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The life of a child in Europe during the early modern period was totally different from that of a child living today. In the first instance a child today is likely to live through its infancy and grow up into an adult, rather than become a victim of infant mortality, as so many children in the early modern period did. It was because of this fact that there was less bonding between parents and children of the type that we see today. It can be argued that children, and their survival into adulthood was economic factor which determined the prosperity of a family farm or smallholding. In the early modern period, there was little or no education for the labouring poor, especially in the rural areas. Therefore, this meant that, there was not the system of schools that there is today which children attend from the age of about five, which in turn meant that there was not the same scope for children to interact with other children, or adults other than their parents that there is today.
It is in this situation, the school, that most of the socialisation of children takes place. In the early modern period children of the labouring classes, from the age of approximately ten years old, tended to go into service with other families as domestic servants, pauper apprentices or the largest numerical group, servants in husbandry. Europe was, at that time, still largely an agrarian based society. The other main type of service at this time was as an apprentice to a craftsman, however this was usually beyond the means of the majority of the labouring classes because parents had to pay to get their children into an apprenticeship. The apprenticeship was also an urban phenomenon. When a child went into service, in the majority of cases it meant that the child left the parental home, and often his or her home village and met new people, both children and adults.
It also meant that the child had responsibilities, to his or her parents and to their employer and it also meant that the was a slight degree of independence, which came, it can be argued, from the fact that the child was earning a wage. Whether the child kept any of the money or gave it all to its parents is neither here nor there, that fact that the child was an important economic factor was what mattered. Often the parents relied on the money of older children in service to keep the family going, the child was valuable. It can be argued therefore that the institution of service was a very important factor in the socialisation of children in this period. It was an economic decision which put the child into service but once there child was interacting and integrating itself into society. However unlike the system of school which we have today it started later on in the childs life.
The predominate reason for a child going into service in the early modern period was economic. The child was a resource which could be used to make money for the household. Service would seem to be a job by todays standards but according to Kussmaul service in husbandry, was not an adult occupation, but a status and occupation of youths, a stage in the progression from child living with parents to married adult living with spouse and children. From this we can see that service was a means to an ends rather than an end in itself. It was a way for young people to get enough money to set up an independent household. In England especially the nuclear family was the dominant household type so it was natural that the married children would move out of the parental home.
The amount of wages that a servant would receive varied because of age and gender. It was not until a child reached its late teenage years, if not later that they would receive adult wages and womens wages were always less than their male counterparts. Kussmaul gives an example in the discrepancy between male an female wages by quoting the mean annual wages at the Spalding hiring fair in Lincolnshire between 1768 and 1785. The average male wage being £ 6. 5. 0 and the female being £ 2. 15. 0. These figures show that women were at a distinct disadvantage in the world of employment, as indeed they were in virtually everything they did. This is part of the socialisation of children, showing the gender division and they way in which it works to the benefit of the men in society.
Service was vital to the socialisation of children in the early modern period because it meant that, in the majority of cases, the child left the parental home and often the village in which it was born and grew up. This would mean that the child would meet new people, the most influential being their employer. The fact that the child was away from its parents would mean that it would have to learn to look after itself and get on with its work in new surroundings. The employer would have a great deal of influence on the life of his new, and often very young employee. Often the children of the employer were of a similar age as the servants and the 1549 Book of Common Prayer made it the duty of the head of the household to ensure the religious upbringing of all children under his care, even the servants. This shows that the employer had to look beyond the fact that the servants merely worked for him and try to have a part in the upbringing of the child.
This is in contrast to the situation which Kussmaul describes, quoting a farmer by the name of Nurse who said that there was not, a more insolent and proud, a more untractable, perfidious and a more churlish sort of people breathing, than the generality of our servants By this we can see that farmers were not always considerate to their employees and often had a bad opinion of them. However we do not know about the performance of the servants. In this period of history it is all too easy to consider the population as being born, living and dying in the same area or parish. This was true for many people, of course, but in the early modern period the was mobility between areas, there had to be, after all employment is a finite resource and one village or area could only support a certain number of people. This, therefore, lead to children not only leaving the parental but also leaving their home village.
