Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Regency Era Social Ladder

During the Regency era (and prior to...and after) there was strict social ladder upon which one fell. In fact the ladder I've listed below could be interchangeable with many times in history and even today. It was hard to climb said ladder, but quite easy to slip and fall for some. Typically you were born into your situation. A royal was born a royal, unless they happened to be lucky enough to marry into royalty. Same went for the aristocracy. It could be slightly possible for someone to raise themselves to gentry level by providing excellent service to the monarch, thus being awarded a title and perhaps a substantial piece of land. The best way to climb the social ladder was obviously marrying into it. The second way was to accumulate wealth, which could be difficult to do in a society with strict rigid order.

The Ladder:

  • Monarch -- At the time of the Regency, the King was unable to rule and so his son, the Price Regent ruled in his stead.
  • Royals -- Family members of the monarch who were in line for the throne, some quite removed.
  • Aristocracy -- These are the nobles.
  • Gentry -- These are high-born people, land-holders, lower aristocracy, a knight and his family.
  • Middle Class -- although this term wasn't used until later, it referred to professionals such as bankers, physicians, lawyers, wealthy merchants, etc...
  • Artisans and Tradespeople -- This is a group of skilled workers, highly trained in a specific trade, and while some could make a pretty living, most did not. These were often mantua makers, watchmakers, dress makers, etc...
  • Servants -- Servants worked for not only for nobles and gentry, but for the middle class as well. They included butlers, housekeepers, maids, cooks, stable workers, etc... They did not make very much money and were often provided quarters within the household they worked for. Wages among servants varied widely depending mostly on your position and who you worked for. A butler for an earl would make substantially more than a butler for a banker--and within themselves, the earl's butler would feel he was at a more elevated position than that of the banker's butler.
  • Laborers -- Laborers had a particularly hard life. They worked themselves to the bone for very little coin. We're talking peddlers--the gal who sells oranges or flowers, the oyster collector, chimney sweeps, factory workers, street cleaners, etc...
  • Paupers -- Paupers either had no work or found only occasional/seasonal work. They were the destitute, with nothing to their names and growling bellies. They often fell to crime, prostitution, and even died at an earlier age from exposure, illness or the dangers of living on the streets.

I admit to being fascinated by all social classes, but if I had to choose one to belong to, I think it would be gentry. Don't get me wrong, I would love to be a Queen or a Duchess, but the rules of society were too strict and confining. As a member of the gentry, I'd still have access to mostly the same things, but perhaps I could live a more "normal" life. Maybe...

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