Bonus Episode 33 - The ORIGINS of The Great English Country Houses

Dec 11 / Charlie Baxter

Access your active membership's learning resources for this episode below:

Access your active membership's learning resources for this episode below:

What's this episode about?

In this episode Charlie once again meets his historian friend Ben but this time to talk about the history of the Great English Country Houses. These often feature in popular British TV dramas and are are important because the present culture of Britain was affected by the way of life in these large houses. So get ready to enjoy a miniseries that will further your understanding of British culture.

Continue listening to this episode

There are 2 more parts to this episode and you can access all of them by becoming a Premium Podcast Member or by joining The Academy.
PART TWO
members only
Already a member of The Academy?
Click Here & Enjoy!
Already a member of The Premium Podcast?
Click Here & Enjoy!
PART THREE
members only
Already a member of The Academy?
Click Here & Enjoy!
Already a member of The Premium Podcast?
Click Here & Enjoy!
Please note: This transcript is only visible to you as you are logged in as a Premium / Academy member. Thank you for your support.

Transcript of Bonus Episode 033 - Transcript

Charlie:
Hello and welcome to this week's episode of the British English Podcast. For today's episode, we got the spectacles out and did some reading around the topic of the English Country House. And when I say we, I mean me and Ben Marx. Let's go with the historian that lives Down Under. Ben has been on the podcast before. We talked about the Great Fire of London and we also did a Harry Potter based episode. But for today's one, Ben actually suggested that we dive into the world of the exclusive, the insanely wealthy and most likely incredibly posh sounding people who had the keys to the great English country houses. This is going to be a history heavy episode, but as always, we will try to keep it conversational. I'll let Ben lead this as he has a plethora of knowledge in his noggin about this. I've done about a day's research, if that on this, so I will try to keep up.

Charlie:
But to steal one of Ben's facts even before we say hello to him, I wanted to set the scene with some stats to help you better understand the significance of these homes and why we are talking about them today. These homes required a huge amount of servants or people who worked in and around the grounds of these huge homes. And as an industry, domestic service or being in service, as it was called, was the largest single employer in Britain in its peak, which I imagine still affects our culture today, such as the language we use, the dialects we have, and the class based system that still lingers. And a pretty mad stat to set the scene as well is that I heard a historian mention that there are about 10,000 English country houses currently. I double checked that though, and found it to be like 3000 today, but upwards of 5000 back when they were more popular, which Ben can perhaps start us on with a rough timestamp of when these houses were built. But according to his this rather excitable American historian that I was listening to, an English country house was always the centre of a cultural estate which had about 3 to 5000 acres of land, which again I thought was ridiculous. I checked that and it was more like 500 to 1500 acres of land, depending on who you believe. Maybe we should take what I say with a pinch of salt and listen to the real historian across the table from me. So yeah, let's do that right now. The guy from Down under known as Ben Marks. How are you doing as well today, sir?

Ben:
Not too bad, Charlie. Thanks for that intro. That was very kind. I don't- I wouldn't classify myself as a full on historian, but I like to think that I know a bit. I thought we would talk about this as a topic today. We talked about the Great Fire of London last time, but I thought we would talk about this today because it's a very iconic part of Britain, the great English country house. It's one of the main things we think about when we think about Britain, when we think of the the upper classes of Britain, these sprawling estates of what we see in TV shows and movies. We can most recently think of the famous series Downton Abbey.

Charlie:
Yes. And Bridgerton as well I suppose.

Ben:
Bridgerton. I actually haven't seen Bridgerton.

Charlie:
It's basically Downton Abbey, but just more sex.

Ben:
Oh, okay. Right. Well, yes, Downton Abbey was distinctly lacking in that, as actually those those houses were at the time. There was a huge effort to segregate these houses in almost every possible way. The servants were segregated from the family who lived upstairs. [Right]. We'll get more into that later. But the servants themselves were segregated by their rank and by their gender. The men always slept in men's quarters and the women always slept in women's quarters. And any sort of sexual relations between unmarried people was strictly forbidden in almost every single major household.

Charlie:
And is this... We're talking about the servants or workers of the house, or are we talking also about the actual family members? Well, I suppose they were siblings, right?

Ben:
Yes.

Charlie:
Don't touch your sister!

Ben:
I would say if you're sneaking into another... If you're a male in the family upstairs and you sneak into a female's room, it's either your mother or your sister, so...

Charlie:
Or your grandmother.

Ben:
Or your grandmother. Yeah, let's... Well, actually, I think the grandmother, if she was of any sort of rank, lived in her own separate property. But I'm sure you could sneak out of the house in the middle of the night across there if that was your jam.

Charlie:
Yeah. So. Okay, so the workers weren't able to mingle at night, but yeah, let's, let's go back a little bit, so...

Ben:
Yes, sorry to go back. Basically, I decided to talk about this with you today because as I said, it was a... It's an iconic part of Britain, but it's also more importantly, it's a very important part of British history and society to understand. Comes from basically the building blocks of European society. [Wow.] And Britain is probably the only country in Europe today, if you consider England part of Europe, Britain part of Europe, that still largely practices these ideas of the land-owning gentry.

Charlie:
Okay, so no other European country is...

Ben:
Not in the same way. I mean, Britain still has many, many land-owning gentry. They still have many great country houses that have been passed down from father to son. And they still have a pretty robust system of nobility with different ranks that actually holds sway in the political life and political outcomes in Britain.

