Snaking Up the Social Ladder of the Ton

While most writers of the Regency period focus on titled gentleman of the aristocracy such as the Duke of this or Earl of that, one mustn’t forget the social trends of the time which is the rise of the upper middle class or the “New Rich”.

The industrial revolution not only led to a burst in population and an increase in urbanization but it also paved the way for merchants, shopkeepers and other tradesmen to make a great deal of money. The wealthy middle class could now afford to dress and live like those of the upper class, as well as, educate their children to the same level.

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But the social structure of British society did not allow these nouveau riche to enter the sphere of the upper class so easily. Lineage and what the elite described as “proper breeding” were considered the true benchmarks for social status. So while these newcomers had the stronger economic power they lacked the social and political influence needed to be considered members of the aristocracy.

The social integration of these elite sects was slow, and they faced a considerable number of stereotypes and ridicule from the “old money” sects. They were labeled as vulgar and uncultured, and lacking in proper pedigree. But in spite of this discrimination the wealthy members of the middle class were not so easily deterred.

So what was the best way to gain admittance into this exclusive society? Put simply they bought their way in.  This mercantile class started investing in land and peerages. Many soon became members of the “landed gentry”, and they slowly formed a powerful lobby in the British government. Another way in was through marriage. Mixing the old blood with the new money. Impoverished titled families were known to marry “beneath” their station to improve their financial situation.

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So while both elite sects had things in common such as wealth and land they had quite different moral standards. The upper middle-class emphasized competition, self-reliance and personal achievement as opposed to privilege and inheritance held dear by the upper class. They also strongly believed in faithful marriages, in contrast to the more lax standards of the aristocracy.

Eventually, both these classes merged into a powerful capitalist upper class which exists to this very day.

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