Kussmaul again using the Spalding fair as an example of a hiring fair shows that of thirty-two cases the mean distance to the first place of service was 5. 92 kilometres. When children were removed from their family and even from the village in which they had lived prior to service it would affect their socialisation. The change of environment and the new people would affect the way children would interact with the people around them. However it must be remembered that the children were there primarily to do a job of work for their master. The fact that this was were the process of socialisation was going on was neither here nor there, the children were there to work. The people with which the child lived were, of course, a great influence on the way the child developed, but there was not any guarantee of long term stability with the same family due to the nature of the contracts which servants, especially in agriculture, were subject to.
Most lasted for only one year so there was every chance that at the end of the year either the master or servant would not renew the contract. An example of this is the career of Joseph Matt who had twelve contracts in a seven year period, from the age of twelve. The reasons that contracts were often changed or not renewed annually by the servants were factors such as poor pay, bad conditions to live and work in and violence from the master. In this period corporal punishment did not have the stigma which is does today, but none the less people would not suffer at the hands of an overly cruel master for long. When an adolescent left the parental home and went into service there were obviously constraints on behaviour due to the fact that the child had moved into his or her employers home.
However there was more chance of meeting the opposite sex in an environment of limited adult supervision. Mixing with the opposite sex was and still is a vital part of the socialisation of children, however in the situation of service, on a farm for instance, there was a not inconsiderable chance of sexual experimentation. Kussmaul writes of the case of Margaret Bull, who was a servant in Staffordshire. She gave birth to an illegitimate child, whose father lived next door to the house of her master. Kussmaul also quote figures presented by Keith Wrights on from Essex in the seventeenth century, where 61 % of mothers of children born out of wedlock were servants and 52 % of the fathers resided within the same household. These figures tell us a great deal, we can see that many adolescents used the relative freedom of service to experiment sexually.
However due to the lack of sufficient contraception available at that time we can see that there was a significant chance off illegitimacy. This awakening of sexual feeling is an important part of the socialisation of adolescents because it marks the transition from childhood into adulthood. There was also the chance that whilst in service the adolescent would find a prospective marriage partner. This obviously would happen later on when the adolescent was older, but it can be argued that finding a marriage partner was a very important part of a young persons socialisation because of the fact that it was the social norm to get married and people who did not get married, especially women, were often treated as social outcasts. The reason that service was an ideal vehicle for finding a marriage partner was that in the small communities of early modern Europe when an adolescent went into service they would, as mentioned above, often move away from their home village where they grew up. This is important because they would come into contact with a larger number of people than they would at home in their own village and be more likely to meet their future partner.
Kussmaul writes, Most servants expected to marry soon after they left service, and pregnancy often determined when exit from service and marriage would occur. However urban apprentices who were training to learn a craft were not as free as their rural service counterparts. They were highly regulated and the apprentices, who had a seven year training period, were subject to many rules. They were not allowed to drink, obliged to attend church, not allowed to fornicate and had to wait until a t least the age of twenty-four to get married. This was understandable, it can be argued, from the point of view of the craftsmen that were teaching the apprentices because it was an investment for a great period of time rather than a single year long contract as it would be with the rural servants. So this all meant that there was less chance of an apprentice meeting a prospective marriage partner.
On the whole, it can be argued, the constraints placed upon the apprentices were detrimental to their socialisation and development into adults because they were not allowed to mix to the same extent with other people, socially because they were not allowed to drink alcohol and because the were restricted from interaction with the opposite sex. This may have something to do with the fact that Ben-Amos writes of that in the sixteenth century almost half of the apprentices broke off before the full seven year term had been completed. Another way in which the institution of service was an aid to the socialisation of adolescents in the early modern period was the way in which it gave children a hand in the running of their own lives and a part in the decision making process of entering service or an apprenticeship. This, obviously, depended on their individual parents.
