Illuminating the Chorus in the Shadows: Elizabethan and Jacobean Exeter 1550-1610
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis challenges the notion that little light can be shed on Exeter’s ‘middling’ and ‘poorer’ sorts in the period 1550-1610, defined as ‘the chorus’ by Wallace MacCaffrey in his book Exeter 1540-1640. It selects data from mid- to late- sixteenth and early seventeenth century urban archives, defines the strengths and weaknesses of that data and captures it in a digitised database. It uses this data to test which of the methodologies of prosopography, collective and individual biography, social network analysis and occupied topography are most appropriate for analysis of the city’s social structure and individuals’ lived experiences. It subsequently selects collective and individual biography for use with the randomly incomplete data set presented by the archives. Using the database to create group and individual biographies, it then introduces elementary quantitative analyses of the city’s social structure, starting by describing broadly the distinguishing characteristics of the leading actors and the chorus. Following on from this, it describes several groups who form part of the chorus, including the more civically active, alongside those with less data against their names. It investigates family and household dynamics and reveals how these are reflected through the occupation of baker. It continues by examining the post-mortem intentions of those who bequeathed goods and explores the lives of a selection of craftsmen, merchants, tailors and widows viewed through in-depth biographies created from the comparatively rich data associated with death. It also makes explicit that the lack of a particular document type compromises the degree of success in connecting the chorus to the cityscape using occupied topography methodologies. It reveals the challenges of recreating the notion of neighbourhood in the city’s west quarter around St Nicholas Priory, then the town house of the wealthy Hurst family. It concludes that it is possible to outline a new model, that of the ‘categorised, connected citizen’, which challenges the validity of MacCaffrey’s construct of a bi-partite society, one side of which is a murky unknown quantity about whom no ‘striking assertions’ can be made. This new model acknowledges the dynamism, individuality and interactivity of Exeter’s inhabitants, and contents that it is a better one for enabling historians to treat respectfully people they cannot yet fully understand.
PhD in History