Charlie:
Right. Wow. Okay. I was thinking of the big French homes. There's a word for them.

Ben:
Chateau?

Charlie:
Chateaux. Yeah.

Ben:
Yeah. So they are in existence. The actual structures themselves are in existence. And I'm pretty sure there are some French nobility, but they simply don't have the same impact on the country's political fortunes as the British system.

Charlie:
Well, yeah, nice. I mean, if you're a French person and you have a chateau, please get in touch to put us straight and invite me to your chateau as well to prove, of course, that they have the chateau.

Ben:
Yeah. Yes. Yeah. So we'll have a chat about that, sort of the origins of all of that, how the houses themselves -selves worked. As you said before, they were actually the cultural centre of an entire community. They were a small economy unto themselves, each house, and yeah, a central part of British life for several centuries.

Charlie:
And doing some research, I saw some facts about why the houses led to be too expensive to run. But before we go further with that, I noticed that it was partly because cities were becoming more popular. And does that mean that cities, like if I imagine back, was it was it more like everyone was spread out as a population? They were...

Ben:
Yeah. So there was I mean, this sort of change from country to city living was primarily to do with the industrial Revolution, which occurred in the early 1700s. Now, the Industrial Revolution had a massive impact both on the explosion of these types of houses and then the actually the decline of the houses. But we'll go into that a little bit later, I think, to begin with. How about we talk about where these houses originated from?

Charlie:
Perfect. Yes. Were they born out of a genie granting somebody a wish from rubbing a lamp?

Ben:
Well, some might say that, but unfortunately for anybody listening to this podcast who wants to believe that I'm a man who deals with facts and not fiction.

Charlie:
It's good to get that straight.

Speaker3:
Yes.

Ben:
Yes. Harry Potter is not real. Sorry. I'm so sorry to anyone out there who was learning English on the British English podcast in the hope of going to Hogwarts. [Yeah] It's not a real place.

Charlie:
Yeah, he speaks the truth.

Ben:
Although I might just be an ignorant muggle.

Charlie:
Yeah, I prefer that.

Ben:
Yeah. And I like to think that J.K. Rowling is a squib. Do you know what a squib is?

Charlie:
Yeah.

Ben:
So a squib is an insult for a person who was born into a magical family with no magical powers.

Charlie:
That actually works out very nicely because she was so upset that she wasn't a wizard, she or a witch. She just decided to rat on them and tell the world of Muggles about them.

Ben:
Completely. Yeah. I mean, I'm sitting here saying with full confidence that the Wizarding world doesn't exist and J.K. Rowling's probably a squib. I feel like that's a terrible insult. And I just want to call people I don't like a squib.

Charlie:
Don't look good...

Ben:
All right, let's let's get back. We've done our...

Charlie:
We've done Harry Potter.

Ben:
We've done Harry Potter. Let's get back to the great English country house. Let's talk about the origins.

Charlie:
Yeah. So when did this kind of come out of an era? What era are we talking?

Ben:
Okay, so we're talking over a thousand years. The systems that were in place in in England basically brought this about. Now, the first thing to understand about the great country house is that they were estates that were owned by a class of people in Britain, a high class of people, the upper classes called the land-owning gentry. [Okay.] Now, in essence, breaking it down into its simplest sense, the landowning gentry were people who were granted pieces of land by the king, and they rented them out to farmers and tenants and receive money for that rent. [Right.] And this land was passed down from father to son.

Charlie:
And how did the king or queen choose who would be...?

Ben:
Well, this all started and has its origins in feudal Europe. Now, feudal Europe is a system that was around hundreds and hundreds of years ago. So...

Charlie:
Not thousands?

Ben:
No, no. I mean, we may have had the earliest origins of it then, but I mean, without going into areas of debate, Let's just put it around... around the last thousand years, we could say we had the start of a feudal system. You know, perhaps before that, but especially in England. Now, what that was, was basically an agreement between the king and nobles who he granted land. He bequeathed them huge swathes of swathes of land in return for services to the Crown, such as military service and management of that area, keeping it under control.

Charlie:
Right. So if you went to battle and you did well, maybe he would reward you with a bit of land.

Ben:
Yeah. Or you were wealthy enough that you could afford armour and a horse and a sword. And he saw you as a person who could be very helpful in a battle. He would bequeath him a large swathe of land in order for the return of military service.

Charlie:
Right. Okay.

Ben:
That's putting it in a very simplistic way. But in essence, they they had a deal. [Yeah.] Yeah. And they would help defend the kingdom and those areas for the king in return for this land. And under this system, this feudal system, there were basically the local lords or nobility. [Mm hmm.] And then they had the local peasants. The peasants had their own separate system with the local lord, where the lord would give them or rent them land and protection in return for military service to that lord.

Charlie:
Okay.

Ben:
Yeah. In essence, it was a convoluted system in order to raise an army.

Charlie:
Right. Okay. Trying to think of the big picture of, again, where they would all live. I think I read something about it being like they're in small towns that are within castle walls?

Ben:
Yeah. So medieval Europe and medieval England weren't the stable countries that they are today. A thousand years ago we had places like... just off the top of my head.... it was like East Anglia was its own small kingdom.

