The Sample and the Sources of Evidence
This chapter argues that the years 1540 and 1880 are terminal dates and were in many ways self-selecting. The year 1540 was the moment when the impact of the Dissolution of the Monasteries first began to make itself felt. The transfer during the 1540s and the early 1550s of perhaps a quarter of the land of England from institutional to private hands, and the throwing of it upon the private real-estate market, profoundly affected the whole evolution of English landed society until the end of the nineteenth century and later. The year 1540 was also about the time when the Tudor state had reached the point where it could provide reasonable physical security from armed conflict in the countryside, and at any rate in the Lowland Zone. The country elite, which are the concern of this book, were composed of three overlapping groups. The first was the local power elite, the second was the local status elite, and the third was the local elite of wealth. The country elite therefore include all those from whose ranks such persons might be drawn.
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