Social mobility, marriage and kinship among some gentry and yeoman families of Wantage Hundred, c.1520-c.1670
The core of this thesis is the study of 12 gentry and yeoman families resident in Wantage Hundred between 1522 and 1670. Particular attention will be paid to the 4 main strategies of land acquisition, marriage, office-holding and education that could be adopted by each family group for advancement. In conjunction with this the pattern of social mobility within the families will be examined to determine what if any influence such strategies had on social status. The desire for any social elevation will be analysed to examine the notion that all yeoman were actively striving towards a gentry status, and that the gentry themselves were looking towards an aristocratic title. The actual title of `gentleman' and `yeoman' will be examined and their usage in this area analysed, and in particular the way the titles became accepted for merchants and tradesmen. The terms `open' and `closed' originally used to define nineteenth century parishes have been applied to Tudor and Stuart England. This hypothesis has been used to suggest that a resident gentry family could regulate the inflow of new families and could effectively `close' the parish to outside influences and stifle any upward social movement by the local yeoman families. In a parish without a resident gentry family it has been suggested that the opposite is true. New families could freely enter the community, and, more importantly, a yeoman family could control the parish, and, through recognition of local influence gain in social status. This hypothesis and its applicability to Wantage Hundred, will be examined and an assessment made as to whether it had any discernible effect on patterns of social mobility in the area. It can be deduced that throughout the period acquisition and ownership of land through purchase or marriage remained the paramount means of social advancement. Even so all the families used all the suggested strategies of advancement at some time during the period. However, it is apparent that not all families were actively striving for social advancement, particularly as differentiation between yeoman, merchant and gentleman became more blurred in the seventeenth century. In general it appears that yeoman families had greater opportunities for advancement and office-holding in open parishes.