Some parents would simply not allow their children to choose where they went to work and others could not afford to put their children into certain apprenticeships which they may wish to train. Ben-Amos writes about the way in which parents often would have aspirations for their children and could put pressure on children to take their desired course of action, he also writes about how at such a young age children may not have a clear idea of what they wish to do for a living so parental advice was important and often parents would listen to childrens ideas and often using kin networks try to find placements for their children. This shows that the parents were listening to their children in many cases. This means that as children went into service the process of finding work helped with their socialisation, by putting them in a position of dealing with and discussing their future with their parents to reach a favourable outcome for all concerned and by showing them the dealings of extended kin networks. This is an important part of the socialisation process because kin was one of the main ways in which people found work and got financial and emotional support in times of need.
When a child had moved, for example, to another town to do an apprenticeship kin would be important because their own, nuclear family could be along distance away. So it was important in terms of socialisation to learn the ways in which kin networks operated. There are though arguments which put the institution of service in a different light, at least in terms of its value for the socialisation of children in the early modern period. It seems that in the early modern period children went almost from being a baby, a toddler a few years of childhood, then from the age of early teens or perhaps a little younger straight into being a worker. It is as though they missed out on the childhood which children enjoy today.
They went from being a young child without responsibility into a worker expected to do a job seriously. They would miss out on the years of play which children have now. Children today obviously have to go to school and learn, at least until the age of sixteen, but they do not have to do long hours of physical work with the prospect of beatings if their work was below par. This was of course not the case for all children, those of wealthy stock would have had the chance of an education and obviously not have had to go into service unlike their counterparts amongst the rural labouring poor. The way that the apprentices were dealt with during the early modern period may also have had a detrimental effect on their socialisation and their development into adults. The fact that their lives were so regulated by the master under which they were studying meant that they were not able to interact with members of the opposite sex to the same extent as the people in the rural areas.
Obviously they were not excluded entirely from the opposite sex but they were much more supervised by their masters The apprentices were not paid by their masters, the acquisition of a trade was considered payment enough because they also got food and lodgings. This it can be argued limited their independence and made them not able to go out drinking which they were also not allowed to do. The control which the masters had over their apprentices meant that they could not marry until they had completed their apprenticeships, which, on the whole lasted for seven years. When one considers that some did not start their apprenticeships until their late teens this would mean that the would not be able to get married for a long time after finish their apprenticeships because they would also have no financial backing. This increasingly put them outside the social norm of marriage for a longer period of time.
However as written above the is some justification in the treatment of apprentices due to the investment on the part of the master who would be teaching the craft to the child and also on the part of the parents who maybe had to pay a not insignificant amount of money to secure the apprenticeship in the first place. Also there may have been some greater kin involvement and the parents would want their child to complete the training to show their own kin that their efforts will be rewarded by the success of the child in its chosen craft. Whether the effects of service on the socialisation of children were good or bad during the early modern period in Europe it is important, it can be argued, to look at the reasons for service in the first place. Service was not thought up as an idea by adults to show their children what is like to be an adult and to work for a living, it was more often than not the fact that children had to go into service to keep the family, especially the rural labouring poor family in early modern Europe solvent. Parents could not afford to consider whether putting their children out to service would help their socialisation and development into adults or harm it. It is doubtful if they would even consider it at all.
With the higher mortality rates and lower life expectancy it would mean there was more chance of a parent dying or being unable to work so the childs wages would be important to the family. The money which could be earned by the child during service was important for its own future, as well as for the family as a whole. In the early modern period, as today, people needed some financial backing when they embarked into marriage. Service was the ideal way for them to get this because their parents often could not afford to help them out, especially if there was a large number of children in the family. Of course in England where the nuclear family was the dominant family grouping, it was not only the marriage which was important but the setting up of an independent household away from that of the parents.
