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The education and training of gentry sons in early-modern England


  • Wallis, Patrick
  • Webb, Cliff


This paper explores the education and training received by the sons of the English gentry in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Using information from the herald’s visitations of four counties, it offers quantitative evidence of the proportion of gentry children who entered university, spent time at one of the inns of court or became apprentices in London. We show that over the period there was little change in the educational destinations of gentry sons: university and apprenticeship absorbed roughly equal proportions; the inns of court slightly less. We also show that a son’s position in the birth order had a very strong influence on the kind of education he received. Eldest sons were much more likely to go to university or one of the inns of court. Younger sons were much more likely to become apprentices in London – as we show, trade clearly was an acceptable career for the gentry. There is little sign of a change in the status of different educational choices in this period. Our findings confirm some traditional assumptions about the importance of birth order and normative expectations in determining the life-courses of gentry children in the seventeenth century: historians should not over-state the autonomy of elite children in deciding their futures.

Suggested Citation

  • Wallis, Patrick & Webb, Cliff, 2009. "The education and training of gentry sons in early-modern England," Economic History Working Papers 27958, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:27958

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    Cited by:

    1. David de la Croix & Eric B. Schneider & Jacob Weisdorf, 2017. ""Decessit sine prole" Childlessness, Celibacy, and Survival of the Richest in Pre-Industrial England," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 2017001, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
    2. Marc Klemp & Chris Minns & Patrick Wallis & Jacob Weisdorf, 2012. "Family Investment Strategies in Pre-modern Societies: Human Capital, Migration, and Birth Order in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century England," Working Papers 0018, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    3. Marc Klemp & Chris Minns & Patrick Wallis & Jacob Weisdorf, 2013. "Picking winners? The effect of birth order and migration on parental human capital investments in pre-modern England," European Review of Economic History, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(2), pages 210-232, May.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • O52 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Europe


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