English Class System in the 18th Century

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

At the beginning of the 18th century, England was a relatively small power. By the end of it, Britain had emerged as a world power. This lesson looks at class system during that transformative time.

Britain in the 1700s

Britain was a rapidly changing country in the 1700s. It was making the very rapid transition from a relatively small European power to one of the great empires in world history. As such, it is not at all surprising that British society was changing alongside the rest of the country. In this lesson, we'll explore the three primary levels of British society during this period. While doing so, we'll make special note of the diminishing power of the traditional nobility during this time, seeing a definite shift that leveled the playing field between them and a set of very wealthy commoners.

The Rich

Then as now, the top of British society was the Royal Family. Following them were the nobility. However, during the 18th century, a new group had really begun to challenge the nobility for the highest positions within British social life. These were the gentry, the aristocracy of rich people who didn't necessarily hold a noble title. What the gentry did hold was plenty of money and plenty of land. They rarely had to work, unless it was within one of the jobs that were all but reserved for members of the upper class, like being a high-ranking military officer, a bishop, or holding a top administrative post. They could also govern their investments, but it was considered beneath them to do any sort of work for pay.

The Middle Class

The next social class was the middle class. This was particularly wide-ranging as well since it included the gentry, who may have had to fall back on their educations to get through tough times, all the way down to small farmers who owned their own land. The typical priest would be found in the middle class. Now note that this isn't all to do with money - there was a great range of wealth to be found here. However, this was considered to be the proper place in society for a group of people who didn't fit into the gentry and didn't help to form the next group we'll discuss.

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