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The Pacification of Elite Lifestyles: State Formation, Elite Reproduction, and the Practice of Hunting in Early Modern England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 September 2017

Jonah Stuart Brundage*
Sociology, University of California-Berkeley


What explains the remarkable metamorphosis of elites from warrior nobilities into well-mannered aristocrats in early modern Europe? Existing accounts emphasize the coercive force of emerging states or the novel enticements of royal courts. Well suited to the paradigmatic case of early modern France, such arguments fail to explain cases, like England, in which elites developed pacified lifestyles in the absence of a dominant royal court and largely prior to the monopolization of physical force. This essay shows that explaining such cases requires greater attention to the historical variability of elites’ own interests and strategies. I argue that European elites (also) developed pacified lifestyles insofar as they came to reproduce themselves through strategies that operated without their personal use of physical violence (including, but not limited to, royal courts). Such strategies were contingent on varying configurations of inter-elite and elite–non-elite relations. I employ this perspective to explain the marginalization of violent skills and codes in the lifestyles of early modern English elites, focusing empirically on the practice of hunting, a defining ritual of elite lifestyles. The hunting evidence suggests that the landed gentry were the first English elite to develop a pacified lifestyle. Yet the gentry were neither subject to the coercion of a centralized state nor incorporated into a court society. Instead, I show that the gentry—and later, the nobility and monarchy—developed pacified lifestyles because they came to reproduce themselves through legal strategies, the successful performance of which required nonviolent skills and habits.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2017 

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