 Revision:

Class: 1750 - 1850

Past Paper Questions: 

  • ‘The notion of class consciousness in the period 1750-1850 is fanciful.’ Discuss. 
  • ‘Any attempt to assert the three-class model of social organisation before 1870 is undermined by diversities within each supposed class.’ Discuss with reference to either the ‘working class’ or the ‘middle class’ or the ‘upper class’. 
  • Was ‘class’ just another ‘imagined community’ of the nineteenth century? Discuss with reference to either middle-class or working-class consciousness. 
  • ‘Historians have abandoned the working class and embraced the middle class.’ Is this a fair evaluation of recent trends in the historiography of class? Discuss with reference to any period of one hundred years. 
  • To what extent and why has ‘class’ lost its explanatory power? Discuss with reference to any period of at least one hundred years between 1700 and 1914. 
  • Britons in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries resorted to a variety of models for thinking about the structure of their society. What do these models tell us about the actual organisation of their society? Answer with respect to any period of at least fifty years between 1700 and 1914. 
  • What were the contributions of class and locality to variations in mortality and fertility? Discuss with reference of any period of one hundred years between 1700 and 1914. 
  • Examine the usefulness of ‘class’ for understanding the organisation of British society for any period of a hundred years between 1700 and 1914. 
  • ‘In the years from 1780 to 1850, the language of class served to camouflage status divisions among working people but not to overcome them.’ Discuss. 
  • In what contexts, and by whom, were the popular ideas of ‘class’ first articulated, and how widely were they accepted? 

What is ‘class’? 

Its study has been, and continues to be, made difficult by a lack of consensus on a definition. Perkins (1969) described it, somewhat wordily, in terms of vertical and horizontal relations. It was a very important construct for the C20th. But social status always has been. Eg. 1776 Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’, asserted that social identity was primarily determined by occupation and employment.

There is a belief that class difference must necessarily mean class conflict. Others argue for it simply being a descriptive label which need not carry deeper connotations.(vs. Class ‘consciousness’) There has been too much focus in recent years on linguistics. Contemporaries used ‘class’ as a term synonymous with ‘sorts’, ‘parts’, etc. Eg. Pitt the Younger described the labouring poor as a ‘class’ in Parliament in 1796.

The popular concept of ‘class’ generally refers to the Marxist idea of ‘class in itself becoming a class for itself.’ I.e. A group of people with common characteristics commonly bound to rents, profits and wages, recognising the fact.

Class Historiography 

‘Class’ was believed to have been created by the Industrial Revolution. Eg. E.P.Thompson. Perkins argues it was born in the industrial cities like Manchester. Then comes the impact of the ‘slow growth’ theory. If there was no ‘revolution’ then was there any change? Some argue that the medieval hierarchical view of society with its immovable ‘ranks’ and ‘orders’ held sway well into the mid-Victorian period.

A two class structure. Some argue that the dichotomous ‘us’ and ‘them’, dating from primitive society, remained the primary way contemporaries understood their position in society. Eg. Henry Fielding: there are ‘two great divisions, those that use their own hands, and those that employ the hands of others.’

Class before the ‘industrial revolution’ 

  • Classless Society. (Perkins) / Latent. (Rule) / Hierarchy. An entrenched idea; eg. Coronation and funeral processions. 
  • Broader Classification - We can see a growing trend towards this. Eg. In 1709 Daniel Defoe categorised British society into 7 groupings, ranging from ‘the great, who live profusely’ to ‘the miserable, the really pinch and suffer want.’ (as opposed to the tiny incremental differences in social status) 
  • An example of a tripartite structure. (Corfield) A 1624 statute outlawing public swearing on pain of a universal fine of 1/- was modified in 1695; now those ranking above a labourer should pay 2/-. 1746 it was tweaked again so that those of the rank of gentleman or above should pay 5/-. 
  • So, what we see is the creation of a middle class from a dichotomous structure. 


It’s inescapable and has driven many social historians to view it as a hopeless time. Thomas Paine, 1791: There are two classes, ‘those who pay taxes and those who receive and live upon taxes.’ 1.2% of families in 1688 and 1.4% in 1803 received c. 1/7th of the national income. In 1861 it was claimed that 150 men owned over half the land of England. In 1803 over a million people, ie. 1/9th of the population, was reckoned to be in receipt of poor relief. Not everyone was so pessimistic though. Eg. Macaulay argued that to future generations Victorian England would appear a golden age, “when all classes were bound together by brotherly sympathy.’

Creation of the ‘Upper Class’ 

Cohesion as defence. Susanna Blarnire lamented in the late 1770s that, ‘all things are changed, the world’s turned upside down, and every servant wears a cotton gown.’ Steps had to be taken to prevent the ‘mob’ from becoming too powerful. Especially as they watched events unfold across the channel. Eg. Imposed stamp duty on newspapers thus lifting them out of the price range of the average worker. Passed the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 to prevent trade union activity. Seditious Meetings Act of 1819. But they were not homogeneous. Intermarriage with the nouveaux riche became increasingly common. Younger sons entered the professions. Eg. 4th Duke of Devonshire left each of his two younger sons £1,000 to set themselves up in politics. After 1800 commerce for profit lost its dubious legal status and the aristocracy became involved in industry. Yet in the 1820s there was a revival in some circles of traditional paternalism. (Keynesian economics – esp. opposed to the new poor law of 1834.) Still seen late in the century. Eg. opening of Cadbury’s model village in the 1890s.

Creation of the ‘Middle Class’ 

In contemporary words: ‘the glory of Britain’ (Brougham to HofL, 1831: ‘By the people… I mean the middle classes, the wealth and intelligence of the country, the glory of the British name.’) Traditionally thought to be created by the ind rev, and recognised by the Great Reform Act of 1832 (and Municipal Corporation Act of 1835). Eg. Thompson said they were all but invisible in the C18th. This was a group that did not fit appear to fit the dichotomous structure. They were neither landed, nor living in poverty. They became increasingly visible (not necessarily through industry; Rule points out that few areas outside the ‘cottonopolis’ towns had the structure for this) through the service sector. They were also becoming ‘respectable’, an important concept. Eg. The Apothecaries Act of 1815, and the foundation of the Law Society in 1825. Most historians reckon that the lower limits of the MC was £200pa. But people pulled off the veneer on less.

Creation of the ‘Working Class’ 

E.P. Thompson claimed it happened between 1780 and 1832. This is supposedly helped along by events like Peterloo, fashioning a common enemy. And the writings of people like William Cobbett and Richard Carlile. Eg. Cobbett: ‘I defy you to agitate a man on a full stomach.’ Key dates = 1831 Swing Riots. 1838 Chartism. 1836 removal of all but the last penny of stamp duty. 1847 Ten Hours Act.

Variations within Class 

Eg, West Riding survey, 1839 found that clothdrawers earned 24s.6d a weeks with 12 months work, vs. 13s-14s per week for ten months for weavers, shoemakers and woolcombers.

