it goes back a long way.
in “The Origins of English Individualism,” which i haven’t actually read (yet), alan macfarlane apparently puts forth the argument that english society was comprised of a bunch of independent, “atomized” individuals by at least the thirteenth century. we’ve already seen that the nuclear family — not clans or tribes or even extended families — was the fundamental social unit in england by the 1200s. this is quite different from how things stood between two- and seven-hundred years earlier.
in “The Tie that Binds: Peasant Marriages and Families in Late Medieval England,” judith bennett examined the manor court records from a couple of neighboring villages in england in the early 1300s, specifically looking for info on the social networks of one married couple (henry kroyl and agnes penifader) and their families. neither the kroyls nor the penifaders were wealthy families, but they were well-to-do, juding by the court cases in which they were involved (property transfers, etc.).
by mapping out the social networks of henry and agnes kroyl, bennett finds no evidence that their extended families or kin played a significant role in their socio-economic circle. henry kroyl had quite a few dealings with one of his brothers, with whom he obviously shared quite a strong bond, but apart from some not very surprising transfers of property at marriage and the death of parents, henry and agnes kroyl had made their own way in life via exchanges and alliances with various, unrelated members of their community. in other words, the kroyls were quite independent [pgs. 127-28]:
“When Kroyl junior and Agnes exchanged marriage vows in the summer of 1319, the importance of their union redounded strongly on themselves, but only minimally on their families of origin. Their marriage was a binding tie within narrow limits. Its impact was felt most keenly at the center, by the principals, and then expanded out in waves that created options, not requirements. These possibilities moved horizontally and extended neither up nor down generationally. Actual responses were always strongly oriented toward the marital couple, and most social linkages moved to that center, not beyond or through it. This marriage joined together two individuals, not their families. It created a conjugal family, not a family alliance.
“The image of marriage that emerges from these analyses is strongly individualistic. The lives of Kroyl junior and Agnes were profoundly affected by their marriage, but its impact upon their siblings, their parents, and their descendants was fairly insubstantial. It would be unreasonable, in view of this evidence, to think that the Kroyl and Penifader parents manipulated or coerced their children into this marriage. Neither the parents nor their other children benefited enough to merit excessive familial interference in the decision. Kroyl junior and Agnes almost certainly did not marry without recourse to familial advice and support, but such familial input probably did not overshadow the essentially personal nature of their undertaking. More than likely, the actions that culminated in this marriage conformed to ecclesiastical prescriptions; the primary decisions and commitments rested upon the principals, supported secondarily by their families and their community.
“The family structure that most dominated the social lives of the Kroyls and Penifaders was the small, nuclear group.“
previously: but what about the english?
(note: comments do not require an email. brigstock — where the kroyls were from.)