Social History 500-1500, the Middle Ages

Sep 2015
1,811
England
According to a new study of unique last names from around the world, moving in or out of the upper class doesn’t take just a few generations - it takes centuries.


Measuring not just income and wealth but also occupation, education, and longevity, researchers found that upper-class families took 300 to 450 years before their scions fell back into the middle class. Throughout society, poor families, taken as a whole, took an equal amount of time - 10 to 15 generations - to work their way up into the middle class.

The social scientists looked for those and other unique, upper-class surnames among students who attended Oxford and Cambridge universities between 1170 and 2012, rich property owners between 1236 and 1299, as well as probate records since 1858.....


They found that social mobility in late medieval England wasn’t any worse than in modern England. Illiterate village artisans in 1300 took seven generations to incorporate fully into the educated elite of 1500. Conversely, if you died between 1999 and 2012 and had one of the 181 rare surnames of wealthy families in the mid-19th century, you were more than three times as wealthy as the average person.


The glacial pace of overall social mobility appears to be a universal phenomenon, no matter the political forces at work. Researches found 13 unusual Chinese surnames among the educated elite in the 19th century. Today, despite the Chinese Communist revolution, social upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, and exile of many families to Taiwan and Hong Kong, holders of the 13 surnames are still disproportionately affluent and influential as professors and students at elite universities, government officials, and heads of corporate boards.


Researchers aren’t sure why social mobility appears to move so slowly, despite outside political and social forces, and suspect genetics may play a role.

Yet another survey that says a lot, but leaves a lot out.



A guy made is way up the status stakes, at some meteoric pace, during the C13th. He ended up building a massive castle on the south coast, and was ennobled as a Baron. He incurred the wrath of an Earl, but survived and ended his days serving the King. His dad was an agricultural labourer! As per usual the how is easy. Service to the monarch. Or is that all?



Perhaps it should read more like: '[during the middle, middle ages there was a] plurality of social ladders, and channels of social mobility...'


and that...


'[there was...the French feudal revolution, the English commercialisation model, and the great narrative of Italian medieval merchants.'


However there was also: 'constraints imposed upon human agency by family practices and genre.'


Nonetheless: 'The barbarian invasions, the crisis of free peasants in the Carolingian period, the establishment of lordship in the tenth to twelfth centuries, the rise of cities, the emergence of a legally defined nobility, and the great political expulsions of Italian communes are only a few of the medieval dynamics in which social upheaval is often an implicit assumption of any work of research. The myth of a medieval society that was characterised by a non-existent or very low level of social mobility, a myth which nevertheless recurred in the work of Werner Sombart or Richard Tawney, was demolished some time ago.

On the contrary, mobility, especially after the eleventh century, has become a kind of axiom among scholars.'

'Obviously, the conception of medieval society has also been trans-formed. Historians no longer describe societies as being made up of rigid hierarchies of classes and
ordines where any movement was difficult or impossible to achieve.

'There are complex reasons that account for this lack of interest: the state of the documentation, conceptions of society, trends in historiography and the ideological orientation of historians themselves'.

 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,724
Dispargum
If one is only studying surnames, one is only studying families through their patrilineal lines. Wealthy and powerful men have always been attracted to beautiful women, even if those women come from farther down on the social ladder. If one was to study matrilinial lines, one would be more likely to find evidence of social mobility.
 

Sindane

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
4,690
Europe
... Wealthy and powerful men have always been attracted to beautiful women, even if those women come from farther down on the social ladder...
In what social situation would these people have a chance to meet each other?
 
Dec 2011
1,304
In what social situation would these people have a chance to meet each other?
They had plenty of opportunity to meet such women: mistresses, slaves, maids, prostitutes and so on. Some men might have cared about such "partners", and often such care meant integration of them and/or their children into the family/household. However, this would not result in their family name to be "registered" with the higher social order, instead, they (or at least the children) would assume the lord's name and be considered a part of his family/household. There are all kinds of caveats to this explanation, but I think it is describing a general tendency. Controlling for this phenomenon (assuming the study referred to by the OP does not) would probably result in different conclusions about social mobility.
 
Sep 2015
1,811
England
If one is only studying surnames, one is only studying families through their patrilineal lines. Wealthy and powerful men have always been attracted to beautiful women, even if those women come from farther down on the social ladder. If one was to study matrilinial lines, one would be more likely to find evidence of social mobility.
Sure. There was a guy in the 1400s called Manners. He married a Mowbray type person, can't remember what her name was, but when he/they were promoted a little later, the Manners - as they say - became the Dukes of Rutland.

Throughout the entire period however from a legal viewpoint, the woman lost whatever property she had to the man (only put right by the Victorians). This vertical journey socially, must exist naturally enough, but to explicitly state things one way or another, without much in the way of evidence is shoddy practice and an embarrassing moment.
 

Sindane

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
4,690
Europe
They had plenty of opportunity to meet such women: mistresses, slaves, maids, prostitutes and so on.
I am talking about the millions of daughters of the English peasant/industrial working class.
How would these daughters of agricultural labourers, weavers, spinners, coal miners meet the gentry? How would someone labouring in the fields or labouring as a spinner in an industrial textile mill meet a local lordling?


Some men might have cared about such "partners", and often such care meant integration of them and/or their children into the family/household. However, this would not result in their family name to be "registered" with the higher social order, instead, they (or at least the children) would assume the lord's name and be considered a part of his family/household.

Do you have many examples of this?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,724
Dispargum
Sure. There was a guy in the 1400s called Manners. He married a Mowbray type person, can't remember what her name was, but when he/they were promoted a little later, the Manners - as they say - became the Dukes of Rutland.

Throughout the entire period however from a legal viewpoint, the woman lost whatever property she had to the man (only put right by the Victorians). This vertical journey socially, must exist naturally enough, but to explicitly state things one way or another, without much in the way of evidence is shoddy practice and an embarrassing moment.
I don't need to cite evidence to prove what everyone, including yourself, acknowledges is obvious. My point is that if we limit our understanding of socila mobility to surnames and legal constructs such as property and inheritance law, then it should not surprise us that we find limited social mobility. Laws go to great lengths to preserve the status quo, including keeping the aristocracy at the top of society and the masses at the bottom. But if we look beyond the law we find people exercising more informal means of getting ahead such as marrying above their station. Another possibility, changing one's surname. Donald Trump's surname used to be Drumpf. At some point it was changed, but if we only study the Trump surname, we don't get the full picture of that family's rise.

What's your thesis? I've reread the OP but I don't know where you're going with this.