Gender Impact 

Davidoff and Hall (1987) argue that the two cannot be separated. Women, D and H argue, are too often relegated to ‘domestic obscurity’ by historians. Barbara Taylor looked at Owenite feminists. (1820s-40s) But, generally, the wc had a conservative gender outlook.

The Empire - Peter Marshall argues it reinforced a hierarchical view of the world.

Chartism: A Case Study. The working classes were too divided.

Popular Culture. E.M. shared culture says Burke. WC leisure was envisaged as good and wholesome by Thompson. Based on commercialism says Plumb. Eg. gin consumption increased six times 1700-43.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Medieval Landlords

Medieval Landlords

Main terms: 

Direct Management – Central management of estates. Turned to if inflation puts economic pressure on lords or if they are confident they can make profit from continued inflation.


Early C12th = farming out.
1240 -> 1315 = direct exploitation says Britnell.
From 1180s -> says Harvey. Pipe rolls 1155 – 1216: last estate wholly at farm in 1169, the first wholly under direct management in 1194. By 1214 nearly all 42 estates in the sample still had some manors at farm.
Contraction of the demesne. Postan says it happened c13th, Mate argues for the 1380s. Lomas says the process was more gradual. Tavistock abbey still held large parts of the estate in hand as late as c16th. And at Durham only 8 of 22 manors were continuously in hand from 1290 to 1325.


Monetary Inflation: (Harvey) eg. Winchester estates, price of corn, livestock, etc almost trebled 1180-1220. Land prices rose. Inflation was expected to continue, meaning that it made financial sense to replace relatively low customary rents with direct management. Lords bought more land or reclaimed lease land; Abbot Samson of Bury St. Edmund cancelled £19 of arrears owed by Walter of Hatfield to reclaim four manors. The number of markets increased, c13th 8 new ones in Breckland alone, meant cash crops were viable. Corn sales made up 2/3 of the manors total income 1201/02 at Tewkesbury. They needed money to feed the vogue for conspicuous consumption. Thomas de Berkley for example spent £148 in 1345/6 *just* on bedding and feeding guests horses! Direct management was the best way to do this.

Changing attitudes of the lords explains timing. Previously local areas couldn’t support large households so they moved around; by c13th markets meant time was divided between 2 or 3 fave residences. Eg. Earl Marshal ordered supplies to be sent to Soham and Framlingham from a manor at Kennet, Cambridgeshire in 1299. Cash crops were grown and sold for absentee lords. Greater centralisation was thus needed. Eg. Isabelle de Forz had a dispersed flock of 7000 sheep in 1260 controlled centrally through a stock keeper and 10 shepherds.

Growth in number and scope of estate bureaucrats. C12th progress in education = literacy and legal training. Estate management guides (eg. That by Walter de Henley) were in wide circulation, they advised employment of a steward trained in the law (increasingly important) to oversee the estate. Bailiffs to make accurate accounts, reeves to oversee day to day work. On smaller estates literate lords could take on these offices – eg. Henry de Bray served as a steward at St. Andrew’s priory before becoming a landlord himself at Harleston, Northampton. Annual records being kept from the 1270s. Record keeping became invaluable for lords, for example at the manor courts – especially following the statute of Westminster in 1275 which introduced novel disseisin. Problems: pluralism of office, falsification of accounts. But there were auditiors to check accounts. Office could be held for many years – eg. William Kille was reeve of Oakington for 16 years. Could lead to experience rather than corruption.

Population Growth. The population doubled between 1086-1347. This resulted in land hunger, which pushed up land value. But farming out was characterised by long term leases and fixed rents. Eg. Over was leased for life to William Pecche at £6 p.a. in 1088. In 1237 it was still in the family’s possession but the rent had only risen to £7. Commutation of labour services -> landless labourers cheaper to employ. 1310 Abbot of Battle found it cost more to provide meals for tenants doing customary labour services than to hire workers. This made DM economically viable. Large workforce + high demand for goods.


Abuse of the bureaucratic system: Manorial courts were increasingly restricted by red tape and cases were often delayed and otherwise obstructed. Reeves in particular were accused of not recording all payments and keeping stuff back for themselves. Arbitration meant things weren’t recorded. Statute of Quia Emptores, 1290, loans sub-infeudation of the lords land, making farming out safer.

Decline in population. Agrarian crisis of 1315-22 killed off 10% and the Black Death of 1348 50%. This meant there were less workers, who were thus able to demand (and receive) higher wages and concessions despite the Ordinance (1349) and Statute (1351) of Labourers. Economic recession in the 1370s led to enforcements of these and “manorial reaction”. Land fell vacant and became a means of patronage rather than income – longer lease terms became the norm. By the early c16th 99 years was the average, 40 had seemed exceptional in 1250.

End of inflation. After the Black Death prices remained fairly stable. In 1370 most landlords’ income was scarcely 10% less that it had been before the plague. Mid 1370s = poor harvests, flooding, murrain caused some to revert to farming out. Eg. The monks of Canterbury Cathedral priory in 1337/8. But they reclaimed the land the following year when the situation improved. Bumper harvests of 1370s (“Indian Summer”) leads to a fall in grain prices. Specialisation wasn’t feasible for most, although some did (eg. Great Chart focussed on making tiles 1373 -> price rose from 2s. per thousand in 1340s to 3s. 6d – 5s. per thousand in the 1370s.

How successful were landlords at exploiting their lands? 
Postan: subsistence economy. No investment by lords.
Marxists: Lords consume rather invest profits. Crisis of distribution.
But poor evidence for secular lords, we rely on generalising ecclesiastical lords.
Evidence is only for the really great lords.
Lords *did* reinvest (c. 5%), they assarted land, kept accounts, intensive farming, etc.
Lords position is precarious. They need to consume conspicuously, etc.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Literacy in the Middle Ages

Late Medieval Literacy

England was not a completely illiterate nation before the Norman Conquest; the Anglo-Saxon chronicle making a good case in point, however, literacy was mostly restricted to high churchmen and monks. 1066 would appear to be nothing more than a further barrier to English literacy – at least Old English (ie. Language used for the written word) had something nominally in common with the spoken tongue. The Normans spoke French and wrote in Latin; learning to read suddenly got a lot more complicated!

Despite these setbacks literacy did increase significantly. Some historians argue that as much as 60% of the English population were literate by 1530. That’s all well and good, I hear you cry, that some stuffy academic with elbow patches tells us that but how do we know it really increased at all?

  • The number of schools increased substantially, suggesting that a higher number of people were receiving education. And not for the sole purpose of becoming a priest! Eg. Moran found that in York diocese there were 13 grammar schools in 1300; by 1548 this figure had more than quadrupled to 68. The 1406 Statute of Apprentices enabled even the sons of serfs to be educated: many local priests maintained song or reading schools for the purpose of educating the less well off. (That’s pretty much everyone cos around 80% of the population were peasants – SS) 

  • Aston draws attention to the increasing number of bibles and service books in the hands of the laity from the 13th century. (eg. from looking at bequests in wills). John Claydon, a London skinner, was burnt to death in 1415 along with his heretical copy of “Lanterne of Lizt.” (Although he was illiterate – his servant had been able to read it to him!) By 1530 men were making livings as booksellers in the cities. 