Charlie:
Okay, For.

Ben:
Example, and all of these different little kingdoms had their own kings. And these kings, even within Britain, they would fight each other. And today obviously we have a very stabilised, very well set out boundaries in Europe. Well, not, not always, so as we can see with Russia and Ukraine right now, but in essence England wasn't as stable as it is now, so...

Charlie:
Internally.

Ben:
Internally, yeah. And so they had to have these devices and these systems in order to protect their, their kingdoms. Now, one of the other things with this feudal system was that they used to have everyone living within castles. Now everyone knows what a castle is. And these medieval castles were basically huge structures which housed basically the entire locality, the entire town. It had the the King's court and rooms of governance. It had the food stores, it had the military barracks. It had everything that you could expect to find within a small town. A lot of the peasants would live in the farmlands and toil, toil the crops outside the castle. But the castle was a huge structure that basically encompassed a lot of that local community.

Charlie:
Yeah, I guess when I was younger, I, I did go through that at school, like learning that, but I've completely forgotten about that. And when I go to see castles, I don't really think about the whole of the population being trying to fit within that fortress.

Ben:
Yeah, I mean, this was a thing all throughout Europe. I mean, one of the most famous castles that you can go in and see these days is in Salzburg, in Germany. This wasn't unique to Britain at all.

Charlie:
Is that the one that's in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

Ben:
I have absolutely no idea. I've never seen a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Charlie:
Have you not?

Ben:
No, is it good?

Charlie:
It's one of those films that was on all the time as a kid before Netflix, I suppose. Neuschwanstein Castle.

Ben:
Okay, that's that is, I think that really famous Disney-style Castle.

Charlie:
Yes. Yes, it is.

Ben:
Yeah. And you notice these castles are often, like Salzburg and that one, are both on high cliff escarpments. They would find certain areas of high rock and they would build the walls around there to defend themselves. This is in the period where they had a bow and arrow, you know, they didn't have guns and things like that. So, um,

Charlie:
No nuclear bombs.

Ben:
Yeah. So they basically put themselves inside an all-purpose fortress. Then as European society stabilised under single rulers, the need for these castles lessened and lessened and lessened, and...

Charlie:
So these kingdoms now kind of relax and it's now a whole country.

Ben:
Well, they all...

Charlie:
where there's one king? Or queen.

Ben:
Yes. So all the kings... Basically all the kings fought each other and one swallowed up the other and swallowed up the other. And eventually.

Charlie:
Literally?

Ben:
Oh yeah, yeah. These, these kings used to be 50 feet tall and.

Charlie:
Oh, my God. Wow.

Ben:
They would eat entire towns.

Charlie:
Since we're talking about eating kings, I found a fact that I have no, I have no idea...

Ben:
I am excited for this fact. What the hell?

Charlie:
So, King Henry the eighth. When he died, he was a very large man. He was apparently 400 pounds.

Ben:
And he was about six, six foot three or something?

Charlie:
Okay. I mean, that's not too short. But you mean as in, like a big.

Ben:
I believe I believe he was a tall guy.

Charlie:
Yeah. Okay. But still, that's overweight for a six foot three...

Ben:
Oh, he was very... Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Charlie:
But yeah, so. He was buried or he was put in his coffin. And I don't know if you know this gross fact, but when bodies die, they they kind of enlarge, like...

Ben:
They bloat.

Charlie:
They bloat. And he bloated so much that he burst and the liquids came out of the coffin and his dogs licked them up.

Ben:
Oh, God. Do you ever think that if your cat... Like a dog, right, is super loyal to you and would protect you. But a cat, if they were the same size as us, they would just kill us.

Charlie:
Well, yeah. Yeah, they would.

Ben:
Yeah. I mean, no matter how much you love them, like.

Charlie:
Lions and shit.

Ben:
Yeah, I know, But this is even a domestic cat. If... You know when you're walking along. I don't know if it was just a peculiarity of my cat, but I would walk along and it would jump. It would like there was an instinct in it and it would look at my foot like an antelope and it would sprint at high speed and just jump on it and wrap its claws all around my feet and bite into my big toe.

Charlie:
Yeah. And then it would get into that kind of spooning position and then it would kind of kick, [kick] like a rabbit with its back feet.

Ben:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Charlie:
That would be painful.

Ben:
Yeah. Well, honestly, if they were the same size as us, they would just eat us. They would... Yeah.

Charlie:
Well, that's why we don't live in the savannah.

Ben:
Yeah. I'm surprised. As humans walking around in the savannah, we ever managed to, to survive.

Charlie:
Yeah.

Ben:
I mean, honestly.

Charlie:
I mean I wouldn't survive but back then, they might have...

Ben:
They must have had a lot more about them.

Charlie:
Yeah, but yeah, that's my fun fact about a dead king. [Yeah.] Please continue.

Ben:
Okay, so we were up to the need for castles as a single entity. Now, as the fears of sort of endemic warfare died away, which is basically internal warfare, and the state stabilised and became ruled under a single ruler, the need for these castles disappeared. [Hmm.] We may have needed warships and fortresses on the border to repel the invading French, for example, but not endemic internal warfare anymore. So the need for these big castles disappeared and they split into three different entities. You had the fortress, which was the castle, [right] but now it was just purely a utilitarian fortress for defence.

Charlie:
Okay.

