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About this book

The power and status of English male elites were not merely inherited at birth but developed through everyday interactions with family, peers and guardians. Much of these conversations were conducted through correspondence. In this fascinating Sourcebook, Mark Rothery and Henry French present a unique collection of letters which together trace this construction of gender and social identities.

The Formation of Male Elite Identities in England, c.1660-1900:

• reveals the lifelong process of shaping and managing manliness via a range of social agents
• illustrates continuities and changes in the values associated with the landed gentry over the course of the period, and within the male lifecycle
• charts the process from school and university, through to experiences of travel, courtship, marriage and work
• provides a detailed Introduction to the letters, editorial guidance throughout, questions to stimulate discussion, and helpful suggestions for further reading.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
‘There is nothing more advantageous and pleasant to a boy as he grows older …’ wrote Lydia Acland, of Killerton House, in Devon, to her son Thomas, at Harrow School, ‘ … than the habit of continual intercourse with his parents which as he is so much from home must for the greater part of the year be kept up by letter.’1 This letter is an example of the vibrant culture of letter writing in the Acland family during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, one shared by other gentry families. Several generations of the Aclands maintained lines of communication and family relationships with each other and a range of other interested parties through correspondence, whether they were parents, children, wider kin, wives, husbands, school and university tutors, or close friends. The archives from which letters such as Lydia’s one derive contain an abundance of correspondence, both relating to the family and to politics. Gentry families were assiduous letter writers and their lifestyles, characterised by regular travel between town and country, demanded such attention to epistolary practices. Although various social historians of the landed classes have made use of these archives, the letters of gentry families have never been comprehensively exploited.
Mark Rothery, Henry French

1. Schooling

Abstract
‘To be able to govern ourselves then to govern others’; this was the guiding principle (paraphrased from the writings of the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury), of the private tutor, Patrick St Clair, in a letter to his patron, Ashe Windham.1 In many ways this statement encapsulates the aims, functions and importance of schooling as a means of inculcating masculine identities in landed gentry men. Education was a crucial marker of elite status across this period. It transmitted masculine qualities deemed appropriate by family and society as a means of justifying the superiority of male elites over other men and women. As Gordon Mingay pointed out ‘the landed classes governed the country and led society not only because of their wealth and political power, but also because they formed an elite, educated and trained from childhood to fulfil their role in society.’2 During their ‘entry into the world’ boys who left home for their schooling had their first taste of a higher level of independence, with the opportunity to experience and interpret society beyond the immediate influence of their families. Schooling had a continuous and fundamental impact on gender norms throughout this period. However, important shifts in stereotypes of masculinity and in education interacted with these continuities.
Mark Rothery, Henry French

2. University

Abstract
Universities and university life went in and out of fashion with the English landed elite between the Restoration and the late nineteenth century. There were also distinct shifts in the nature of the experience of university. Oxford and Cambridge changed in terms of the social types, the structure of collegiate and tutorial provisions, and the function of education.1 The prohibition and eventual (temporary) suppression of the Jesuits up to 1773, and the destruction wrought by the Napoleonic wars, ended the system of Catholic higher education exemplified by earlier generations of the Welds and the Huddlestones. The experiences of Thomas Weld’s education on the continent, which were largely negative, helped him found the English Catholic public school at Stonyhurst, Lancashire, in 1794. This, and the repeal of formal prohibitions on Catholics entering universities in 1829, quickly extinguished the distinctive continental (and to some extent cosmopolitan) educational identity of English Catholics. By the early 1830s, fervent Catholics such as Kenelm Digby (2.36) could concern themselves with the injustices of Oxbridge with the same enthusiasm as their Protestant neighbours.
Mark Rothery, Henry French

3. Travel

Abstract
Travel was an important part of elite life. Until the growth of cheap railway transport in the 1880s, long-distance travel was an expensive luxury, and one element of the conspicuous display of elite life. Travel was also considered a key stage in the development of masculinity. Through travel, young men practiced and rehearsed the values they had learnt at home, at school and, for many, at university, but in far more unfamiliar and foreign circumstances. The experience was a moral ordeal, a test of manliness. Young men were to mix in what was deemed to be manly society, whether this was the courts of Europe during the eighteenth century, the beauties of the British Isles during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, or amongst other white men in the outposts of the British Empire later in the period. Equally important, particularly in encounters with colonial ‘others’, was the identification of effeminate and unmanly men. Gender, along with ethnicity, was a central orgainsing principle in hierarchies of the colonial world. Either way, the experience was intended to be ‘transformative’ in social and gender terms, to ‘polish’ unwanted external characteristics and to hone the internal virtues of manliness.
Mark Rothery, Henry French

4. Courtship and Marital Life

Abstract
Described as ‘the weightiest business’ in 1976, marriage has long been recognised by historians as an important stage of life for both men and women.1 Age was a crucial factor in the expectation that men of the landed elite would marry. It was through marriage and family formation that gentry families safeguarded their future and, perhaps, improved their financial and social prospects. Economic independence was the key to establishing a new household. After receiving a suitable education at school, preferably enhanced at university and through foreign travel, securing financial security through business or inheritance provided the foundation upon which courtship and marriage could be built.
Mark Rothery, Henry French

5. Working Life

Abstract
For a ‘leisure class’ such as the English landed gentry ‘working life’ may seem an oxymoronic choice of theme.1 The gentry were socially conspicuous due to the great wealth and privilege they inherited at birth. Such rentier wealth, accrued through ownership of a landed estate and the rental of land for farming rather than the exertions of business or professional careers, was perfectly suited to this leisured lifestyle, particularly if the family were wealthy enough to employ agents and stewards to manage their estates. However, for several reasons work, industry and exertion were very important both for the social and the gender status of gentry men across this period.
Mark Rothery, Henry French

Concluding Remarks

Abstract
The formation of masculine identities in landed gentry men was a continual and lifelong process from childhood to adulthood, one that never reached a conclusion. Social status was not merely inherited by gentry men at birth, it was dependent on the attainment of manliness learnt and practiced through family, education, travel, relationships, and their working lives. The power of the gentry depended as much on their achievement of manliness as it did on their ownership of land or political office. Such experiences were never straightforward and were inherently social and relational. The construction of masculinity was practised, negotiated, contested and constantly managed by the male individual and by a wide range of institutions, relatives and associates, and it was experienced in a variety of contexts at different points in the life cycle, contextual shifts which, themselves, altered definitions of acceptable masculinity. Some men rested easy and confident in their manly achievements at various points in their lives, whilst others endlessly struggled to attain what they, and others, considered to be manly.
Mark Rothery, Henry French
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