The main problem when considering late medieval literacy is the fact that historians have come to no consensus on a definition of literacy. In 1066 to be considered literacy Joe Bloggs would have had to be able to read and write in Latin. By 1500 he was literate so long as he could read OR write (with minimal proficiency) in Latin OR the vernacular in contemporary eyes. In addition, for much of the medieval period the idea of Clericus:Literatus reigned supreme: in the medieval mind o be literate meant you were a churchman. To be a layman implied you were illiterate. Just like black can not be white, a layman could not be literate – although they clearly were. This serves to confuse records, for example in court proceedings people are referred to as “illiterate” meaning they were laymen rather than that they couldn’t read.

Historians too have come to wildly different figures using their own definitions. Du Boulay claimed 40% were literate by 1530; Sir Thomas More was even more optimistic putting the figure at 60% - both based their estimates on reading ability. Cressy, defining literacy as the ability to write, claimed only around 10% were literate by 1530. Without clear records any figure can only be an estimate with a high error margin – but even so that’s a pretty big difference! For essay purposes literacy can be defined as “minimal competence in reading Latin or the Vernacular.” Writing was considered a separate art for the majority of the period (c.1050 – 1550)

So, who became literate? When? And, why? 

Kings: They could generally read even before the Conquest. Evidence of letters, etc written in kings’ own hand.

Nobility: If the King is known to be able to read it increases the status of literacy, the nobility is quick to jump on the bandwagon. Noble women learn to read so they can emulate the idea of female piety portrayed in depictions of the Virgin Mary: to be able to read and contemplate scripture. They then passed on literacy to their children. Men learnt, on the whole, or more pragmatic business reasons: record keeping was becoming increasingly common, for example the 1086 Domesday book and the introduction of chancery and plea rolls in the late 12th/early 13th century. Also the movement towards direct exploitation of estates from the late 12th century onwards meant literacy became the norm for the nobility by the end of the 12th century. The work of Chaucer and Gower in the reign of Richard II was mostly confined to the court circle, but suggests the nobility could read in English by this time.

Gentry: The written word was used more and more increasingly throughout this period, as evidenced by the development of the cursive script in around 1200 to allow scribes to write faster. Statutes of 1275 and 1293 established the coronation of Richard I (1199) as the limit of memory, eroding the importance of oral testimony. The gentry became literate to emulate their betters, to directly manage their estates, and to gain positions in the increasingly paper based legal system or as estate officials. The Seneschaucy, a mid 13th century estate management guide, presumes that the estate steward and bailiff would both be able to read French. By 1300 literacy had become the norm for the gentry. Eg. In 1293 Sir Hugh was put on trial for rape: he was unable to read from a roll to challenge the accusation which sent the court into chaos (someone had to whisper the words in his ear so he could say them aloud). Clearly by this point the ability to read amongst the upper classes was taken for granted.

Upper Peasantry (Yeomen, Husbandsmen, Craftsmen, Merchants…): Initiallt this class was only becoming passively literate, that is to say they became familiar with seeing the written word – the importance of it was well understood. During the 1381 peasant’s revolt, for example, hundred rolls and other records were burned. The main impetus for this class becoming literate was pragmatic: they needed it for business purposes. By 1422 the guild of brewers recognised that whilst their members might be ignorant of French and Latin, they could still keep records in English. Literacy was seen as a way to get on in life; ie. Getting into positions of local officialdom such as serving on juries or working as JP or Reeve. Religion also played its part; the Black Death of 1348 wiped out around 40% of the clergy (-Hatcher) and their replacements were for the most part ill-educated. By 1548 46% of chantry chaplains in York diocese had had very little to no education. This led people to want to be able to read the bible for themselves. From the 1370s Lollard vernacular translations made this possible (eg. 1410 translated copies of Speculum Vite Christi were in wide circulation). The introduction of the printing press to England in the 1470s made books more affordable and demand for service books massively outstripped supply. (60% of those sold had to be imported.) John Gratchet, the major York bookseller between 1516 and 1533, made his living just from selling service books.

Lower Peasantry and the Unfree: Now nobody’s suggesting the great unwashed were sat around debating the finer points of illiteration in the Floretum. They were however becoming increasingly literate in the passive sense. In the 12th century church paintings had depicted hellish demons collecting up mispronounced hymns and gossip, in the form of sounds, into his sack. From the 1280s the demon had become a scribe who noted down the congregations misdemeanours on parchment. The written word had been demystified, by the 1240s even vagrants were expected to carry around testimonials of trustworthiness. By 1300 even the unfree had to have a seal suggesting that almost everyone read (or at least recognise) their own name.


Literacy was actually pretty common by 1550, even serfs could probably recognise their own name. The reason for this had been devotional and, to a greater extent, pragmatic. Society had come increasingly to depend on the written word, which in turn had led to a growing number of people being able to make sense of it so as to help them get on in life.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Medieval Population

Medieval Population - It's Rise and Decline

Why might you be asked a question on it? (ie. Historiography) 

Traditionally people believed that the medieval population grew steadily until it was checked by the Black Death in 1348. Then in the 1930s Postan used Malthusian theory to argue that the population was already in decline by that point. [Malthus? The idea that over population leads to “land hunger”; there isn’t enough land to support the population. So there must a positive mortality check or a preventive fertility check as a result of the declining standards of living.] This view has since been challenged; Russell and Harvey argue that the population *was* sustainable and continued to grow until the exogenous check of the plague. 

How can we tell what the population was doing anyway? 

There are no accurate figures. Lack of records renders all absolute numbers estimates at best. Using the 1086 Domesday survey – which didn’t cover all of England and listed only tenants not subtenants – and the 1377 poll tax returns – which were widely evaded and only counted over 14s – historians realistically estimate that the population in 1086 was between 1-2 million and in 1347 was between 4-7 million. (Counting backwards from c. 2.5-3million in 1377 – obviously depends on individual interpretations of the impact of plague too…)

So we need to look elsewhere. Postan, Ricardo and economic historians like Hatcher, Miller and Titow suggest looking at the ratio of people to land resources. If their theory is correct the holding size per head would decrease throughout the period regardless of transfer of demesne and colonisation. Harvey and Russell encourage a more complex approach – land holding size isn’t everything! Look at animals, or trade in the area.

