Elizabethan-era society was broken up into several social classes defined by wealth and birthright. The monarch, nobility, gentry and merchants were considered to be the wealthy of the time. The laborers were the poor. Yeomen were considered middle class, often hovering between having money and dealing with a catastrophe, such as illness, that pushed the family into poverty.
The monarch, in this case Queen Elizabeth I, was in the highest class of the wealthy along with her family. Members of the nobility, who were rich, had large land holdings and obtained large households, were next in the social scheme. These people often had titles, such as duke or lord, and were either born into their station or the family was granted the title and lands by the queen as a show of favor. All nobles were expected to serve the queen and her court as she saw fit at their own expense. During the Elizabethan era, the gentry became the most important social class because it grew in numbers and the queen did not see it as a threat as she did the nobility. The gentry was comprised of knights, gentlemen and gentlewomen who were not required to work with their hands. Merchants formed the bottom end of the wealthy. Laborers were the peasants, farmers and day laborers.