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Documentary records from late medieval and early modern England are full of references to wealthy farmers who describe themselves or are described by others as “yeomen”. But what did the term mean, and how did yeoman status differ according to place and time? Varying landscapes, farming practices, social structures, and cultural traditions significantly altered how yeomen experienced and expressed their identity. This presentation therefore assesses how yeoman status varied geographically and chronologically, while also considering the methodological challenges of such an approach.
The paper explores differences in yeoman identity at the regional, county and local levels using several types of evidence. Large-scale quantitative analysis of the records of the Court of Common Pleas, 1413-1538, allows for cross-regional comparisons of socio-economic trends in yeoman identity. Material from wills and testaments, meanwhile, both supports and undermines the findings from Common Pleas, revealing the texture of yeoman life in different counties. Finally, incorporating vernacular architectural traditions highlights stark differences in the lived experiences of yeomen at the local level. Through comparisons over time and across places, the essential, consistent qualities of the status emerge. The wide variations in identity performance, meanwhile, highlight the creativity and adaptability of non-elites in pre-modern England.

Louisa Foroughi is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Lafayette College and an honorary visiting researcher at the University of East Anglia. She received her PhD from Fordham University in 2020. Her current research project, “Identity and Status in Later Medieval England: Yeoman Farmers in England, c. 1350-1538,” explores identity construction among wealthy farmers after the Black Death. Her work has appeared in the journals Religions and Confraternitas, in the edited volume Europe After Wyclif, and is forthcoming in the Journal of Medieval History and the edited volume Historians on Robin Hood.

This event is co-hosted by the IHR’s Centre for the History of People, Place and Community Seminar and the Society, Culture, and Belief 1500-1800 seminar series

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but advance registration is required.