To what extent were social relations in the nineteenth-century countryside defined by a system of patronage and deference? Essay

Submitted By samford57
Words: 1649
Pages: 7

Levels of deference and the power of patronage were never more prominent than within 19th century countryside England. For the majority servants and labours alike courteously yielded to the will of those in privilege power. This was a power that gained aristocracy immense patronage which stemmed from their rule over, as Newby[1] states, "major institutions of rural society: housing, education, the church, the law". Yet when considering how far this system determined the social relations of the time it is important to consider the variable factors (and varying ways in which it was implemented in different villages/counties) which contributed to the impact patronage and deference had upon the social make-up of rural England. Was it the defining influence or was that dependent on the attitudes of the working class and liberal, authoritarian or remote[2] style of landowners?
A great deal of evidence exists to present the idea that patronage and deference bore the greatest significance with regards to upholding social divide within rural England. In G.E Mingay's (ed) "The Unquiet Countryside"[3] F.M.L Thompson suggests deference bread "people who were god-fearing, obedient, industrious and law abiding" and thus they contributed to the preservation of the divide between the working class and upper class. This can be supported by the words of Newby[4] "sense of order in village life, a sense of place in both a geographical and social sense, which could be recognized as a natural and unchanging fact of life" and Gerard[5] "from an early age to be subjected to the will of aristocracy, embedded by their teachers or parents". By analysing this I can present the argument that through the process of deference social standing was installed upon a community or a family, they stuck to their social place because their deference to those above them kept them there. By extending the arm of patronage for the services of the working class, landowners were installing upon them a social divide/standing through the use of their labour. Supporting the idea that social relation was forged from obligation to those above you, who held patronage. What hope was there for a labourer to break social convention if he was defined and held in place from birth by a system where he was tied to service of another man's will?

The power of patronage for the upper/landowner class in 19th century rural England was often used as a weapon to assert authority and class differences. This bled down the line of work in the sense that when a Landowner put pressure on his tenants or farmers it would be translated to the labourers (in the form of tightened wages perhaps) who would be forced into poverty. This kind of patronage kept the class/social structure in place, economic hardships forced upon labourers allowed the gentry to maintain class distances. This is reflected within the work of Joseph Arch[6] who talks of the "Iron hand" of a squire who ruled harshly. Arch himself however was never tied to a landowner he was outside the system of deference and although his work offers reliable insight into issues between the classes it isn't all to representative of the class itself. This idea of paternalism (which could be executed due to patronage and the obedience of deference) was common throughout the country and helped to shape social relations. The majority of the upper class preserved paternalism believing they knew what was best and asserted their authority based on ritual and privilege, this proved to distinguish class membership[7] and define social relations. There was a limited and small scale attention to the living conditions of labourers[8]. Landowners neglected social responsibility[9] this can be reflected in their reluctance and sometimes ignorance to provide for the poor, this confined the working class to their social status and can be seen as a direct prevention of development in social relations. The aristocrats were again (this time it isn't their…