Historical Outlines: 1550
Popular & Elite Culture
witches had a pact with the devil. Macbeth’s witches were purposely similar to the kind of Scottish witches that obsessed James I (James VI of Scotland)
. Witches were again portrayed differently on the continent
. There is
evidence to suggest that elite cultureaffected the treatment of witches in popular culture. In England, where theorists play thesmallest role, the most women were killed. The demise of witchcraft in the latter half of theSixteenth Century was partly due to the difficulty in amalgamating village and educated beliefs. It resulted in scepticism on both sides.Religion was everywhere in the Sixteenth Century. It was a two way process involvingthe church (the Catholic Church was an enormous organisation) and the population, from thesocial elite through to the peasantry. It is another area where peasants participated differentlyfrom the elite. Religion was used as a method of control. The church focused on the afterlifeas a reward, manipulating the peasantry into doing something worthwhile. Over the long term,it seems that the initiative for reform comes from an elite, the upper clergy, before spreadingthrough society. It was part of a process of "civilising" which began as an attempt by elites tocontrol the behaviour of ordinary people. However, this was gradually internalised (up to a point, among certain groups) and so became self-control. There is one example of a delayed, but extremely vehement reaction to elite culture when popular culture began to absorb theideas of Luther. His idea that everyone should be able to read the Bible in their own languagewas a form of spiritual disenfranchisement – power to the people. People began to questionvarious traditions of the Catholic Church – tithes, celibacy in priests etc. Some common people picked up ideas that neither the authorities nor the reformers liked. The very traditionsof authority were destroyed. There was a rise in anti-clericism and a feeling that everyoneshould share in the clergy's authority. German peasants questioned why Italians controlledtheir church. In 1525 there were a huge series of peasant uprisings. Lutheranism was partlyresponsible for the Peasant's War of 1524-26 in Germany – religion was one of the few issuesover which the peasantry would actively protest.Generally however, the peasantry were apathetic towards improving their lot. The"oppressed" masses did not want to break free. Despite numerous injustices they had littleinterest in altering the fabric of their society. Various fantasies were popular, such as
Land Of Cockaigne
in which there was no work and much food, yet it was never contemplated that thisas a reality. In
Popular Culture In Early Modern Europe
, Peter Burke claims that the peasantry had five responses to injustice. They were either fatalistic, moralistic (in that theyenjoyed ideas such as taking from the rich and giving to the poor
), traditionalist (they feltthat any change was bad) or radical. The radicals wanted society to adopt new views based on principles from the Garden of Eden, that there were no social distinctions when God mademan. However, even they were loath to actually
anything.In conclusion, I do not agree with the original statement. It is far too vague – in manyways there was no "popular culture" at all. Historian John Bossy viewed the SixteenthCentury as a fragile "social miracle"
. Nonetheless, as H G Koenigsberger points out, thereis truth in the fact that the lifestyles of the common man and the elite "were very different because of differences in wealth. Peasants tended to be less sophisticated in their domesticlives and their entertainments"
. Also, when the elite did influence popular culture it is truethat there was often a delay in their reaction, most notably in relation to reforms by the upper clergy. However, as Peter Burke contends: "it is easy to overemphasise the active role of thestate in changing popular culture, at the expense of other historical agents, such as publishers"
. The importance of elites in influencing popular culture may be an ilusion whichcomes about through a lack of evidence in terms of popular attitudes. Burke believes that thislack of evidence makes any talk of village Luthers before the time of Martin Luther himself "unwarranted speculation". Most importantly, the classes were all linked by various factors,