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The funeral in England in the long Eighteenth Century

Pirohakul, Teerapa (2015) The funeral in England in the long Eighteenth Century. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis examines the development of English funerals through the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By using a large new sample of Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) probate accounts, the study demonstrates how the funerals of the aristocracy, gentry, and the middling sort interacted and changed over this period, through a detailed investigation into the commodities and services provided at their funerals and the pattern of expenditure. It also explores the activity of the College of Arms and the work of undertakers in the same period. While most historians have argued that middle class funerals saw increased consumption, the records of funeral expenditure show that it was the aristocracy and gentry whose spending behaviour changed the most. The main reasons for this were an institutional change, the decline of the College of Arms in the late seventeenth century, and the expansion of the undertaking trade over the next hundred years. The College’s loss of control over the funerals of the aristocracy and gentry allowed these groups to opt for a heraldic funeral prepared by an undertaker, at a much lower price. For the middling sort, the undertakers created new value chains allowing them to achieve a different kind of funeral. By offering expensive funeral items for hire rather than selling them, undertakers enabled people to have a lavish funeral without massive expense. While heraldic items were still limited to aristocratic and gentry funerals, a close connection emerged between the concept of ‘decency’ and the use of more beautiful and more sophisticated items at the funeral and the grave. The findings in this thesis help us to widen our understanding of funeral changes as a whole, as well as changes in consumption patterns occurring in a period of important transformation in England.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Teerapa Pirohakul
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Wallis, Patrick

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