Eating Together: Early Modern Gentry Commensality in the Northwest of England, c.1530-1670


Early modern commensality represented an opportunity for early modern gentry communities potentially split along religious lines to come together while simultaneously being occasions for the display of social status, a mechanism for social advancement, and the persuasion of important county figures. This thesis demonstrates that the northwest gentry families of the Heskeths, Norrises, and Moretons used commensality and hospitality to navigate the religious and social changes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Successful commensal occasions required detailed knowledge and implementation of culture, dietetics, information, and accomplished social skills. This was demonstrated through décor, tableware, conversation, entertainments, and food. Careful stage-management of these elements ensured commensal atmospheres that could shape and influence guests. Immersive food spaces featured aspects of material culture which acted as pillars of support for Catholic hosts, such as the Heskeths and Norrises, when deviating from the prescriptions of their faith in dining with Protestants. These symbols of devotion rooted Catholic hosts in religious piety even as they made concessions over foods served or who they broke bread with. They also represent changing conceptions of the early modern gentry home during the Reformation as food and dining rooms became increasingly sanctified in lieu of ecclesiastical buildings and amid anxieties over mixed-faith commensality. Gentry commensality was increasingly centred on London in the seventeenth century and this change is reflected in the experiences of the Protestant Moreton family. Changes in hospitality shifted the location of commensality around different food spaces of the gentry house and then beyond the home in line with changing social fashions. Added to the assemblage of gentry commensality came influences from metropolitan, colonial, and diplomatic centres including associated material culture, conversation, and different markers of gentry belonging. Analysis of how each of the families achieved this at Rufford Old Hall, Speke Hall, and Little Moreton Hall uses affect and assemblage theories. These are combined with early modern understandings of domestic environments based on embodiment, humoral bodies, and the interconnected nature of mind, body, sensation, and soul

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