The bourgeoisie was a perpetually shifting and, for that reason, ill-defined social class in the seventeenth century. Its wealthy members gravitated towards the old aristocracy, with whom they had in common the possession of land, titles, privileges and cultural tastes, if not that of a lengthy warrior lineage. Its lower ranks merged with the underprivileged masses, sharing their illiteracy and the stigma of poverty. There was no question at the latter end of the scale of work being merely a distraction or a means of providing luxuries, as it was for the tradesman’s wife, or as she carefully pretended it was. Contemporary wages scarcely kept the manual worker, particularly the woman worker in receipt of half a man’s pay, at subsistence level. There was little question either of being fastidious in the choice of work undertaken. Women of the lower classes turned their hand to virtually every trade. Indeed necessity often forced them to practise several concurrently, however taxing they might be physically or however repulsive morally.
KeywordsSeventeenth Century Private Capacity Cultural Taste Untrained Hand Absentee Landlord
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