The Charities of Rural England, 1480-1660; the Aspirations and the Achievements of the Rural Society

The Charities of Rural England, 1480-1660; the Aspirations and the Achievements of the Rural Society

The Charities of Rural England, 1480-1660; the Aspirations and the Achievements of the Rural Society

The Charities of Rural England, 1480-1660; the Aspirations and the Achievements of the Rural Society

Excerpt

This volume concludes a study published in three volumes. The investigation on which this work rests was confined to a representative group of ten English counties: Bristol, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Middlesex (London), Norfolk, Somerset, Worcestershire, and Yorkshire. An effort was made to record all the living gifts and the bequests to charity made in these counties in the course of the long interval extending from the close of the Middle Ages to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The ten counties selected comprised something like a third of the land mass, a third of the population, and certainly as much as half the wealth of the realm in our period. We have been especially concerned with tracing out the shifting pattern of men's aspirations in the long period under study, in describing the process by which the largely religious interests of mankind yielded to the mounting requirements of a society which had become secular even when it spoke in terms of older symbols.

The speed, the momentum, of this process of change varied greatly from region to region, from class to class, and, above all, as between rural men and their urban counterparts. But a great social revolution was under way, which this study seeks to document, at least in certain of its larger outlines. We are dealing with an age in which the intervention of the state in the process of social change was at once restrained and almost invariably conservative when its power or its funds were applied in any area of the society. But we are also dealing with an age when men came to possess a vision of their society as they wished it to be, when with a swift and a disciplined outpouring of charitable funds they undertook to create and to order the institutions of a new society with their own substance. Never, it seems safe to say, have new and bold social conceptions been attained quite so quickly or quite so completely by private men. The new and the socially formidable legal device which is the charitable trust was the principal instrumentality with which dedicated and generous men were to build a society which conformed with their aspirations for their own age and for ages still to come.

The first volume of this study, published in 1959 under the title Philanthropy in England, 1480-1660, was an essay setting out the conclusions of the entire work and presenting rather elaborate statistical evidence drawn from the ten counties on which it is based. In this olume, too, may be found an extended discussion of the method . . .

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