General Figures: 

  • 1086-1315: Recorded households at Fleet increased 62x. (Hatcher) 
  • Population density reached almost 300 per square mile in some parts of the country by 1300. 
  • Growth in chevage payments (showing land hunger). EG. Forncett Manor, Norfolk there were 100 anlepimen pa between 1275 and 1300. 
  • The population of Norwich City grew from 16,000 in 1310 to 25,000 in 1333. 
  • In Kineton Hundred (S.E.Warwickshire) the landholding population hardly grew at all. On some manors it was actually smaller in 1279 compared to 1086! (Hatcher) 


Rents, cash paid for land 

  • Postan et al claimed they rose, proving the existence of land hunger. For example on the Winchester manor of Fonthill entry fines rose from 1s-1s8d per virgate in 1214 to 8s+ after 1277. 
  • Merchet fines (to marry widows w/ land) also rose dramatically. John Attepond paid £3.6s.8d in Cottenham. The same year Henry Waveney paid 2s. for a marriage licence for his landless daughter. 
  • BUT. Winchester estates not typical (v. conservative). On the Ramsey estates the highest entry fine for the period 1290-1320 was 5m (£3.6s.8d) for a virgate (c. 30 acres) compared to the £10 Postan found on the Winchester estates. 
  • Outsiders paid more than the locals. For example Henry Osbern paid £6.13s.4d at Halesowen instead of the customary 6s.8d in 1294 for half a virgate. (Razi) 
  • Entry fines were often flexible, eg. At Chalgrave 1281-90 a son paid 13s.4d to succeed his father in half a virgate. A daughter taking up a similar holding from her mother paid just 6s.8d. 


Size of Holdings 

  • If Postan is correct the size of holdings will significantly decrease across this period. Eg. The Winchester tithing penny records show that, in Taunton, there were 3.3 acres of arable land per adult male in 1248, but only 2.5 acres in 1311 despite transfer of demesne land. 
  • Land is transferred from desmesne, and unused land was colonised and converted to arable. Eg. Royal forests were sold off. 23,000 acres of Walland marshes in Kent were “inned” for this purpose. 
  • 1235 Statute of Merton makes it easier for lords to sell off common land (so long as they leave sufficient pasture for free tenants) 
  • BUT. Technology. 
  • Economic diversity. 
  • Homans claimed that peasants had to inherit land in order to be able to marry and sustain a family. In Boughton however 23% of resident families in the period 1288-1340 had more than one son who acquired land. Despite plot splitting 49% of families 1280 – 1549 had a child who married between the ages of 18 and 22 at Halesowen. (Early marriage = indicator of economic prosperity) 
  • No consensus over how much land was needed. Harvey claims industry would mean a plot of 2 acres was perfectly sustainable in Cornwall. 

Marginal Land 

  • Poor soil quality. Eg. Sandy soils of Breckland. 
  • Soil exhaustion, eventually leads to vacant land. Eg. 50 acres at Pickering in 1326. 
  • Geographically marginal. Eg. Kent marsh intakes only usable with regular uneconomic applications of manure. Bishop of Ely’s reclaimed land was prone to frequent flooding according to 1251 records. 
  • Markets were volatile and unstable. Eg. Between 1280 and 1350 grain prices fluctuated an average of 26.6% pa. 
  • Few peasants had a planned production strategy, they just sold their surpluses. 
  • In times of crisis manufactured goods (eg. Glass from the Forest of Dean) was hard to sell. Such industrialised areas then bore the full strain of not being able to produce satisfactory food crops. 
  • BUT. In Cornwall plots of 2 acres were the norm. But 1 in 10 adults worked in the tin mining industry. Yields weren’t inevitably poor, there were higher labour to land ratios. Eg. 6x higher than on demesne land in E.Norfolk. Also draught animal to land ration was higher – Downham court rolls suggest that many C14th peasants owned some. Of all peasant animals wandering illegally onto sown land 42% were horses.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Social Banditry

Marxism HAP Session:  

Bandits – E.J.Hobsbawn (1969)

Who is Hobsbawm? 

The Spectator has described him as “arguably our greatest living historian” and is certainly one of Britain’s most prominent historians. Eric J. Hobsbawm was born in Alexandria, Egypt to Jewish parents, June 9th 1917. He grew up in Vienna and Berlin, although English was spoken in the home. His father died in 1929 and his mother in 1931. He and his younger sister Nancy were adopted by a maternal aunt and moved to London in 1933. Got a PhD in history from King’s College, Cambridge. Served in the Royal Engineers and the Royal Army Educational Corps during WW2; then worked as a lecturer at various universities (inc. Stanford University). Made a fellow of the British Academy in 1978. Is currently President of Birkbeck College, University of London.

His political leanings were obvious from a young age: he joined the Socialist Schoolboys in 1931 and the Communist Party in 1936. He was a member of the Communist Party Historians group from 1946-56 – even after other members had disassociated themselves following the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956: Hobsbawm even defended the Communist’s actions in the “Daily Worker” in November 1956. Often contributed to “Marxism Today” until its close in 1991.

Has written extensively on a wide variety of topics. Eg. the “dual revolution” (the French revolution and British industrial revolution and how they influenced the trend towards modern liberal capitalism) and social banditry. Also, randomly, writes as a jazz critic under the pseudonym of “Francis Newton”. Main publications include: “Primitive Rebels” (1959), “The Age of Revolution” (1962) and “Labouring Men” (1964).

What is Social Banditry? 

  • A social bandit is a peasant as opposed to a townsman or gentleman-robber (“desperadoe”) 
  • The Lord and state regard them as criminals, but they’re heroes to the peasants. (They take care not to attack fellow peasants -> taking from the rich to give to the poor). 
  • It’s one of the most universal social phenomenons known to history; taking place in medieval societies. (ie. Between tribal/kinship organisation and modern capitalist/industrial society) So, where the peasants/landless labourers are oppressed by their lords. However there are regional variations: happy peasants don’t revolt. Plus in areas where policing is well organised and successful banditry rarely flourishes. 
  • Social bandits tend to be reactionary, standing for a return to the (real or imagined) “good old days”. 
  • Who becomes a social bandit? 1. Men (women rarely become bandits, notable exceptions include the Andalusian “serranas”) who are mobile eg. Unmarried, landless labourers, ex-servicemen, deserters, escaped prisoners, runaway serfs… 2. Local toughs (eg. The Balkan “Klepht”) 3. Normal criminals might be idolised by the public (eg. Dick Turpin 1705-39) but they aren’t social bandits. 
  • As a symbol it represents freedom, heroism and the dream of justice. 

There are three types of social banditry…

1. The Noble Robber 

Think Robin Hood (who Hobsbawm believes is just a myth w/ maybe slight truth in C14th versions), he’s the quintessential noble robber. Few live up to this ideal, although those who do are venerated almost as Saints. Eg. Diego Corrientes (1757-81) of Andalusia was, in popular opinion, akin to Christ. He was betrayed and tried although he’d killed nobody. Characteristics: 1. Victim of injustice; 2. Rights wrongs; 3. Takes from the rich to give to the poor; 4. Never kills but in self defences of just revenge; 5. If he survives, he returns to his people as an honourable citizen and member of the community; 6. He’s admired, helped and supported by his people; 7. If he dies (which he pretty much always does) it’s only through the treasonous actions of an enemy as no member of the community would help the authorities catch him; 8. He’s – at least in theory – invincible and invulnerable; 9. He’s not the enemy of the King/Emperor, who’s the font of justice, but only of the local gentry/clergy/other oppressors.

