Scotland in The Early Modern Era - Society - Social Structure

Social Structure

Below the king were a small number of dukes (usually descended from very close relatives of the king) and earls, who formed the senior nobility. Under them were the barons, who in this period were beginning to merge with the local tenants-in-chief to become lairds a group roughly equivalent to the English gentlemen. Below the lairds were a variety of groups, often ill-defined. These included yeomen, sometimes called "bonnet lairds", often owning substantial land. The practice of fueing (by which a tenant paid an entry sum and an annual feu duty, but could pass the land on to their heirs) meant that the number of people holding heritable possession of lands, which had previously been controlled by the church or nobility expanded. These and the lairds probably numbered about 10,000 by the seventeenth century and became what the government defined as heritors, on whom the financial and legal burdens of local government would increasingly fall. Below the substantial landholders were the husbandmen, lesser landholders and free tenants, who were often described as cottars and grassmen, that made up the majority of the working population. Serfdom had died out in Scotland in the fourteenth century, but was virtually restored by statute law for miners and saltworkers. Through the system of courts baron and kirk sessions, landlords still exerted considerable control over their tenants. Society in the burghs was headed by wealthier merchants, who often held local office as a burgess, alderman, bailies, or as a member of the council. Below them were craftsmen and workers that made up the majority of the urban population. At the bottom of society were the masterless men, the unemployed and vagrants, whose numbers were swelled in times of economic downturn or hardship.

Read more about this topic:  Scotland In The Early Modern Era, Society

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