Ben:
And they changed in shape as well because the weaponry changed. They were much lower to the ground. They didn't have these high vaulted walls. The second part of this was the palace. Now, the castles used to be the residence of the king, but now the king didn't need to live in the fortress. They lived in a separate building, which was what we now call a palace. So the Palace of Versailles, for example, these huge opulent buildings that were more for show and a comfortable lifestyle.

Charlie:
So did a castle turn into a fortress and a palace as two separate things? Or were they like that prettier part of the castle is going to be the palace?

Ben:
No, it did separate literally into two different... Into two.

Charlie:
They rebuilt.

Ben:
Yes, they would eventually. I mean, there's plenty of castles still around today. I suppose they may have just either abandoned them or used just the castle as the fortress and then gone on to build big palaces as well.

Charlie:
And this is where all the princes and princesses lived.

Ben:
Exactly. These buildings were not about defence. They were about opulence. They were about showing everyone their divine right to rule their their power and living the most amazing life of comfort that they could possibly ever envisage.

Charlie:
Still no toilet paper, though?

Ben:
No, that's right. But they had servants who could do all that sort of stuff, I suppose. I was once listening to a podcast by Karl Pilkington and Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, where Karl told a story about a crazy English major who apparently said to Karl's brother in the war in that, you know, if you have limited toilet paper supplies, what you do is you put your finger through the toilet, a hole in the toilet paper, scrape it all out, and then pull it out and wipe it off with the toilet paper and walk away and walk away. That's just the most mental thing I've ever heard in my life. But, well.

Charlie:
Walk away from the toilet, like proud.

Ben:
Just throw it away.

Charlie:
Job done.

Ben:
Job done. Yeah, exactly. It sounds like something... Some sort of crazy deluded English major from the from the early 20th century would say.

Charlie:
Well actually, you're making me think of my friend from uni who admitted that he often picks his nose by taking a piece of tissue and putting a hole through it and then pretends that he's blowing his nose with tissue. But he's just picking his nose with his finger.

Ben:
That's mental. That's not... That's not hiding. That's. I mean, what is that? That's like back to cats. That's like when a cat thinks they're hiding and you can just see their tail flicking from behind the couch. I mean, that's mental. Yeah. All right. So there was a third entity that came out of this splitting up division of the traditional castle. So we've got the fortress, we've got the palace, and then we have the manor house. Now, the manor house was the equivalent of a palace, but for the nobility. So they were never as big as the palaces for the kings and queens. But they served the same function. They showed off. They displayed to the rest of the population their power, their wealth. And it was about comfortable country living.

Charlie:
Getting your servant to wipe your bum.

Ben:
Exactly. I mean, isn't that the dream, Charlie? I mean, that's why you started this business, isn't it?

Charlie:
It is. I think I'm two years away from being able to do that.

Ben:
Why did I see a dirty man scampering away when I came in here today holding a fistful of toilet paper?

Charlie:
That was the postman.

Ben:
Oh, you've got him doing two jobs.

Charlie:
I deliver. Yeah. I've delivered some poo to somebody.

Ben:
Yeah, they call him the postman. Oh, no. They call you the postman.

Charlie:
I don't like where this is going, Ben.

Ben:
Okay. So basically, we had the introduction of the manor house. Now, the reason these houses were able to exist in such vast numbers was because these noble classes had existed for so long. They still own these huge swathes of land. They had been passed down from generation to generation to generation over hundreds of years in the last millennium. And now, as Britain became stronger and stronger and at the height of its powers, when trade was at its greatest, these noble, noble classes were making just unfathomable amounts of money. And so what did they do with it? They built more and more bigger and better, more opulent houses.

Charlie:
Wow. It makes so much sense to think why people wanted to escape to America and start over and have like, you know, merit or meritocracy be the fundamental of their success.

Ben:
Oh, yeah, yeah.

Charlie:
as a community.

Ben:
Oh, yeah. I mean, England. I mean, if you were born into the lower classes, you really were always going to be in the lower classes. If you were born into the aristocracy, you actually... There were some laws in place and strong traditions that meant you weren't going to leave that position either. I mean, a lot of the aristocracy didn't actually have options in what they wanted to do.

Charlie:
Ah, a bit like today, where we see the royals aren't necessarily happy being who they are.

Ben:
That's exactly right. Exactly right. So part of this system was that it was bound by the British law. There was a thing called an entail. Now that entail basically was was a law that said that these properties had to be passed from father to son or from the owner to the nearest male relative.

Charlie:
Okay. Like the eldest son. Yeah, yeah.

Ben:
Yeah, yeah. Now, this entail actually meant that it was against the law to sell these houses. So not only were these families entitled to all of this land, but they were also, by law, unable to relieve themselves of this responsibility. Now, one of the things about this landowning class is, especially in this period, is they did have legions of servants and they did have these big houses, but they also had a responsibility. They were basically the head of a localised economy.

Charlie:
Yeah.

Ben:
So they rent out land to all the local tenants. So that's farmers, bakery workers, anyone who owned a business, anybody on that, that land that that landed gentry owned, they paid taxes but the landed gentry had to look after this area. They had to look after the property, which was a huge monumental task in itself. And then they had to deal with all of the local tenants as well. I mean, this is a job that they, the eldest son, could not get out of.

Charlie:
Wow. I mean.

