Literacy
in Gentry culture in late-medieval England
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Mindful of the need to avoid generalisations, and to approach the available evidence cautiously, this chapter draws on the surviving letter collections of the late medieval English gentry in an attempt to gain insight into the writers' literacy. It focuses on the gentry's command of the English language and deals predominantly with writing skills. Of all the late medieval social groups, evidence of the reading and writing skills of the gentry is the most accessible. The advantages of acquiring developed literacy skills grew throughout the late medieval period, as the gentry's involvement in local and national bureaucracy, as well as in commercial activities, increased. The concept of 'being literate' changed considerably throughout the Middle Ages, and to confuse matters modern scholars have defined literacy in many different ways. The late medieval gentry put their increasingly sophisticated literacy to use for the purpose of strengthening their group identity.

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