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Social Classes in the UK: Then and Now

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Gregory King in 1688, Joseph Massie in 1760, and Patrick Colquhoun in 1803 have provided historians and sociologists with enough data to be able to recreate society back then (Bush, 1992, p. Elizabethan England (mid-16th to 17th century) was composed of three social classes: Gentlemen; Burgesses; Yeomen, and Artisans or Labourers (McCann, 2002). The Gentlemen were the titled nobility headed by the Royal Family and the Bishop (McCann, 2002). The Yeomen was made up of free men who own small parchments of lands and make good money out of them. Burgesses are the citizens of England who belong to a borough and manage and represent their universities (McCann, 2002).

The Yeomen work for the landed gentry, sometimes as footmen and butlers, until they have their own money to buy their own land (McCann, 2002). The last class was composed of farmers, labourers, tailors, shoemakers, and the like, who do not have their own lands to work and were thus employed with low wages (McCann, 2002). These four social classes were later on categorized into the three more general, yet still similar, social classes which composed the social hierarchy during the 18th century: the elite landowners, the middling sort, and the laboring poor.

Form this data, the three basic English social classes can be seen— the upper class, the middle class, and the lower class, respectively. The elite landowners are the (usually) titled nobility of England that compose less than 2 percent of the population during and before the 18th century (Bush, 1992, p. However small in number they were, Bush (1992, p. 116) found that they comprise 15 percent of the country’ s income. The 20th century saw these elite landowners evolve into the Upper Class.

The members of the Upper Class was defined not solely by their wealth, but more importantly, by their status— “ how their money was spent rather than how it was earned” (McKibbin, 1998, p. Ross McKibbin (1998, p. 2) states the members of the Upper Class as the members of the extended royal family and senior functionaries of the court, the old aristocracy, the political é lites attached to the peerage by birth, marriage, or social affiliation

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