Ben:
This is... It's the law.

Charlie:
It's hard to feel sorry for them comparatively to the people that are working for them because they're like doing, what, 18 hour shifts?

Ben:
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Charlie:
on ridiculously poor, low wages, but still. Yeah. No, that's hard to swallow. The idea that you're forced into this huge responsibility. Yeah.

Ben:
I mean, they were bound to this whether they wanted to do it or not, and they couldn't sell the property, although they probably had amazing lives, I'm sure a lot of that life would have been very stifling.

Charlie:
Yeah.

Ben:
Yeah. They didn't have freedoms that other people had. Now comparatively as well to the the new wealth that came out of the Industrial Revolution, the people who were actually in these positions of ownership through law, their position was nowhere near as good as the new, the new wealthy, the novo rich, as they called them - these huge industrialists who started buying country properties. Because those industrialists could buy and sell and they didn't owe anyone anything.

Charlie:
So they weren't stuck. They could... They were free to to play the market.

Ben:
Yeah. And there were a lot of them. So through the 1700s and early 1800s, that was the peak of the English, the British Country House.

Charlie:
1700s and 1800s.

Ben:
And the early 1800s. This is when... This was the peak. This was when British... The British Empire was at its peak monetarily, and it's when the Industrial Revolution had begun to make many, many, many wealthy middle class people. [Right.] And they were sometimes... These middle class people were sometimes wealthier than the... Than the aristocracy.

Charlie:
Sorry, the the middle class people are coming from these great English houses? Or are you saying...

Ben:
They would buy up these great English properties because they could. It was the equivalent of billionaires today buying up super yachts.

Charlie:
Oh, I see. I see. Yeah. Yeah. So the middle class are starting to overtake the aristocracy [Yeah] in wealth.

Ben:
Yes, exactly.

Charlie:
And power, I guess.

Ben:
Yeah. But basically, if we... We may have jumped the gun a tiny bit there. But before we get to that, because we will talk about the industrial revolution and how it had an effect on these houses in both their development and their eventual end, let's just quickly go through something that I think is quite interesting for everyone, which are the ranks of nobility in England.

Charlie:
Oh, okay. Yeah. Yeah. Let's do that.

Ben:
So if you've seen Downton Abbey, you will have seen that the Earl of Grantham is the owner of that estate. [Okay] And you'll see all the responsibilities that he has. Then if you look at something like Pride and the Prejudice, which is set at the end of the 1700s early, very early, 1800s at latest, and there is debate there, you would see someone like Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Mr. Darcy owns a huge estate and that's the exact same system. He is not in the nobility in the noble classes, but he is a lord.

Charlie:
I know this is really obvious to many people, but it makes me realise why marrying into the right family is so important. Because it's not like you can make your way up through your own entrepreneurship. You literally have no choice to, you know, change your status in life unless you marry, right?

Ben:
Do you mean if you're part of the aristocracy?

Charlie:
No. Like if you're if you're slightly under that.

Ben:
Yeah. So that's true until the advent of the Industrial Revolution and then we did see big changes. But still that was a slow process. And then there were only a few very wealthy people from that [Yeah] but there was a rising middle class, that's for sure.

Charlie:
But I'm thinking like in those series, like Bridgerton and Downton Abbey, marrying the right person was so important for the females.

Ben:
Oh, yeah, yeah. There were... Not just to do with laws and entails and things like that, but to do with your social status. Social status, we don't experience that in the same way today. I mean, we do have wealthy people and poorer people, but we don't have that same extreme level of class system and respect for it that that existed then. So it's difficult to transplant ourselves back then. But yes, you're... Who you married and your status in society based on that was incredibly impactful on your life.

Charlie:
Yeah. And they didn't have the idea of making your own money to then have that respect for having made your own money in your own life, I guess. Did they? So they didn't have that comparison. They just had like royalty, aristocracy. [Yes]. And then people underneath.

Ben:
Primarily yes, until I would say the end of the 1900s, early 20th century sorry, end of the 1800s, early 20th century. That's when that really started to change, especially after World War One.

Charlie:
Yeah, I can imagine that. That is a huge area that we need to go into, but we're unfortunately out of time for part one. So listeners, if you wanted to join us for the conversation all about World War One and how that changed everything that we're talking about and.

Ben:
Well, I was going to use that as a bit of a lead in to talk about the British noble ranks. I'm going to go through what the five major British noble ranks are and the origins.

Charlie:
Nice. Yeah. So if you guys want to join for that, then check out the premium podcast or the Academy membership and those that are already active members then we will see you in part two. But for those Part one listeners, thank you very much, Ben, for taking the time to research that. And yeah, thank you again.

Ben:
Absolutely. Not a problem.

Charlie:
Cool. All right. See you in part two.

Ben:
See you in part two.

Charlie:
We have come to the end of part one. So feel free to take a break from your listening practice, but if you're happy to keep going, then we're now moving on to part two of this episode. Thanks so much for being a premium or Academy member and enjoy the rest of the show.

Charlie:
All right. Welcome back to part two. And we are going to get back into it with maybe talking about World War One and how that changed things.

Ben:
Okay. Well, in order to talk about World War One, I have to talk about the the nobles and actually the ranks and how they were utilised in World War One. The British nobility in World War One still served the military purpose that they were originally created for, and they were called upon in World War One to serve as heads of units.

