Chapter 20: The Changing Life of the People
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- Marriage and the Family
- Late Marriage and Nuclear Families
- The nuclear family was the most common in preindustrial Europe.
- Common people married late (mostly in their late twenties) in this period.
- The custom of late marriage combined with the nuclear-family household distinguished European society from other areas in the world.
- Most people waited to marry until they could support themselves economically.
- The state attempted to control the sexual behavior of unmarried adults.
- Work Away from Home
- Girls and boys both learned independence by working away from home as servants, apprentices, and laborers.
- Service in another family’s home was the most common job for single girls.
- Servant girls worked hard, had little independence, and were in constant danger of sexual exploitation.
- Boys were subject to verbal and physical abuse, but were less vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault than girls.
- Prostitutes faced harsh laws in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
- Premarital Sex and Community Controls
- The evidence suggests a low rate of illegitimate births.
- In rural villages there were tight community controls over premarital sex and adultery.
- Once married, couples generally had several children.
- Contraception was used mainly by certain sectors of the urban population.
- New Patterns of Marriage and Illegitimacy
- Cottage industry enabled young men and women to become independent earlier.
- Young villagers who moved to the city entered into new sexual relationships free of community control.
- Rates of illegitimacy rose sharply between 1750 and 1850.
- Children and Education
- Child Care and Nursing
- Women of the lower classes generally breast-fed their children for a longer period of time than is customary today.
- The well-off generally hired poor wet nurses to breast-feed their children.
- Reliance on wet-nurses contributed to high levels of infant mortality.
- In the second half of the eighteenth century, critics mounted harsh attacks against wet-nursing.
- Foundlings and Infanticide
- Rates of infant mortality were high.
- Many children were abandoned soon after birth and foundling homes existed to care for some of these children.
- Infant mortality rates in foundling homes were extremely high.
- There is some evidence that infanticide remained common.
- Attitudes Toward Children
- There is conflicting evidence about relationships between parents and young children in the eighteenth century.
- Discipline methods for children were often severe.
- The Enlightenment sparked a new discourse about childhood and childrearing.
- Schools and Popular Literature
- Protestants and Catholics encouraged common people to read the Bible.
- Some European governments encouraged primary school education for children of the common people (Prussia, other Protestant principalities in Germany, Scotland, England, the Austrian Empire).
- Basic literacy rose rapidly between 1600 and 1800.
- The growth in literacy promoted a growth in reading.
- Ordinary people were not completely cut off from the ideas of the Enlightenment.
- Food, Medicine, and New Consumption Habits
- Diets and Nutrition
- The poor ate whole grain bread, beans, peas, and vegetables.
- The common people of Europe loved meat and eggs, but did not eat them very often.
- Townspeople had a more diverse diet than that of peasants.
- The rich gorged on meat, sweets, and liquor.
- Diets varied regionally.
- Patterns of food consumption changed markedly over the course of the eighteenth century.
- New foods introduced from the Americas (corn, squash, tomatoes, potatoes) improved calorie per acre production and nutrition.
- The most remarkable dietary change was in the consumption of sugar and tea.
- Toward a Consumer Society
- Consumer goods increased in quantity and variety over the course of the eighteenth century.
- The increasing importance of fashion was particularly noticeable in clothing.
- Housing reflected the new consumer spirit.
- The developing consumer society was concentrated in large cities in Northwestern Europe and North America.
- Medical Practitioners
- Medical practitioners in the 1700s included faith healers, pharmacists, physicians, surgeons, and midwives.
- Over time women were increasingly excluded from medical practice outside midwifery.
- Few treatments by any of these practitioners were effective.
- Surgeons made considerable progress in the eighteenth century.
- The conquest of smallpox was the century’s greatest medical triumph.
- Experimentation with inoculation against smallpox led eventually to vaccination with cowpox, which was effective in preventing the disease (Edward Jenner, 1798).
- Religion and Popular Culture
- The Institutional Church
- The local parish church remained the basic religious unit all across Europe.
- Local churches played key roles in community life.
- Protestants quickly created bureaucratized churches controlled by the secular powers.
- Catholic rulers increasingly took control of the Catholic Church in their domains (as in Spain).
- The growth of state power and the weakness of the papacy are exemplified by the experience of the Jesuits in the eighteenth century.
- Protestant Revival
- Pietism sought to revive the emotional fervor of early Protestantism.
- Influenced by Pietism, John Wesley (1703-1791) spread Methodism among the English populace.
- Catholic Piety
- Catholic authorities tended to compromise with the local elements and festivity of popular Catholicism.
- Jansenism was Catholicism’s version of the Protestant Pietist movement.
- Jansenism was an urban phenomenon.
- Inspired by the Counter-Reformation, Catholic clergy sought increasingly to “purify” popular religious practices.
- The severity of the attack on popular Catholicism varied widely by country and region.
- Leisure and Recreation
- Carnival illustrates the combination of religious celebration and popular recreation.
- Towns and cities offered a wide range of amusements.
- Blood sports were popular with the masses.
- Within Europe there was a growing division between “high culture” and popular culture, with elite reformers tending to see the latter as sin, superstition, disorder, and vulgarity.