- The pursuit of stability: social relations in Elizabethan London (review)
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 9, Number 2, December 1991
- p. pp. 130-131
- View Citation
130 Reviews type of ships that the English yards produced, in opposition to the usual judgment that Dutch fluyts should have been copied, seems good for the merchant marine but does not explain the conservatism of the navy and its failure (with the exception of the Lion's Whelps) to build the lighter frigates which would have been useful in chasing the pirates. Andrews has directed our attention to some interesting new ideas but much further work will be required to confirm them. Sybil M . Jack Department of History University of Sydney Archer, Ian W., The pursuit of stability: social relations in Elizabethan London, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991; cloth; pp. xvi, 307; 2 figures, 19 tables; R.R.P. SAUS99.00. It is cunently fashionable for historians to reconstruct government in terms of community, placing less stress on authoritarian enforcement of order and more on the commonplaces of social relations which reinforce the individual's willingness to co-operate for the common good. This highlights the importance of the substructure of government ran by largely unpaid officials w h o were also known neighbours. It is in these terms that Ian Archer seeks to explain a non-event in London history: the perhaps surprising absence of serious conflict in the later sixteenth century despite pressures such as a rapid increase in the size of the city, major pricerises,and food shortages which elsewhere are blamed for producing not merely crime, from which London undoubtedly suffered, but also riots and rebellions. Archer's work builds on the work of Steve Rappaport, John Boulton, and others who have argued against the tendency they perceive in earlier historians to see polarization in society in oppositional terms:rich/poor,respectable/vagrant He does not, however, agree with them in all matters, aiming instead to achieve a reconciliation between their views and those of earlier writers who stressed horizontal social divisions. He seeks to produce a less static, more dynamic picture and places much importance on the maintenance of solidarity amongst the elite through a common ideology and shared ethical beliefs based on religious outlook and social convention which were reflected in the reciprocal rights of rich and poor. Division amongst the rulers, he argues, led to verticalfissionsin the whole community as competitors seek support. Archer emphasizes the familiar but very real division of economic interests between different groups: wholesale and retail merchants, traders, craftsmen and merchants, masters and artisans, and different livery companies. H e believes that the elite 'walked on the crust of a volcano' but that they had developed a Reviews 131 sophisticated use of patronage which served to limit open conflict. H e briefly traces the balancing of court and central government demands and city liberties with regard to competing claims to jurisdiction and the much resented monopolies, attributing much of their success to a cursus honorum whereby the elitefirstcut their teeth on local parish and company offices which provided an essential insight into the basic problems faced by ordinary citizens. H e is sceptical about the sense of identity created by the different and overlapping institutions in the city from livery companies to parishes, arguing that the formal records give a misleading impression of unity. In the same vein, he seeks to redress the optimistic interpretation of social policy provisions, recharting the chronological shifts in the demand for, and effectiveness of, poor relief. H e concludes that a seven percent demand for regular support swells to 18 percent in crisis times. The regulatory rote of the hospitals, concerned partly with physical welfare, partly with moral regeneration, particularly Bridewell's role in control of prostitution, is seen as only periodically effective. The need, he concludes, was greater than the relief available and the provisions eliminated the able-bodied for w h o m work was not available. This leads inexorably into criminality. Archer, like Slack, dubs problematic literary works such as that of Harmon, and sees criminality as a form of juvenile delinquency, not organized, whose alliances were impermanent with the possible exception of prostitution where the court provided protection to certain providers. The liberties, he claims, far from being notorious refuges for criminals, sometimes had their own internal well...