Charlie:
And they would actually go to the battle scene.

Ben:
A lot of them would. Yep. [Right]. Some of them stayed home and they were sort of given... They were sort of ceremonial positions. But no, there were a lot of them that went off and actually went to the theatres of war in World War One and directed battles and their incompetence in... Many of them were very incompetent in those battles and led to huge losses of lives, as we know, in the trenches of World War One. Now, that may not have been entirely their fault. They were... They were fighting in a new theatre of war and there were losses incurred on every side in that war. As we know, trench warfare was brand new.

Charlie:
But I can imagine that if you are a nobleman and you're not really told anything about how to be a stand up person in life, you're going to be so pompous and so full of yourself that you don't take advice from any military leaders.

Ben:
They were also ignorant as to what to do. I mean, they weren't trained. These were positions that were devised, you know, six or 800 years ago when the nobles could afford swords and armour and they were militarily trained. These were the tough guys back in the day. So these positions, although the people had changed, their responsibilities had not.

Charlie:
Okay. Yeah, that really makes sense.

Ben:
And don't forget that England had just been through about three, 2 to 300 years of prosperity and very limited warfare. They were the super great superpower. They didn't have these huge internal wars because the country had stabilised and they were the superpower. I mean, they were doing things in colonies with poor little African tribes who had spears and they had guns. I mean, they didn't have these hardened warriors in the same sense anymore.

Charlie:
Right. Yeah. The community had gone soft, perhaps.

Ben:
Exactly. And a lot of the people in these positions of nobility were sitting around in these big palaces, basically these country houses and just eating and and going to balls and dining with friends and getting soft. They had no real feeling of the world, and they certainly had no feeling for the theatre of war.

Charlie:
Yeah. And talking of foods that comfort you, the Earl of Sandwich comes into play because... [Ah yes] So the Earl of Sandwich, I've mentioned him on the podcast before. He created the sandwich, apparently. This is probably a fun, little inaccurate kind of story, but apparently he was so addicted to gambling that he didn't want to stop and go to the dinner table. So he would ask his servants or his chef to make him snacks that he could eat whilst playing cards and he would get the grease from the meat on his fingers and then that would affect his gambling. So then he said, Oh, put some bread around this. And then the sandwich was born. But apparently he was also terrible at making decisions in battle. And due to that, they lost a lot of battles with the US in the Navy. And he I think was... I'm not sure if he owned this boatyard that I heard about, but there was a a huge strike in 1775 from all of the workers in the boatyard because they would get... A perk from this job was to come away from the factory or the warehouse or the boatyard with bits of wood that they could use for furniture in their house. And they would always leave the place with a bit of wood on their shoulders. And over years, the years these bits of wood were getting bigger and bigger. They were getting a bit greedy, to be honest, and they were starting to build their own houses from it. And then he came in and said, Enough is enough. We're going to ban all chips on your shoulder so you can't take a chip. And this is where the phrase comes from.

Ben:
Oh, that's great.

Charlie:
Yeah, the resentment builds. That's great. Not having that.

Ben:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's awesome. Yeah. Oh, I love those bits of etymology. It's one of my favourite things. I think I did talk about this on the last podcast, but I'll just reiterate it in case I hadn't. Do you know where the saying put a sock in it came from?

Charlie:
Yes, because you did do it. But. But say it again.

Ben:
Okay. So a lot of people would assume that it's just put a sock in your mouth, but actually what it is: They used to have the gramophones right back in the 1920s.

One sec, so put a sock in it means shut up.

Ben:
Yes, sorry. Put a sock in it means shut up. And so they would... To quieten down the gramophone when it was a bit loud they would literally put the... They had those big socks and they would put them into the speaker.

Charlie:
So that would reduce the volume of the the gramophone.

Ben:
Exactly.

Charlie:
Nice.

Ben:
Yeah. Yeah. So that's, that's a little saying there.

Charlie:
Yeah. It's nice. Yeah. Very good. So as you were saying, so these people, these noblemen were incompetent.

Ben:
So these noblemen were very incompetent. And basically World War One was a stupendous failure of strategy for the British. It was a failure of strategy on, on all sides. But these noblemen were particularly incompetent is the best word I can use. And this was really reflected after the war and their status and their respect in combination with a few other things like the rapidly changing society after the Industrial Revolution and the strengthening of the middle classes, combined with this this reduction in respect for these people, in these roles, people saw that they didn't deserve to be in these roles. They weren't high and mighty. They didn't have all of this knowledge and ability that they had claimed to have, which basically meant that they... It was their their reason for having this position and all this property.

Charlie:
Ah, so the people lower down looked at them with respect thinking that in a situation that would arise where you need to defend yourself, they will help us because they have the knowledge, they are the wise people perhaps. [Yes.] And then that came crashing down, that idea of them.

Ben:
Yeah. Their mystique, their mystique and their aura was dissipated greatly after World War One. I mean, that along with things like the Industrial Revolution and the strengthening of the working classes, we'll talk about that later, [Yeah] was the primary reasons for the sort of end of that lifestyle. But I wanted to go through just out of a bit of interest for everybody listening as a bonus, I was just going to go through the the noble ranks in England just to, just to make everything a little bit clearer so you can understand what we're talking about when we talk about the nobility in these these houses.

Charlie:
Yeah, that would help for me as well.

