This chapter discusses the clergy as a potential profession for young men. Only a minority of the clergy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries came from the aristocracy or landed gentry: one expert on the subject estimates that these amounted to about one in five. A much larger number came from families already established in the gentlemanly professions: many clergymen were themselves the sons, grandsons, and even great-grandsons of clergymen, while the fathers of others were lawyers, soldiers and sailors. There were also many who had their origin at a slightly lower social level: the sons of apothecaries, successful shopkeepers, and farmers. On the whole they tended to come from small towns and the countryside rather than the cities, and commercial backgrounds were underrepresented. Only a few are known to have come from humble families, but it was possible for an outsider to rise to the very top of the hierarchy.
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