Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 July 2011
The article considers the rapid increase in the English market for alcohol and tobacco in the 1620s and the set of concurrent influences shaping their consumption. It suggests that intoxicants were not merely a source of solace for ‘the poor’ or the lubricant of traditional community, as historians often imply. Rather, the growth in the market for beer, wine, and tobacco was driven by those affluent social groups regarded as the legitimate governors of the English commonwealth. For men of a certain disposition and means, the consumption of intoxicants became a legitimate – indeed valorized and artful – aspect of their social identity: an identity encapsulated by the Renaissance concept of ‘wit’. These new styles of drinking were also implicated in the proliferation (in theory and practice) of ‘societies’ and ‘companies’, by which contemporaries meant voluntary and purposeful association. These arguments are made by unpacking the economic, social, and cultural contexts informing the humorous dialogue Wine, beere, ale and tobacco. Contending for superiority. What follows demonstrates that the ostensibly frivolous subject of male drinking casts new light on the nature of early modern social change, in particular the nature of the ‘civilizing process’.
This article was written with the support of an Economic and Social Research Council Research Fellowship. Earlier versions were given at Buckfast Abbey, University of Cambridge, Binghampton University, Lincoln College, Oxford, and Utrecht. I'd like to thank the editors and anonymous readers of The Historical Journal for their comments.
1 Anonymous, Wine, beere, ale, and tobacco. Contending for superiority. A dialogue (1630), sig. D4. The dialogue was first published as Wine, beere, and ale, together by the eares. A dialogue, vvritten first in Dutch by Gallobelgicus, and faithfully translated out of the originall copie, by Mercurius Britannicus, for the benefite of his nation (1629). Citations throughout are from the 1630 edition.
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9 Martin Ingram, ‘Reformation of manners in early modern England’, in Adam Fox, Paul Griffiths, and Steve Hindle, eds., The experience of authority in early modern England (Basingstoke, 1994), pp. 51–5.
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46 Phil Withington, ‘Intoxicants and the early modern city’, in Steve Hindle, Alexandra Shepard and John Walter, eds., Remaking English society: social change and social relations in early modern England (Woodbridge, forthcoming).
47 Calculated from Muldrew, Economy of obligation, and Wrigley and Schofield, Population history, p. 528. For the development of the tobacco retail trade see Withington, ‘Intoxicants and the early modern city’.
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49 Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (BI), CPG 2840, 1595.
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58 Contending, sig. C2.
59 Thomas Smith, De republica Anglorum, edited and introduced by Mary Dewar (Cambridge, 1982; first published 1583), pp. 64–77, 157–62; Harrison, William, The description of England, ed. Edelen, Georges (2nd edn,Ithaca, NY, 1968)Google Scholar, ch. 5; Wrightson, English society, pp. 18–23.
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61 Smith, De republica Anglorum, pp. 64–77.
62 Keith Wrightson, ‘Estates, degrees and sorts: changing perceptions of society in Tudor and Stuart England’, in Penelope Corfield, ed., Language, History and Class (Oxford, 1991).
63 Smith, De republica Anglorum, pp. 70–3.
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77 These are available on the English short title catalogue (ESTC), which can be consulted in conjunction with the Early English books online (EEBO), to create a database of meanings and applications. See Withington, Society in early modern England, pp. 106–22.
78 John Barston, The safeguard of societie (1576).
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80 William Prynne, Healthes: sickness (1628), sigs. B, B2, A7r.
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85 Barston, The safeguard of societie, pp. 60–6.
86 Contending, sig. A3.
87 Withington, Society in early modern England, pp. 104–5.
88 BI, CPG 3041, 1598.
89 BI, CPH 4, 1600.
90 BI, CPH 2345, 1640.
91 Cedric C. Brown, ‘Sons of beer and sons of Ben: drink as a social marker in seventeenth-century England’, in Smyth, ed., A pleasinge sinne, pp. 18–21.
93 BI, CPH 2924, 1674.
94 BI, CPH 1823, 1629. The case is discussed in more detail in Withington, ‘Intoxication and the early modern city’.
97 Shepard, Meanings of manhood, pp. 103–13.
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112 Contending, sig. D.
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116 Robert Greene, Greens groatsworth of wit, bought with a million of repentance: describing the folly of youth, the falshood of make-shift flatterers, the miserie of the negligent, and mischiefes of deceiuing curtezans. Published at his dying request, and newly corrected, and of many errors purged (1628), sigs. F3, A3.
117 Nicholas Ling, Politeuphia. Wits common-wealth, newly corrected and amended (1630).
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122 For a useful discussion of the genre see Hadfield, ‘Spenser and jokes’.
123 Taylor, Wit and mirth, sigs. B4r–B5.
125 John Chartres, ‘No English calvados’, p. 324.
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133 Josiah Woodward, An account of the societies for reformation of manners in London and Westminster, and other parts of the kingdom (1699), pp. 154–5.
134 Defoe, Poor man's plea, p. 11.