Ben:
Okay. So this wasn't just in England, this was all through Central Europe as well. But basically England had always had under the king a position of nobility called an earl. That was the very first one. Now this is pre Norman conquest of England pre 1066. 1066. That was when William the Conqueror came up from Normandy and conquered England. And when William the Conqueror conquered England, he introduced the Norman term for Earl, which was Baron. And that was basically because the French called the areas that they granted to their nobleman baronies.

Charlie:
But the word baron to me means like it's a negative word, right? [No] As in like the... Well a woman, if a woman is barren, they can't give birth.

Ben:
This is different.

Charlie:
But if the land is barren, it's not going to give life.

Ben:
It was called a Barony. So it's a French word.

Charlie:
Okay.

Ben:
Yeah. That's the equivalent of the... That's the French equivalent, basically.

Charlie:
Right. Okay, so I need to update my dictionary to 100 years previous.

Ben:
Well, actually, the women weren't called barons. They were called Baronesses.

Charlie:
Yeah, but it's just describing their womb.

Ben:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes, I know. Yeah.

Charlie:
We have come to the end of part two now. So again, feel free to pause the episode to take a break from your listening practice and come back to the last part when you're ready.

Charlie:
All right. So moving on to part three now. Enjoy. So that's a surprise to me, though. So. King Then Earl?

Ben:
Yeah. Earl came from pre Norman Conquest. The word Earl has its origins in the Norse word Yarl. Or I believe it was the Norman word Alderman. It was Norman, I think. But basically both mean the same thing. They mean leader.

Charlie:
Okay, Leader.

Ben:
Sorry, The Anglo-Saxon.

Charlie:
What about Dukes?

Ben:
Anglo-saxon word. Alderman. I mean.

Charlie:
Okay. Does Dukes come in to play too?

Ben:
Yes, they do. Dukes are the next of the five to be introduced. So, so far we started off with Earl, which was pre William Norman invasion. Then we had the introduction of Baron, which was the Norman rank that was introduced under Earl as the two societies lived together. Then we have Duke introduced in 1360... 1337, when King Edward the third gave his son the title. Now these were always associated with royalty until more recent years, and there are still only 24 today. So when we look at any of the princes currently in England, you know, what is it? The Duke of York, The Duke of Edinburgh... [Yeah]. All that sort of those are titles mainly reserved for royalty. It's the highest title.

Charlie:
Okay, well, but I'm confused with Earl. Where does Earl sit?

Ben:
So at this point in time, it's Duke at the top. And then Earl and then Baron. [Okay]. Now, the reason it was called Duke was because it was a term that was brought up from the German lands. And basically their areas that were given to their nobility were called Duchies.

Charlie:
Duchies.

Ben:
Yes. So that's why we have Duchess and Duke.

Charlie:
So duchies came before these two titles.

Ben:
Duchies is just a German word for lands granted to nobility.

Charlie:
Okay. Yeah, I'm with you.

Ben:
And that's where that title comes from. Now, the next one that was brought in was Marquess, which comes from the Germanic word March, meaning borderland. Now, when this was brought in, it was brought in above Earl, and the Earls hated this. They were like, Well, what's going on here? Because at the time, the only thing above Earls were... were the royals, which were dukes. And the reason justification for the marquess being higher is because they were defending their lands or on the borders of the country. So they had a more of a responsibility to defend the country.

Charlie:
Ah! They... Yeah.

Ben:
Cos it's still that... It's still that military responsibility. That's that's their primary what they owe the king for this land.

Charlie:
Yeah. I mean, if you think about it, having, having something in the Midlands that's going to be a pile of piss compared to having something on Dover.

Ben:
Yeah. So that's for an Earl, the Midlands. And then the last thing to be introduced was the Viscount, which is the fifth of the nobility classes. And basically that's the, the, the origin in that word is vice count. So a Count was basically what an earl was called on mainland Europe. That's because they were in charge of counties.

Charlie:
Can you say the word again.

Ben:
Viscount.

Charlie:
A Viscount. It's.

Ben:
Spelled V I S C O U N T, but Viscount is how you pronounce it. [Okay]. And that comes from vice Count like vice president. They were basically the sheriff of a county. They worked under the the local Earl or Marquess or or Baron under the local Count, and that was brought in. So basically the order of the five noble ranks: at the top we have Duke and Duchess, and they're referred to by everyone as Your Grace. Now, the other four they are referred to as Lord and Lady. So the next one down is Marquess or Marchioness. Under that is Earl or Countess is the female equivalent. Then there's Viscount or Viscountess and Baron or Baroness is the final and lowest rank in the nobility.

Charlie:
But you'd still be pretty pretty up there if you're a baron, right?

Ben:
You'd be pretty up there. Now, I will... Just to give you an example of how how important it was for these upper classes to be in this ranking system. If you watch Downton Abbey, you'll see that Lady Mary, she is... Stands to inherit the earldom from her father. She marries. They manage to break the entail, I think. I can't remember the story exactly, but basically she's going to be, you know, at the rank of Earl. And her sister, who is always left out of everything and, you know, she's got a bit of a tragic tale through the whole thing, she actually ends up marrying a Marquess.

Charlie:
She goes to the coast.

Ben:
Well, I yeah, I would say so.

Charlie:
She gets a sea view as well.

