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The Fear of Downward Social Mobility in Late Medieval England

Brown, A.T.

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Studies of medieval social mobility have tended to focus upon the success of socially ambitious, generally male, careerists. Alongside this tendency to use social mobility as a synonym for upward mobility has been a tradition of assigning the most agency in creating economic change to ambitious entrepreneurs. This article redresses these imbalances by exploring status anxiety and the fear of downward mobility in late medieval England. Using the surviving letter collections of the fifteenth century together with medieval literature, this article explores not only the importance of gender and the life cycle in shaping these fears but also the subtle distinctions between status anxiety, which often accompanied positions of authority, and a fear of imminent social decline, generally precipitated by financial difficulties. Through a reconsideration of demesne lessees and fraternities and guilds, it also shows how such anxieties and fears could affect both rural and urban economic developments.


Brown, A. (2019). The Fear of Downward Social Mobility in Late Medieval England. Journal of Medieval History, 45(5), 597-617.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 15, 2018
Online Publication Date Aug 31, 2019
Publication Date 2019
Deposit Date Oct 15, 2018
Publicly Available Date Mar 3, 2021
Journal Journal of Medieval History
Print ISSN 1304-4184
Electronic ISSN 1873-1279
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 45
Issue 5
Pages 597-617
Public URL


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