To summarise their findings: Land ownership truly opens up during the early modern period, and greater numbers of ‘commoners’ achieve high status at Court, at Parliament, and within the arts (the oft cited Wolsey the butchers son being but one example). With landowners increasingly obliged to sell their land to raise capital, a new generation of wealthy but landless individuals found themselves in a position to realise their ambitions, and this is reflected in the sumptuary legislation moving from a strictly titled, landowning or class based system to reflect an increasingly mercantile element.
This newly realised wealth enabled all manner of people to travel to the capital, and to support their lifestyles there, leading to a dramatic increase in attendance levels within the theatre. It also led to a significant increase in the number of merchants providing goods, which in turn led to a significant increase in the wealth of those merchants.
However it is wrong to suggest that all this automatically leads to a blurring of class distinctions, I mean it to demonstrate that in certain areas, namely that of clothing and wealth, distinctions become less pronounced and opportunities for displaying your newly acquired wealth, say within the theatre, become more pronounced. Gurr says
‘The newly rich and the big spenders alike used playhouses to advertise their status, whether their social mobility was upward as a prosperous citizen, or downward as young and extravagant gallant. That consideration – the distorting effect of London’s magnetism on the wealthy – should be born in mind when look at Harrison’s or Wilson’s categories. London’s population doubled from 100,000 to 200,000 between 1580 and 1600, and doubled again by 1650 to 4000, at a time when the total population of England grew only about 20%, from little over four million in 1600. London’s dynamism attracted the wealthy and the unemployed alike.’
In terms of clothing, the rise in available cash went quickly into conspicuous displays of consumption, such as fashionable hoods; silk braid and tassels; jewels and feathers; and increasing numbers of foreign artisans arrived into London to accommodate the new market. All this only served to increase the importance of clothing within the period.