Social and intellectual challenge, 1625-88

  • Created by: Mia.A.W
  • Created on: 02-06-21 11:26

Why did population increase?

Between 1520 and 1680, the population doubled to more than 5 million. This was due to a variety of reasons:

  • Migration - A large number of foreign immigrants arrived in 1651, this was predominantly noticeable in towns, migrants made up 35% of the population in Norwich. People also migrated across Britain which caused more job security and therefore babies.
  • Decrease in mortality - A  decline in incidences of the plague and small incidences being contained with quarantine meant the mortality rates were lower than the preceding three centuries. Records show that the population was able to recover from bouts of disease more quickly because when elder members die from disease younger members are more likely to marry younger as a result, and consequently produce more babies

HOWEVER…Only 5% of the population outside London lived in towns with over 5,000 inhabitants and the population expanded and contracted throughout the period. Fertility rates fell in 1650, but then rose again by 1680.

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Impacts of population growth

Development in towns - London became one of the largest cities with a population of over 400,000 and by 1700 over 30 towns had a population over 5,000. This was primarily because of industrial centres and port attracting workers for jobs. Smaller towns grew too due to an increase in demand for manufacturing and food. Two-fifths of the workforce in villages and more than half of the people in towns became servants to avoid poverty. 

Increase in poverty and vagrants - due to a shortage of work across the country. The job shortage was not helped by many cloth manufactures moving to the countryside to avoid taxes placed by administrators in towns.

Inflation - Price inflation outstripped wage rises two-to-one. Many small landowners were forced to sell their land leaving wealthy aristocracy as the only landowners able to invest. The drive for efficiency also pushed out small farmers as more farms were amalgamated to make large farms focussed on producing one type of crop or rear of animals.

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The growth of poverty

  • More than one-third of the population were in poverty, similar to the Tudors. However due to enclosure there was a lack of common land which provided space for the poor to graze animals. The shortage of food meant that living conditions were getting worse.
  • There were two types of poor:
    • Settled poor - established in one parish and did not move to beg or find work 
    • Vagrant poor - Travelled to sustain themselves. Criminals under the law, seen as a threat to a stable society - 0.5% of the population were arrested for vagrancy in 1630s.
  • Poor laws
    • Elizabths Poor Releif Act of 1601 was the basis for treatment of the poor until 1662. The basic principle was that releif should be given to those unable to work through disability and puncish those who were able to but did not work. 
    • It was supported by Charles' policy of Thorough which was aimed at enhancing poor releif, although it was motivate by the fear of riotting rather than any sympathies. 
    • After the restoration, complaints were maid about the vagrants squatting on common land. The 1662 Act of Settlement attempted to restrict the movement of individuals claiming poor releif, reducing the economic and personal freedom for them. Settlement certifiates could be issued which entitled them to poor releif, meaning for the first time a poor person could prove where they lived. It also defined 'poor', people renting property worth less than £10. It also authorised the arrest of vagrants. 
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The nobility and Gentry


  • 2% of the population. Controlled 15% of wealth and property,
  • They commanded the highest status, immediatly below the monarch
  • Held property and titles for generations, often members of the Lords
  • Although their influence was declining due to high levels of spending expected from an arisstocratc family
  • Many still had vast reserves of wealth. The Marquis of Newcastle donated £90,000 to the royalist cause in 1642.


  • Growing in importance, gentry include: Cromwell, Monck, Pym.
  • Numbers increased by 30% in the Stuart period, around 15,000. 
  • Half of all wealth and property belonged to the gentry.
  • Degree of variation, some owning 50 acres and some controlling estates of 5,000 or more. Most lower gentry never took part in national or even regional affairs.
  • The extent of their power and the cause of it is debated in whats known as the gentry controversy. 
    • Trevor-Roper argues that they had more influence due to their participation in politics. Their power peaked in the Interregnum where they were essential for the running of government.
    • Others suggest that it was as a result of the declining fortunes of the nobility.
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Radical political ideas


  • Most successfull group, althugh ther eistence was short lived due to their leaders being imprisoned in 1649 and the lack of a cohesive message. Their influence was not even widespread in. the New Model Army.
  • Colonel Thomas Rainsborough spoke at the Putney Devates in 1647 arguing that there was nothing in the Bible to justify the poor being excluded from politics.
  • Overall they called for the Lords to be abolished, universal male sufffrage, equality under the law and religious freedom.


