Structure of society

Elizabethan society was highly structured and everyone was expected to know their place in that structure. It was a strict hierarchy, which most believed was ordered by God.

Pyramid structure of the Great chain of being.

Within this general structure could be added further layers. In Elizabethan England and Wales, the following would be below the nobles but above the peasants:

  • the gentry – lesser landowners
  • wealthy merchants and professionals
  • yeomen and tenant farmers
  • craftspeople

Life for the bottom 20 to 30 per cent of the population was very hard, with many constantly on the edge of starvation. It was made worse during this period by rising prices, poor harvests and unemployment.

Increase in wealth

Many nobles and merchants increased their wealth during this period.

  • Many had bought land during Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries.
  • The expansion of overseas trade in Europe and beyond.
  • Investment in trading companies.
  • The granting of monopolies.
  • Profits from the sale of wool.