The Place of Bearwards in Early Modern England

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    This article recognises the significance of commercial entertainment producers in early modern England operating outside of London. In doing so, it offers fresh methodological approaches for understanding pre-modern social status. I explore the geographical and social places of independent bearwards—individuals who kept bears for the commercial sport of baiting. Regional figures involved in entertainment production have been little explored and left behind frustratingly few biographical details. Yet three generations of one family—the Whitestones of Ormskirk in Lancashire (1610s through the 1630s)—do leave substantial surviving documentary evidence about their activities, assets, and networks. I use the Whitestones’ probate inventories and wills and their and their neighbours’ court depositions and petitions to offer for the first time a holistic appraisal of the material, economic, and cultural circumstances of the bearward. By stepping inside the households and communities of several generations of independent entertainment producers, we can appreciate their complex and variable social status and the role of commercial recreation in social mobility. I finish by considering the human-animal relationships that underpinned the bearward’s place in early modern England, offering fresh evidence of bears’ living arrangements and a theoretical framework for discussing their exploitation in the blood sport industry.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalHistorical Journal
    Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2022

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