| Chapter 20: The Changing Life of the People
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> Chapter 20
Chapter 20: The Changing Life of the People

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Chapter Outline

  • 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.

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