This chapter focuses on oligarchy at Rye, which signified government by a narrow, more or less self-perpetuating elite of men whose power was based more on wealth and economic influence than on inherited status. Oligarchy in eighteenth-century Rye was built on two broad economic factors: at the bottom of society, a lessening of the scale of dislocation and hardship; at the top, a concentration of commercial power in the hands of a few individuals who faced no effective rivals. This marked a clear shift from the misery, anxiety, and bitter competition of most of the seventeenth century. The chapter reveals that Lamb and Norton were members of the merchant oligarchy which governed Rye from the 1690s until the 1830s. It was a privileged group, from which John Breads was excluded by his wealth and occupation, in spite of his family's past connections with local affairs.
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