2. Avengers 

“Their appeal is not that of the agents of justice, but of men who prove that even the poor and weak can be terrible.” Eg. Bush poet on the great Lampiao: He killed for play/out of pure perversity/and gave food to the hungry/with love and charity. For example in 1744 Bandit captains attacked the cruel Lord Konstantin Zlotnicky and killed his wife and son. Hobsbawm says: “where men become bandits, cruelty breeds cruelty, blood call for blood.”

3. Haiduks 

They become bandits for economic reasons, their popularity doesn’t depend on personal moral approval (like the noble robbers), his cruelty is not his essential characteristic (like the Avenger), but is tolerated because of his services to the people. They existed permenantly so tended to have formal structure and organisation (eg. Balkan “haiduks”, Indian “dacoit” communities). “We have made many mothers weep/we have widowed many wives/many more we have made orphans/ for we are childless men ourselves.”

The Economics and Politics of Banditry 

“The more successful he is as a bandit, the more he is *both* a representative and champion of the poor *and* a part of the system of the rich.” Bandits can be good for local economies (buying village produce, perhaps through a middleman) and bad (eg. Putting off tourists). As the bandits become more successful they become integrated into the local political system. Eg. The Ramosi group in Bombay were given land and the right to charge fees from all travellers in return for guarding the villages. However, if the gangs get too powerful they can replace the local authority as the major players (eg. American mafia) – they then become proper criminals and lose the support of their communities.

Bandits and Revolution 

In times of crisis large numbers of peasants turn to banditry to survive. This can start a snowball effect which leads to revolution. Eg. Major peasant uprisings initiated the Balkan wars of the 1870s to detach Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Ottoman Empire. However it’s unusual for Banditry to become and dominate the revolutionary movement (because of technical and ideological limitations), they usually just provide fighters. Where they have dominated revolution (eg. The brigands of Italy in the 1860s) there was no programme – other than just sweeping away the “machinery of oppression.” “The bandits contribution to modern revolutions was ambiguous, doubtful and short.”

The Expropriators 

This is “quasi-banditry”… revolutionaries who adopt the methods and myths of social banditry. This might be for ideological purposes (like the Bakunist anarchists) or simply reflect their relative cultural immaturity (eg. German Journeymen called their brotherhood “The League of Outlaws” in the early C19th). “Expropriators” rob money for the good of the cause from banks (the symbols of the impersonal power of money, says Hobsbawm). Eg. The Bolshevik “Tiflis” hold up of 1907 which netted the party 200,000 roubles.

Criticisms of Hobsawm’s concept of Social Banditry 

  • Dr A. Blok, an expert on the Sicilian mafia, claims the idea of the “noble bandit” has only ever been an invention of the public. “Good” bandits who only took from the rich did so only to keep open the support network of the local populace. 
  • Dr C. Kuether, who studied criminals and robbers in C18th Germany, argues that all banditry is social anyway -> it’s an expression of social protest or rebellion. Hobsbawm responds by arguing that although social and criminal bandits might look the same to the law, the morality of social banditry is clear to the peasants. 
  • Other historians such as Pat O’Malley (studied Ned Kelly) and Richard White (studied Jesse James) argue that social banditry is not just confined to “medieval” peasants. Hobsbawm agrees that is possible in a fully capitalist society – but very unlikely.

Saturday, 6 September 2014


Namier HAP session: 

George III and the Historians  – H. Butterfield (1957. Revised 1959)

Who was Butterfield? 

Herbert Butterfield was born in Yorkshire in 1900; and studied at Cambridge, in later life becoming master of Peterhouse college and vice-chancellor of the university. His most famous work is “The Whig Interpretation of History” (1931) in which he lay down and defined the characteristics of “Whig history.” 

What is the book about? 

Butterfield tells us he sets out to explain how historiography (Whig and the Namier school in particular) have resulted in the history of the reign of George III coming into “a state of considerable confusion.” The book is then split into three sections… 

Book One: The Historian and his Evidence. 

Butterfield explains a good knowledge and understanding of the period is essential to interpreting primary sources. Also warns the historian to beware of first hand narratives – they were being written for a reason after all. Complains that some historians (ie. The Namier school) focus too much on primary sources to the exclusion of secondary sources: making it difficult for them to reach correct conclusions. 

Book Two: George III and his Interpreters. 

Here Butterfield explains the historiography of the period up to the rise of the Namier school, claiming it is essential to gaining a good understanding of the reign. Early historiography was based on contemporary sources such as the letters of Bubb Dodington, the work of Burke and opposition pamphlets. Serious historiography of the period began with Adolphus’ “History of England 1760-1783” in 1802, offering up a favourable, Tory, view of the King. After George III’s death in 1820 the historiography became more open in its criticisms: Holt, Huish and Walpole, whilst generally supportive of the king, were unchecked in their criticisms of the King’s “favourite”, Bute. New evidence emerged in the 1830s/40s. eg. The Chatham and Bedford Correspondences. This heralded a new Whig historiography and a picture of George III as the enemy of Whig constitutional ideals. Trevelyan and Lecky held extreme Whig views on the reign; Lecky claimed in 1882 that George III had “inflicted more profound and enduring injuries upon his country than any other modern English King” (because he wanted to regain direct royal control of the country). In the early 1900s historians like Von Ruville broke away from the Whig history to offer a more balanced and realistic interpretation of the reign. 

Book 3: George III and the Namier School. 

From the 1890s there was a move towards focusing on individuals as understanding their motives for entering parliament helped explain their actions as politicians. This made primary sources like letters, journals and diaries v. important. This was the focus of Namier’s 1929 book, “Structure of Politics.” Butterfield congratulates the contribution of Namier and his supporters to research – the dating of hundreds of letters from George III to Bute by R. Sedgwick for example. 

Butterfield’s criticisms of the Namier school: 

  • They focus on structure to the exclusion of narrative; both need to be considered. 
  • They are as guilty as Whig historians for using sources selectively, creating biased history. “[They] have been curiously neglectful of London and the more popular side of political life.” 
  • V. critical of Namier’s focus on details rather than the wider picture. “A student’s folly… to imagine that only the details matter, and that the details are all of equal value… One could not write history if one did not see the possibility of grouping the details into coherent shapes.” 
  • Namier school reduces politics to the level of mere faction-fights. (eg. “England in the Age of the American Revolution” – Brookes.) 
  • They see themselves as anti-whig and the “professional defenders of George III” despite often overlooking the aspects of the reign that portray the King in a positive light. 
  • They do not take the differences between C18th/19th and modern day Parliament into consideration. Eg. Brookes questions the strength of the Rockingham Whigs because only 50-60 of them voted for the “Nullum Tempus” Bill (which was v. important to Rockingham) in 1768: Party discipline was, however, nowhere near as strong as in the C20th. 
  • They ignore the history of ideas and too readily criticise party history for its focus on ideals. Public conscience and ideals can override an individual’s misgivings in Parliament. (Ie. On some issues ministers vote in line with public opinion or ideals over their own feelings.) 
  • They are too “mechanically scientific.” “Historical judgements may be incorrect if based on the analytical method which abstracts things and subdivides the life with which it deals.” 

