During the 18th century English country houses served an important function in their society as stages for the display of the status and power...

During the 18th century English country houses served an important function in their society as stages for the display of the status and power of the landed aristocracy. As Jon Stobart and Mark Rothery demonstrate in Consumption and the Country House(Oxford University Press, 2016), though, they also played a revealing role as centers of consumption. Using three aristocratic families from the Midlands as case studies, Stobart and Rothery survey their patterns of spending over several generations, revealing the factors that shaped them. This spending, they argue, was not constant but instead saw fluctuations that coincided with life events, such as deaths and inheritances. Such dramatic changes were followed by the acquisition of goods that often were then used to create venues for these families to display their elite identity, with pursuit of the fashionable often tempered by issues of taste, rank and lineage. Stobart and Rothery’s analysis is not confined to large expenditures, however, as they also examine the more mundane spending necessary to keep these large households functioning and the gendered spheres that often defined the roles played by husband and wife in purchasing goods and services. Their analysis of these activities helps to refine our understanding of country houses, demonstrating how they were not the static exhibits we know today but fluid environments in which families left an ever-changing imprint.

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