ABSTRACT

Social structure remained stable throughout the later Tudor period, despite the revolutions in Church and state between 1532 and 1559, and despite the crisis years of the 1590s. It was a remarkable achievement, given that power, prestige and economic wealth were distributed very unequally, and that inflation was seriously distorting wealth differentials and perhaps widening the already yawning gap between landed and landless. That social breakdown was averted can be credited to many influences, including custom, religious teaching and the habit of deference. Equally important, probably, was a close correlation between wealth and social status. Social divisions were not of course based exclusively on wealth - they never are - and birth, education, adaptability and the source of one's wealth were also important. Nevertheless, status was usually kept in line with wealth, allowing for fluidity in the social structure as fortunes were made and lost.