The Price of the Poor’s Words: Social Relations and the Economics of Deposing for One’s “Betters” in Early Modern England

The Long Run

by Hillary Taylor (Jesus College, Cambridge)

This article is published by The Economic History Review, and it is available on the EHS website

File:William Powell Frith - Poverty and Wealth.JPG Poverty and Wealth. Available at Wikimedia Commons

Late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England was one of the most litigious societies on record. If much of this litigation was occasioned by debt disputes, a sizeable proportion involved gentlemen suing each other in an effort to secure claims to landed property. In this genre of suits, gentlemen not infrequently enlisted their social inferiors and subordinates to testify on their behalf.[1] These labouring witnesses were usually qualified to comment on the matter at hand a result of their employment histories. When they deposed, they might recount their knowledge of the boundaries of some land, of a deed or the like. In the course of doing so, they might also comment on all sorts of quotidian affairs. Because testifying…

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