Ben:
She gets a sea view. So she gets she's actually... This is a huge thing in that world because she's actually... You should see the reactions of everyone you know, around. She's higher in rank than her sister, finally. And this means a lot.

Charlie:
Yeah.

Ben:
Yeah.

Charlie:
Plus the coastal breeze.

Ben:
The coastal breeze is fantastic. She goes surfing.

Charlie:
Yeah. I mean, she will get invaded quicker. [Yeah]. She can surf.

Ben:
She can. She's a great great surfer.

Charlie:
Right. There we go. So that is the end of part three and the end of the episode. But we've got a lot more to talk about, about the great English country houses, haven't we Ben?

Ben:
Yes, Yes, I'm excited. We've got, we've got to talk about the insides of the houses and the staff themselves and then their eventual decline.

Charlie:
Oh, so yeah, look out for some more episodes where we go over this topic. But thank you so much, Ben. I love having you here. I feel like I'm learning whilst laughing with you. Thank you.

Ben:
Okay, good. I'll try and keep the laughs up to a higher level.

Charlie:
They're a good ratio. Good ratio. Okay. Right. Thanks, guys. Well done for listening. The whole of this episode. We will see you next week on the British English podcast. There we go. The end of part three, meaning the end of the episode. Well done for getting through the entirety of it. Make sure you use all of the resources available to you in your membership. Thanks once again for supporting the show and I look forward to seeing you next time on the British English Podcast.

access the free content

Get the FREE worksheet for 
this episode

Enjoy!

Want the transcripts?

Access the manually edited transcripts using the world's leading interactive podcast transcript player and get your hands on the
full glossary and flashcards for this episode!
  • Downloadable Transcripts
  • Interactive Transcript Player
  • Flashcards
  • Full Glossary 

Transcript of SAMPLE Premium Podcast Player

Podcast host: Charlie:
This will be quite a bit harder for you to understand, as there are a number of accents in the conversation, some poorly delivered at times, as you will notice.

Podcast host: Charlie:
But the aim is to give you a variety of dialects in one conversation and some dialogue to give you native expressions in context. So enter, if you will, to Charlie's pub and his imaginary world.

Character: Mike:
Alright geezer, how's it going?

Character: Chris:
Yes, I'm well thanks. How about you? Have you had a good day?

Character: Mike:
Can't say good mate. No my old man he's been giving me a right old earful for what happened on site last week.

Character: Chris:
Oh that's a pity. Are you back on your dad's building project again?

Character: Mike:
Sad to say mate, but yeah, I am. Couldn't resist this one though. Cash in hand, you know.

Character: Chris:
Oh fair play, hard to resist those I imagine. Oh, here she is.

Character: Emily:
Oh, hi.

Character: Chris:
I was wondering if you're ever going to join us tonight.

Full Length Episodes

Interactive Transcript Player

Full
Glossaries

Downloadable Transcripts

Get the brand new official App for FREE

Learn on-the-go with the official app for The British English Podcast. Enhance your learning experience and go mobile! You can easily access The Academy, The Premium Podcast and all other courses including the FREE ones on your mobile and study at your own pace. Switch between desktop to mobile without losing your course progress.

Never miss an episode!

Join the Podcast Newsletter to get weekly updates on newly published shows, courses and more right in your mailbox.
Keep an eye on your email inbox. 😉
PUT WHAT YOU'RE LEARNING INTO PRACTICE WITH...

The Academy Speaking Classes

Write your awesome label here.
Get involved in Charlie's weekly speaking calls when you join
The Academy Monthly/Annual Membership.
↓ Read more below to learn about The Academy ↓

Do you want to join the best online course
 for British culture and British English?

Get access to The British English Podcast Academy
Already a member of The Academy? Sign in here

DOES ANY OF THIS SOUND FAMILIAR TO YOU?

Drag to resize
1. You struggle to understand British people, their humour and accents!

2. You find it hard to measure your progress when learning English?

3. You want to learn to speak with confidence in front of British people?

4. You find it hard to keep up with multiple speakers in a conversation.

5. You’re looking for an easy to use step-by-step plan to help you improve your English?

If you answered yes, then you already know how challenging it is to keep improving your English after reaching a conversational level!

Don't worry! There's a solution and I think you're going to love it!

Now listen to why members of The Academy think you should join.

Here are some individual reviews.

I'd like to recommend the academy because...its contents are very interesting and authentic so, you learn a lot about British culture, be it in respect of society, habits and traditions and all with a touch of humour, which I really appreciate. 
Julie, France. Joined in August, 2021
Drag to resize
Write your awesome label here.
Drag to resize
Write your awesome label here.
My big problem has always been fluency but now I can tell proudly that I'm much more confident and I'm not more afraid to talk.

Eight months ago when I started this amazing journey I never imagined that today I would record this video and put myself out there without feeling pure cringe.
Caterina, Italy. Joined in February, 2021
"Charlie's podcast and academy is easy to follow and helps me remember every word he teaches by following the quizzes and exercises. He is such a good teacher with specific plans for his own lessons who knows the difficulties of a non-native english learner like me."
Hsu Lai
Pharmacist, Myanmar
"It's evident that Charlie has put so much effort into The Academy and I will definitely recommend The British English Podcast to anyone wanting to improve their English and to my subscribers on Instagram! The Academ