The Leicestershire Gentry and its Social and Cultural Networks c. 1790-1875
thesisposted on 10.01.2011, 13:29 by Peter Samuel Shipley
The subject of this thesis is the gentry in the county of Leicestershire during a period of transition, from an age defined by the supremacy of the landed classes, to one which presaged the emergence of an urban, industrial democracy. The thesis examines changes in the character and identity of the gentry as a social group, and its social, cultural and political roles. Leicestershire has been selected for study as it was essentially a ‘middling’ county. The gentry had maintained a strong presence there from the medieval period and had provided many of its members of parliament, justices and other office holders. Unlike in some of its neighbours, the nobility did not, in the eighteenth century at least, dominate the county politically. During the nineteenth century, the number of lesser ‘squirearchy’, whose development has sometimes been studied less than that of major, aristocratic landowners, was increasing in the county. Part One defines and identifies the gentry. It traces changes to its composition over the period, and notes the effect of new entrants on its structure and nature. This part also assesses the wealth of the gentry and its spending. It further shows that few members of the industrial elite in the rapidly growing borough of Leicester attempted to enter landed society. Part Two examines the culture of the gentry in its social and political setting. It considers patterns of education and marriage among a representative sample of Leicestershire gentry families, and their public and professional roles. This part looks in particular at the growth of networks of influence and authority, which extended beyond the county in a nationwide web of connections based on shared values and interests. It is argued that their development helped the gentry retain some influence in society when its political power was beginning to fade.