Detail from a seventeenth-century tavern scene.

Research Questions

  • We are also asking whether developments in the theory and practices of sociability help explain the increased traffic and consumption of intoxicants.

  • This insight is one of the results of the Phil’s ESRC Research Fellowship, which identified the early modern era as the moment when the language of ‘society’ was introduced and assimilated into the English vernacular. A synonym for ‘company’ and ‘fellowship’, ‘society’ meant purposeful and voluntary association. These ranged from corporate associations (such as the great trading companies) to institutions (like clubs and churches) to interactions: moments of co-presence, possibly though not necessarily on a recurring basis, which follow written or tacit conventions and rituals (such as alehouse company, dinner-table society, and so on).

  • Between 1580 and 1740 these types of ‘society’ proliferated in England and the project explores the relationship between these social and economic developments and the culture of intoxication.

Find out more about this theme and our methodology in our church court depositions blog post


Depositional material from the ecclesiastical and secular courts can be used to recover remarkable amounts of qualitative detail about everyday instances of ‘society’, ‘company’, and ‘fellowship’ between 1580 and 1740. Witness statements taken from marital disputes, contested wills, cases of defamation, thefts, and assaults will accordingly be transcribed in order to analyse the role of intoxicants in everyday social interactions. Depositional material can be used to glean data on: the institutional and physical location of ‘company’; the identity of retailers and suppliers; the sociology of the participants involved; the language with which ordinary people described and conceived of their sociability, drinking and intoxicated states between 1580 and 1740; and the conventions, rituals, and codes of consumption. These sources allow unparalleled insight into the practices of ordinary men and women, providing the basis for an historical ethnography of sociability and drinking.