This uncompromisingly empirical study reconstructs the public and private lives of urban business families during the period of England’s emergence as a world economic power. Using a broad cross-section of archival, rather than literary, sources, it tests the orthodox view that the family as an institution was transformed by capitalism and individualism. The approach is both quantitative and qualitative. A database of 28,000 families has been constructed to tackle questions such as demographic structure, kinship, and inheritance, which must be answered statistically. Much of the book, however, focuses on issues such as courtship and relations among spouses, parents, and children, which can only be studied through those families that have left intimate records. The overall conclusion is that none of the abstract models invented to explain the historical development of the family withstand empirical scrutiny and that familial capitalism, not possessive individualism, was the motor of economic growth.


Introduction: Models and Myths

Part I. Marriage
1. Making a Match
2. Husbands and Wives
3. Widowers and Widows

Part II. The Business Family
4. Parents and Children
5. Adulthood and Old Age
6. Kin and Community

Part III. The Family Business
7. Men in Business
8. Women in Business
9. Inheritance and Advancement

Conclusion: Capitalism and the Life Cycle


“Richard Grassby has certainly enhanced our understanding of the family’s contribution by means of his tireless accumulation, organization and analysis of a prodigious mountain of evidence.… This immensely ambitious book compels respect, even awe. All its readers will learn a great deal from it; many will wish they could have learnt more.”—The English Historical Review

“…a well researched, significant and trenchant study.”—History

“The book puts together an impressive amount of evidence... This is undoubtedly a significant contribution.”—History of Economic Ideas

“…a valuable resource and an excellent work of reference of the well-to-do business family in the pre-industrial period.”—Business History