Landownership, the Aristocracy and the Country Gentry
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In the three decades following the Restoration, a reshaping of landed society began that would be completed in the eighteenth century, when a truly national, metropolitan ruling order emerged in England. Despite the hopes some had in 1660 to restore landed society to its prewar state, the contours of landed life had been so altered by the Interregnum as to preclude that return. In broad terms, these disrupted patterns included significant geographical localism, engagement with traditional cultural activities, personal involvement in provincial administration and a virtual monopoly over political discourse. None of these features had disappeared by the time William III arrived on English shores, but none retained its prewar strength. Although the kingdom’s ‘natural rulers’ resumed dominant roles in the county society and government from which many had previously withdrawn or been excluded, they also began to rethink what was entailed in the life of a landowner and to alter the courses in which that life ran. Fearful memory of recent disorders, economic insecurity generated by a decline in rents, and uncertainty about the nature of politics in an era of rampant partisanship — these considerations shaped the new ethos of an élite gripped less by provincial affairs and more imbued with a sense of common bonds.
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