Professor Henry French

Research interests

My main research interest has been the identity and composition of the ‘middle sort of people’ in provincial England 1620-1750. I have published a number of articles on this subject, and have written a monograph study, published by Oxford University Press in July 2007.

Following publication of this book, my research interests in identity have shifted to questions of masculinity and gender identity among the gentry in England, between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. In particular, I will be researching two themes: a) the ways in which social norms about appropriate male behaviour were translated into practice in families; b) long-term processes of change over time, in norms and behaviour. Both aspects will allow me to make a critical assessment of existing ideas on elite masculinity in this period. To pursue this research, I have recently received two externally-funded research awards for two related projects. These are: 1) British Academy Small Grants Award SG-46123 ‘Practices of politeness: changing norms of masculinity in landed society, 1660-1800’awarded 04/07, funding one 0.2 researcher for 4-months; 2) AHRC Research Grants (Standard) App. Id. AH/E007791/1 ‘Man’s Estate: Masculinity & Landed Gentility in England, 1660-1918’, awarded 06/07 – 37 months funding for 2 researchers (one for 2.5 years, the other for 1 year) to start 09/07 + 1 funded Ph.D. studentship. This will result in an Oxford U. P. monograph (Man's Estate. Landed Gentry Masculinities, 1660-1900) authored with Dr. Mark Rothery, to be published in March 2012. We have also published an article on elite masculinity and travel in Social History in 2008, and a chapter in Sean Brady & John Arnold (eds), What is Mascuilinity? (Palgrave 2011). As part of this research, I organised the conference 'Engendering Gender: Production, Transmission and Change 1450-1950' in 2010.

My second area of research has been in association with Prof. R.W. Hoyle, of the University of Reading, into land ownership in Essex and Lancashire, concentrating particularly on the decline of the small farmer, 1500-1800. We have published several articles on this theme, and completed a monograph on the land market in the Essex village of Earls Colne, 1500-1750, with Manchester U.P. published in March 2007.
Following on from this research, I have also developed an interest in the neglected subject of urban common field agriculture and the effects of enclosure 1550-1800. I have so far published two articles on this subject, and a chapter in a recent book edited by Richard Hoyle, Custom, Improvement and the Landscape in Early Moden Britain (Ashgate, 2011).
My research interests in Lancashire have included research into the politics of the small, pocket-borough of Clitheroe, in the period 1660 to 1780, and I published an article on this theme in 2004.
I am also interested in the Hearth Tax and distribution of wealth in Essex 1662-85, and am collaborating with the British Record Society Hearth Tax volume for Essex.

I am also involved in the AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship project headed by Prof. Oliver Creighton (Archaeology), and the Poltimore House Trust, entitled 'Community and Landscape: Transforming Access to the Heritage of the Poltimore Estate', which engages with community groups in Poltimore (just outside Exeter) to research the history and development of Poltimore House between the 15th and 20th centuries.

Most recently, I have begun to research the history of poor relief in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century, particularly on the Essex village of Terling. This work was inspired by the task of writing an essay for the feitschrift volume for Prof. Keith Wrightson, published in 2013. Since writing this essay, I have continued research on this subject, because it has become clear that although so much research has been undertaken on the subject, we still do not understand some very basic questions. These include: how much did recipients get in poor relief each week? How often did they receive poor relief on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis? How long did they receive poor relief, and in which parts of their lives? How 'dependent' did they become on relief, and did this change as economic circumstances changed between c. 1760 and 1834? These studies have been published 'Economic History Review' and 'Continuity and Change' in 2015. 

For more detail, see my page.