Conspicuous Consumption by the Landed Classes, 1790–1830

  • David Cannadine


The English Aristocracy in the age of Malthus has received relatively little historical attention in recent years. For the political historian, the repression before and after Waterloo and the passing of the Great Reform Act are the most significant events: if the landowners appear at all, it is only as a defiant and then defensive class. For the social historian, the rise of the middle classes receives a further encore, and the making of the working classes gets its premiere: but the aristocracy is largely forgotten. And for the economic historian, the ‘wave of gadgets’ which swept across industrial England in these years again serves to relegate agriculture and the landed interest to a relatively obscure backwater. How odd all this is. For during this very period, it was the landed classes — however much they may have been challenged — who were still incomparably the most powerful and wealthy social group — a position which they were to retain well into the second half of the nineteenth century.1 Certainly, Thomas Malthus would have found this picture of his times — so Whiggish and teleological that the landowners were consigned to a premature grave — eccentric, baffling and bewildering. For him then, if not for historians now, the landed classes were at the centre of the stage, as they were also at the centre of his writings. What, therefore, does a study of his work tell us about the aristocracy of the time? And how far is our understanding of his writings in turn enhanced by a fuller appreciation of the aristocratic world within which he lived, thought and wrote?


Eighteenth Century Industrial Revolution Conspicuous Consumption Effective Demand Landed Class 
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Copyright information

© Michael Turner 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Cannadine

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