So it can be argued that although service was important to the socialisation of children in early modern Europe, socialisation was not important to service. The institution of service was important to the socialisation of adolescents and young adults in the early modern period of European history. There is no doubt of that because most children of the labouring classes went into service at one time or another and the children of the more affluent members of society and the children of the nobility would have been affected by service because they would come into contact with servants who would be serving them. The question which needs to be addressed is more about the way in which service affected the socialisation of adolescents and young adults in this period of history. The good and bad effects of service on the socialisation of adolescents in this period needs to be looked at to get a true picture of the relationship of service and the socialisation of adolescents in this period.
The positive effects of service on the socialisation of adolescents are that it helped to bring the child out of the small, nuclear world of the parental home and took them into the wider community. This would teach them skills which would help them in later life such as dealing with employers, for example at the yearly hiring fairs, dealing with money and also it would help them, especially as far as apprentices were concerned, to choose a trade or profession for their later life. However, there would still be a great deal of parental, and to a certain extent kin, influence on this decision. The child who move away from home and often from the village of his or her birth, this would mean contact with new people and also a greater variety of people. There would also be more chances of unsupervised encounters with members of the opposite sex. This would help the socialisation of adolescents because it meant they would be able to talk to members of the opposite sex openly.
However, there would also be the temptation of promiscuity, which in this period, with its lack of contraceptive devices had a greater chance of unwanted pregnancy. Service did give the opportunity for adolescents to experiment and this would have lead to the awakening of sexuality. This contact with the opposite sex also would have lead to the meeting of future marriage partners, after all not everyone was destined to marry another person from the same village as themselves. The institution of service was a path to finding a marriage partner and because marriage was the social norm, even more so than today, it can be argued that service help to socialise people into marriage. It can be argued that service was important to the socialisation of adolescents because of all the positive aspects listed above.
However there were also some detrimental effects of service. It could be argued that service robbed adolescents of their childhood by forcing them into hard physical work even from as young as ten years of age. This argument is significant because today children are socialized by their parents and also by interacting with other children at school. There was not a widespread education system such as we have today in the early modern period, so children had little else to do. There was play, obviously, but the child could do some work maybe nothing too hard or physical.
However there could be no excuse for abuse at the hand of the employer of the child which, considering the circumstances of service, would be quite easy to do. Another downside of service was that of the adolescents which went into apprenticeships with craftsmen. The long, regulated years of training would, it can be argued, impede the socialisation of a young adult because of the fact that they were denied payment and not allowed to have relationships with members of the opposite sex, to the same extent that their counterparts in the rural areas did. Service was indeed central to the socialisation of adolescents and young adults in early modern Europe. It had good and bad effects on the way in which they were socialized, but that is of secondary importance to the question in hand. When something so big as leaving the parental home, often the home village, moving into another home, working for a master and receiving pay for that work and meeting all the new people they would have met in those circumstances is considered it would be ludicrous to even suggest that it would not have a major effect on that persons socialisation.
What happens during the formative teenage years of life, which was the same period of time in which children were in service, effects the way that person develops into an adult and, therefore, effects the rest of that persons life. This has to be the essence of the socialisation of children and service, as shown above, has an overwhelming effect on this. We today may not fully understand due to the fact that there is nothing would so effect our lives at such an early age. Bibliography P. Aries, Centuries of Childhood, (London, 1972).
I. Krausman Ben-Amos, Service and the coming of age of young men in seventeenth century England, Continuity and Change 3, 1 (1988), 41 - 64. H. Hendrick, The history of childhood and youth Social History 9, 1 (1984), 87 - 96. A. Kussmaul, Servants in Husbandry in early modern England, (1981).
M. K. McIntosh, Servants and the household unit in an Elizabethan English Community, Journal of Family History 9, 1 (1984), 3 - 23. K. Snell, Annals of the Labouring Poor, (1985).
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