Butterfield’s criticisms have, in turn invited criticism. The goal of Namier’s research was essentially, they argue, the “rigorous substitution of accurate detail for the generalizations which had contented older historians.”

Reviews of Butterfield: 

  • W.T.Laprade of Duke University in AHR, 1958: “Butterfield’s criticism will not be helpful if it merely serves to generate controversy.” 
  • C.L.Mowat in the William and Mary Quarterly, 1959: Picks apart Butterfield’s criticisms. Eg. Says he only focuses on 4 historians who hadn’t produced enough work to be said to truly belong to a “Namier School”. Mowat accuses him of quoting out of context (eg. By suggesting Namier ignored the importance of the overall historical narrative.) Points out that at different points Butterfield accuses of Namier school historians being too “Whiggish” and too close to the Tory viewpoint.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Separate Spheres

How has investigation of the history of masculinity affected understandings of the gendered separation of spheres?

‘Separate spheres’, the idea that the public and the private (ie. the home) are segregated along gender lines, with men in the public and women imprisoned in the private has become entrenched as a historical concept. The idea resonated with those involved in the women’s history movement that emerged from the second wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s; women who were themselves rallying against what was believed to have been the enforced female domesticity of the 1950s for the most part accepted this division along gender lines as simple fact. This began to change in the 1980s with the emergence of serious research into gender history; it quickly became apparent that earlier assumptions had been, in many cases, too generalised and simplistic. Vickery argued that class, age and religion amongst other factors impacted upon the position and freedom of individual women. Others have questioned the extent to which the ideals of woman as the ‘angel’ of the home had ever permeated the reality of feminine gender identity. Increasing interest in gender history also led to historical masculinity being considered properly for the first time, historians like John Tosh have attempted to correct the deficiencies in previous work which saw masculine identity as homogenous and fixed. Such research has forced a reassessment of a concept that has long been taken for granted. This essay shall seek to prove that earlier research into separate spheres tended too far to over-simplification in order to prove feminist theories of female subordination at the hands of men. It shall consider recent ideas about the changing nature of gender identity and argue that historical masculinity, as well as femininity, was as heterogeneous as it is today.

One aspect of the separate spheres theory that has been debunked by recent research is the idea that it was something unique to industrialised society. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was widely believed that society before industrialisation had been an ‘Eden’ of equality between men and women. Clark writing in 1919 argued that industrialisation, and the resultant separation of work and home life, led to the exclusion of women from ‘public’ life as they lost the opportunity to assist their husbands and fathers in paid work and became idle ‘parasites’. Such views have always been problematic however, not least because of a lack of consensus over when this change took place. Clark claimed this fundamental separation of the spheres of home and work occurred in the late seventeenth century, whilst Pinchbeck argued the change took place in the early nineteenth century. In addition recent research carried out by economic historians has cast doubt over the very existence of an ‘Industrial Revolution’, the process whereby industrialisation took place and brought about the separation of work and home which earlier writers felt was a prerequisite for gendered separate spheres. Judith Bennett has argued that work has always been divided along gender lines and Peter Earle found that female employment remained relatively unchanged in scope and occupation from 1700 to 1851; something that seems to suggest simultaneously that ‘separate spheres’ was at once important – in controlling the types of work women did – and unimportant – in that women remained in the workplace in similar numbers despite the growing idealization of the woman as homemaker in the Victorian era. Were separate spheres only ever a myth? Or were they a constant fact of life, even in pre-industrial society? This confusion has been one of the major consequences of serious study of the history of gender; it has proven that earlier accounts were over generalised and simplified to ignore contradictory evidence.

To argue that there is doubt over the dominance of the ideology of separate spheres might, at first glance, seem strange as it so embodies everything that is understood about Victorian society in modern popular culture. Feminist writers of the 1960s and 1970s were as quick to portray the mid-nineteenth century woman as a bird in a gilded cage as those of the 1890s and 1910s. To their eyes men, by restricting women to the private sphere, had encouraged a breed of apathetic ‘parasitic’ women who had neither the education nor the inclination to question their position. Yet even during what has been considered the ‘golden age’ of separate spheres in mid nineteenth century, the situation was never so simple. For a start there is a world of difference between the idealistic middle class writing on the subject which survives and the harsh realities faced by the majority of the population. The economic position of the labouring classes meant that many women found it necessary to go out into the workplace, even in the face of increasing opposition to female labour from skilled male workers who felt they were undermining their position and the arguments from groups such as the moral force Chartists who felt that it was morally better for women to be shielded from the public sphere. Similarly individual case studies have revealed that that the private sphere was ‘not necessarily synonymous with female seclusion and confinement’; Vickery points out that middle and upper class women continued the administrative work of business, writing letters to establish and retain contacts and sponsors which could be useful to their husbands for example. Amanda Foreman has argued that, providing women did not flaunt it too openly, there was scope for woman to be involved in the ‘public’ world of politics; the Duchess of Devonshire received widespread criticism when she publicly canvassed for Charles Fox in the 1790s for example, yet her advisory role to many prominent Whig politicians within the domestic setting received relatively little censure. The contribution of the study of masculinity has been to further complicate the once clear cut picture of separate spheres; Tosh points to the ‘cult’ of domesticity of the 1850s which saw men spending increasing amounts of leisure time within the private sphere of the home, as opposed to the pub or club, suggesting that the separation of spheres was never as complete as feminists once portrayed. 

Following on from this idea of a complex network of acceptable gendered behaviour the study of gender identities has challenged the long held assumption that masculinity was a homogeneous construction. Just as the reality between middle class rhetoric on the position of women and the economic realities of the working classes was incompatible, so the same was true for men. The dominant voice of the middling class in printed literature argued that male identity rested on a respectable occupation, gained through one’s own merit; yet for the working classes this concept of masculinity was less widely accepted in the mid-nineteenth century. At a time when employment markets were volatile the male as breadwinner was a role many men found they could not live up to and so clung to an older masculine identity of violence and physical strength against which to judge themselves. Indeed, Tosh argues that the bourgeois ideal of masculinity could not have been the dominant ideal amongst more than forty per cent of the adult male population in the mid nineteenth century. Similarly J.S. Bratton found that music hall fare aimed at the working classes continued to portray women as having an equal, if not greater, sex drive than men at a time when dominant middle class opinion was that women possessed little if any desire for sex. Class was not the only factor that determined how people constructed their gender identity; Tosh draws attention to the way in which men defined themselves against the ‘other’. This could mean women or another social class, but was by no means limited to these two interpretations. Men could also judge their masculinity against boys, colonial subjects or, later in the century, homosexuals. Tosh described how the clerical workers of the lower middle classes in particular, having neither the status to secure middle class masculinity nor the tough physicality of the working class ideal, were prone to viewing their masculinity in relation to ‘effeminate’ colonials, Sinha found that this was the case in which Bengali men were perceived. Such research has served to cast doubt on the validity of separate spheres as a catch all concept for understanding earlier societies; the picture was clearly more varied and complex than has generally been acknowledged.

