England in the late 15th Century

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The People

In the late 15th Century, England was relatively prosperous:

  • The population was beginning to recover from the Black Death. 
  • By 1500, there were 2.25 million people living in England and Wales.
  • The vast majority of the people worked on the land. 
  • Shortage of labour, meant that English peasants were in a strong position. 
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Land use

The use of land in the late 15th Century:

  • The land was used by arable farming (ploughing and growing crops) or pasturage farming (raising livestock).
  • Enclosure (land enclosed with fences or hedges) was a result of the increasing numbers of landlords turning to sheep farming, which was seen as an increasing problem by contemporaries. 
  • Wool was the main raw material for the doth industry, which was provided for by sheeps. 
  • Increasinging wool and cloth was exported to the continent. 
  • London was the greatest city in the kingdom, but there were other important cities, such as Norwich, York and Bristol. 
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Classes of men

Classes of men:

  • Peasant were at the bottom of the class system, who made up 80% of the population.
  • Landowners were above them. 
  • Yemoen were farrmers who owned their own land. 
  • Then it was Gentlemen who were lords of the manor, and owned largen estates. 
  • The nobility were made up of the aristocracy and consisted of Earls and Dukes. They held estates in several shires. 
  • The Great Chain of Being
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The Nature of the Monarchy

The country was governed by a hereditary monarchy, in theory. Despire the usurpers, Richard III, Edward IV and Henry VII, the monarchy remained strong because:

  • Mostly everyone believed that the King was appointed by God to rule and protect his people. 
  • The King was meant to promote justice and to rule with other great land owners. 
  • As a result of the hierarchy was ordained by God, it was considered a great sin for people to rise up against their rulers. 

However, Kings were not absolute:

  • The King shared power with the nobility and the Church, and he ruled within the law. 
  • Parliament was called occasionally by the monarch. 
  • Parliament's main job was to recognise the existence of a new king, and to raise taxes for warfare, or the country's defence.
  • Parliament also became the institution that the monarch could turn to for advice in times of crisis.
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The Church

The 15th Century was an age of faith:

  • The English Church was Catholic and helped to hold the country together in troubled times. 
  • Peace was kept due to the Church providing an ideology. 
  • The Church was episcopial (run by bishops).
  • The most important churchmen were the archbishops of Canterbury and York. 
  • All the bishops and archbishops were appointed by the Pope in Rome. 
  • The Church in England, technically owed allegiance to the Pope. 

The Church and Society:

  • Church was at the centre of social life. 
  • There were many saint days and holy days. 
  • The Church taught obedience and deference. 
  • Most people were taught to know their place in society and to not change it.
  • Therefore Rebellion against authority was a great sin.
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Social Structure

Society was split into 4 main blocks:

  • 1) Gentlemen
  • 2) Citizens
  • 3) Yeomen
  • 4) Cottagers/Labourers
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Gentlemen and Citizens (Social Structure)

Gentlemen were subdivided into: 'Nobilitas Major' and 'Nobilitas Minor.'

  • 'Nobilitas Major'
    • These were made up of parliamentary peerages, landed elite. 
    • They were summoned to attend Parliament and stay at home if climate was not good at court. E.g. during religious change. 
  • 'Nobilitas Minor'
    • These were made up of Knights and Esquiries.
    • They acted as local Justices of the Peace. 


  • Citizens lived in towns and cities. 
  • They gained certain privileges, due to social standing. 
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Yeomen and Cottagers and Laborers (Social Structur


  • Yeomen were farmers who had economic influences. 
  • They acted as:
    • Local baliffs
    • Church wardens
    • Constables, assisting in maintaining order.

Cottagers and Labourers:

  • Cottagers and labourers were peasants.
  • They lived in villages.
  • If they wanted to move or get married, they had to ask permission from their local Lord.
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Maintenance of Social Structure

Social Structure was maintained by:

  • Social and economic factors. 
  • Government Authoity factors which were formal and informal. 
  • Duty and Deferece. 
  • The Great Chain of Being. 

The Great Chain of Beign:

  • God was at the top.
  • Then it was the Angel. 
  • The King was below them.
  • Noblemen came next
  • Then came Gentlemen.
  • Peasants came next. 
  • Then a dog and worm. 
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Main Divide

The main divide was between the Gentry and Commoners:

  • Gentry were rich enough to not work and be able to display standards of living expected of the gentry. 
  • Whereas commoners had no political voice. 
  • Commoners gained the Government's attention by riot and rebellion. 
  • They were viewed as inferior, irrational, stupid and fickle. 
  • Authorities could not see the difference between riot and rebellion 
  • They also did not realise that not everybody had political representation. 
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