Similarly research into the history of gender has revealed that gender identity was not fixed throughout time as Connell’s theory of traditional, ‘hegemonic’ gender identity might suggest. This might appear obvious but has been long overlooked by those who have seen gender as an almost exclusively biological construct; in truth as social values have changed so has gender identity. Tosh has spoken of a late Victorian ‘crisis of masculinity’, the idea that as women began to gain admittance into the public sphere and increased control over their own lives men increasingly looked for new ways in which to measure their masculinity. As discussed in the previous paragraph clerical workers were especially prone to this as it was in their occupation that growing numbers of middle class women were most likely to find ‘respectable’ employment; in response their male counterparts adopted a hyper-masculinity which prized physical strength and superiority over the ‘subordinate’ masculine identities of colonials and homosexuals. This change over time can also be witnessed in advice manuals for the upbringing of sons, during the mid-nineteenth century fathers were warned not to be overtly emotional towards their sons lest they ruin their chances of leaving the emotional, feminine state of childhood behind. Over 30 new private schools were established by the 1860s to educate the sons of the middle classes and so prepare them for the ‘masculine’ public sphere, something which they could not learn at home. Yet, even as a more violent masculinity became dominant in the 1880s, advice literature was changing; by 1893 Annie Swan advised fathers to be a ‘chum’ to their sons so that they might feel at ease with them. The moral welfare was increasingly being left to the virtuous mother to ensure. Again these seeming contradictions say much about the lack of a single, unified idea of masculinity and suggest that the separate spheres model could never have neatly encompassed the entirety of British society.

These findings have forced a re-evaluation not only of the validity of separate spheres as a concept but also of the justification of separate spheres by contemporaries. Traditionally feminist writers have argued that men strove to confine women to the home so as to remove their competition in the workplace and in the political world, and confirm their position as heads of a patriarchal society. However in light of research into masculinities it has become clear that separate spheres as an ideology was the result of a number of factors. The Romanticism of the nineteenth century encouraged a view of motherhood and childhood as something special and sacred, something which should be separate from the harsh world of business. This was a view shared by nineteenth century religion; Evangelicalism demanded that children needed constant supervision to save them from the taint of original situation and so needed the segregation with mothers in the home, the more child friendly outlook of the Non-conformists also stressed the importance of segregation – although in this case to preserve the natural innocence of children. Women, who had been seen as closer to sin than men (stemming from their association with Eve’s sin) throughout the Middle Ages, were increasingly believed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to be purer with higher morals. William Acton, for example, claimed in 1857 that ‘the majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled with sexual feeling of any kind’. Men sought, then, not just to stamp their superiority over women but in many cases sought to protect their wives and daughters in order to preserve their inherent goodness. This paternalistic nature was investigated by Tosh in a case study of Edward Benson and his young wife Mary; Edward was 30 when he married her, aged just 18, in the hope her childish innocence would protect him from his own impure desires. Other men looked upon their wives as surrogate mothers, enabling them to depend upon women in a society where this was otherwise frowned upon. Still others saw their wives as equals such as Thomas Sanderson who added his wife’s surname, Cobden, to his own name after their marriage and was heavily involved in the upbringing of their children. Such findings have called what has been seen as the fundamentally subordinating nature of this era of separate spheres into question.

In conclusion the concept of separate spheres has been shown to be founded on misconceptions by recent research, the study of gender and masculinity in particular. It has been shown that the concept never fully reflected the reality of life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; earlier work where this was believed to be the case relied too much on assumptions. Masculinity was never a fixed, homogeneous construct, as this essay has shown the dominant discourses shifted from the idea of moral masculinity in the 1850s to the cult of athleticism and physical strength by the 1880s, a process started in response to the changing visibility of subordinate masculine identities (such as homosexuals) as much as the increasing visibility of women in the public sphere. More importantly it has been realised that the dominant ideal masculinity was never all encompassing, and took time to filter down through society. In the early nineteenth century middle class men defined themselves in relation to the ‘other’ of the working classes when they condemned wife-beating, it was not until the 1850s when this idea was taken up by the skilled and semi-skilled working classes. Understandings of gender identity has impacted massively on understandings of the gendered separation of spheres then, not just by showing that there were exceptions to its grip over the structure of society, but also in understanding why contemporaries chose to view society through the filter of separate spheres. No longer can it be argued that it was a simple case of patriarchal male dominance being inflicted on a previously egalitarian society, instead it has had to be acknowledged that the reasoning was more complex and was open to change throughout the period.


  • L. Davidoff and C. Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850 (1987), prologue. 
  • H. Barker and E. Chalus, Gender in Eighteenth-Century England (1998), introduction. A. Vickery, ‘Golden age to separate spheres?’ Historical Journal 36 (1993) 
  • J. Tosh, ‘What should historians do with masculinity? Reflections on nineteenth century Britain’ History Workshop Journal 33 (1994) 
  • J. Tosh, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle Class Home in Victorian England (1999). M. Roper and J. Tosh (eds.), Manful Assertions: masculinities in Britain since 1800 (1990), Introduction. 
  • E. Foyster, Marital Violence: An English Family History c.1660-1857 (2005), chapter 1. 
  • J. Tosh, ‘Masculinities in an Industrializing Society: Britain, 1800-1914’ Journal of British Studies 44 (2005). 
  • D. Kuchta, ‘The making of the self-made man: class, clothing, and English masculinity, 1688-1832’ in V. de Grazia (ed.), The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective (1996). 
  • M. Francis, ‘The domestication of the male? Recent research on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British masculinity’ Historical Journal 45, 3 (2002).

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Dead Body in the 18th Century

Themes and Sources presentation: 

In what ways did the dead body become an object of controversy in the Eighteenth century?

The study of anatomy grew in the C17th and C18th; surgeons and scientists wanted to study the body and figure out how it worked. People like William Hunter (Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus, 1774) and W. Cheselden (Anatomy of the Human body, 1713) wrote tracts about the body accompanied w/ realistic drawings. These could resemble butchery and shocked those w/ a delicate constitution. Artists and sculptors wanted to view dissections to better understand the structure of the human body. All this meant that bodies were needed for dissection.

Situation in Europe:

In France cadavers were obtained from civil hospitals, prisons and alms houses after the bodies remained unclaimed for twenty-four hours. Germany allowed the anatomists to use the bodies of those who had died in prison, executed criminals, those who committed suicide as well as paupers whose bodies nobody claimed. If the body was claimed the friend or family paid a sum to the schools in order to collect. This system functioned well enough to provide an adequate supply of subjects so exhumation was largely unknown. Australia also used unclaimed bodies to supply the medical schools after a wait of forty-eight hours. Italian governmental regulations were the most liberal. All persons who died in the hospitals were automatically given up for anatomy unless someone came forward with the money necessary for burial. As anatomizing began in these countries two centuries before, laws were enacted early which were modified and liberalized to fit the needs of medical schools. Executed criminals were not the sole source of bodies and so there was less stigma attached to having your body used for medical science. In 1790 France repealed laws allowing dissection of convicted murders altogether to eliminate the stigma.

Situation in Britain:

Legally the supply in the C18th came from murderers who had their bodies promised to the anatomists as part of their punishment. An act of 1540 allowed the dissection of some murderers. In 1752 an act was passed stating that "for better preventing the horrid crime of murder", dictated that those found guilty of murder and hanged should then be delivered to the surgeons to be "dissected and anatomised" or hung in chains. By increasing the terror and the shame of the death penalty, this was meant to increase the deterrent power of capital punishment.

However supply could not legally meet demand – before the 1752 act only around 6 bodies pa were legally available, and afterwards still not enough, esp considering experts arguing that each student should dissect at least one body. 1793 there were only about two hundred medical students in London, but by 1823 there were over a thousand, all in competition for scarce legally allowed subjects. - resulting eventually in the 1832 anatomy act which gave them legal access to corpses that were unclaimed after death, in particular those who died in prison or the workhouse. Occasionally a person, following the example of Jeremy Bentham, left their body for the advancement of science, but even then, if his relatives objected, it was not received. This Act was helped along by the story of Burke and Hare murders which were widely covered in contemporary media. In 1827 and 1828; they sold the corpses of their 17 victims to the Edinburgh Medical College for dissection. Their principal customer was Doctor Robert Knox. So in the C17th and C18th demand was met through body snatching. In law the body didn’t constitute real property so technically body snatching wasn’t a felony; it only became one if clothes and other grave goods were stolen with it. However as Richardson points out the resurrections were viewed with contempt and some served light sentences for the crime of committing an offence against public mores.

The resurrectionists tended to take bodies of the poor, who were less likely to be noticed – had cheaper coffins too, which were easier to get the corpse out of. Especially from the mass pauper pit graves used in graveyards in inner city areas. Additionally they might hire women to pretend to be relatives of the deceased and claim bodies from the workhouses. The corpses of MC and UC were also obtained however, esp if they were of medical interest eg. Deformities, insanity, or just famous. These were sold not only to the schools of anatomy but also to private collectors. Eg. John Hunter. (Ritvo tells how Hunter paid £500 to obtain the remains of Charles O’Brien “The Irish Giant”, to outbribe the fishermen O’Brien had paid to dump his body in the Irish channel to avoid just such a fate.

Why people did it:

During the early years of the resurrection era body snatching was predominately the work of anatomy students, school administrators and teachers, and surgeons. A 1721 clause of the Edinburgh College of Surgeons prohibiting students from engaging in the practice suggests that students probably had been robbing graves for subjects. It was also said that in Scotland students could pay tuition in corpses rather than money (Richardson, 1988). In some schools students were encouraged to form a physician-apprentice relationship with their teachers, and it seems almost a rite of passage that the student supply a subject for dissection (Schultz, 1992). However by the mid C18th the body snatching was done by others, the medical schools just paid for them.

There was clearly money to be made from body snatching. In the 1820s a man extracted enough teeth in an hour to make £60. (At a time when even skilled workers were lucky to earn 30s a week) In the latter half of the C17th ordinary corpses could exchange hands for anything between 2 and 20 guineas (£1. 2s - £21) a piece. A Lambeth body snatching gang uncovered in 1795 sold adult bodies for 2 guineas and a crown and childrens for 6s for the first foot and 9d for every extra inch!

Why the public were so against it:

Whilst legally body snatching was not a crime, public opinion suggested otherwise. The resurrectionists, on a moral level, were disturbing the sanctity of the grave and the anatomists, by dissecting the bodies, were bringing shame and misery to their relatives.

On a practical note crowds at executions rioted over the anatomists rights to the bodies. The body and rope of the executed were deemed to hold special properties; a touch of the body was said to cure skin ailments such as warts, ulcers and sores, as well as cancer, tumours and withered limbs. The rope too was prized, particularly if it had been involved in the killing of a notorious murderer, hangmen often made profit from the impossible amounts of rope they sold as souvenirs. In 1749 the sheriff of London was forced to withdraw civic support for the surgeons taking bodies to prevent a dangerous riot at Tyburn.

Other ways in which the dead body was becoming controversial:

Medical resuscitation, using the mouth-to-mouth method developed during C18th and so there was a growing awareness that seemingly dead bodies might still be alive. In 1774, a society was founded in London to promulgate the idea of attempting to resuscitate the dead in some circumstances. Called, after a bit of experimentation, the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned, it evolved into the Royal Humane Society. This tied in w/ body snatching in two ways:

1. The poor and convicted criminals were afraid they might end up on the dissecting table whilst they were still alive. Examples of people taken down from the noose who later recovered (because they were hanged at this time to die from suffocation, hence relatives pulling on their legs to speed up the death, later in the C19th the more humane method of the drop was developed.)

The rich on the other hand had to make their coffins and crypts ever more secure to protect their earthly remains from the resurrectionists. Private cemeteries with high fences, crypts, sturdy coffins. If they were to revive there’d be no way out – so increasingly more elaborate methods of alerting the living were created. P.G. Pessler, a German priest, suggested in 1798 that all coffins have a tube inserted from which a cord would run to the church bells. If an individual had been buried alive he could draw attention to himself by ringing the bells. This idea, while highly impractical, led to the first designs of safety coffins equipped with signalling systems. Pessler's colleague, Pastor Beck, suggested that coffins should have a small trumpet-like tube attached. Each day the local priest could check the state of putrefaction of the corpse by sniffing the odours emanating from the tube. If no odour was detected or the priest heard cries for help the coffin could be dug up and the occupant rescued.

2. Late C17th / early C18th saw the first appearance of the word “vampire” in the English language. Vampiric like creatures had long existed in English folklore, eg. The 12th-century English historians and chroniclers Walter Map and William of Newburgh recorded accounts of revenants (a visible ghost or animated corpse that was believed to return from the grave to terrorize the living). During the C18th, the subject of vampirism was an obsession in Europe. Pamphlets and newspapers centered on the vampire; and despite the ridicule of philosophers, sovereigns sent officials to report on the vampire epidemics, which centered "East Prussia (1710, 1721 and 1750), Hungary (1725-30), Silesia (1755), Wallachia (1756), and Russia (1772)." Not much in UK, but panic around Europe. Two famous vampire cases, the first to be officially recorded, involved the corpses of Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole from Serbia. Paole, an ex-soldier turned farmer who allegedly was attacked by a vampire years before, died in 1726. Supposedly became a vampire himself and killed at least 16 persons in his native village of Medwegya. Became famous cos of the involvement of the Austrian authorities.
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