  • The biggest threat to society as they claimed that religion comes from the voice of God within. This meant that they needed no external support or organisation to function, thus they  could meet in remote places. 
  • By the 1660s there were some 35,000 Quakers in England despite harsh persecution.
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End of divine right monarchy and confessional stat

1625 - Although uniformity was not enforced, the concept of a single national religion was so widely accepted that it seemed to be unchallengable. Those who opposed it where so few as to be practically non-existent and accepted the right of the state to punish them and pay their fines. Also con-conformists generally disagreen of the particular version of practise being opossed, not the concept of uniformity.

1640 - Those questioning the confessional state were numerous. The conditions provided by the Civil War meant people began exploring alternatives too the Church of England of Charles I.

1660 - Although the confessional state was restored in 1660, the intervening years of increased freedom strengthend the oppositu to the point where it could not be eradicated. 

1688 -  The confessional state was no more, any attempt to re-impose would fail. The opinions of clergymen had shifted too, Daniel Whitby wrote at the tme that no single individual could claim to rule by divine right because God never intended it. 

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The scientific revolution.

  • The emergence of modern scientific beliefs and methods after approximately 1550, although new discoveries and debate peeked in the 17th century.
  • Francis Bacon was known for his contribution towards the scientific method. At this time scientific thinking was heavily influenced by the beliefs of Church and this restricted scientific advancements for centuries. To aid scientific discovery Bacon advised  to accumulate as much data on the subject as possible, reject any preconceived theories or conclusions about the subject matter, methodical and meticulous observation. These ideas were not implemented before 1640 but with the change in attitudes due to civil war his work was revisited by others.
  • The royal society established in July 1662. It met once a week and its members included men from all areas of intellectual study such as, John Locke, Samuel Pepys and John Dryden. The first few years were marked by a genuine variety of research in areas other than science including an investigation into the best way to improve the English language. It was only after 1684 that the Society dedicated itself solely to scientific pursuits.
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  • The number of merchents grew by 30,000 from 1580-1688 reaching around 64,000
  • This was due to increased urbanisaton, towns that grew were involved in trade
  • The consumer boom in London after 1650 improved trading conditions.
  • This was especially prominent in London wehere a small, but extremley wealth class of mercants develped in the conttext of increasing urbanisation.
  • It was possible for some merchants to accumulate as much wealth and power in towns as members of the gentry. The owners of larger international trading companies were as rich as the nobility, some purchased earldoms to ensure their family's future as part of the aristocracy. 
  • Although merchants were never able to command the same respect and prestige as the landed elites they could enter public office or become mayor in their town.
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The status of women

  • Status
    • Progress was slow until the Civil War. The beleifs surrounding women (that they were irrational, devious and a thret to the good functioning of socity ) were based on the teachings of the bible. 
    • But during civil war women took on the roles of the men. Mary Banks commanded a detachment of troops in the defence of Corfe Castle. But when the fighting ended so did the improvement of thei rocnditions. 
  • Impact of religion
    • Puritans advocated for widespread education, meaning women needed to read to be able to instruct their chilldren in religious education
    • When a leveler leader, John Liburne was imprisoned in 1649, his wife and other leveller women organised a petition for release. It was signed by 10,000 women. But lilburne was not released and the women were told to go back home to the housework.
  • Legal changes
    • The Marriage Act passed by the Barebones Parliamnet in 1653 allowed civil marriages to take place
    • Both men and women could be sentenced to death under the Adultery Act of 1650. But it was used mainly against women, male suspects made up only 10& of the 255 charges between 1650 and 1660.
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Hobbes and Locke


  • He wrote in the Leviathan that power was granted to a monarch by the people.
  • This prevented the chaos that would assume otherwise.
  • Yet, if the sovergein did not protect the people then people could break the social contract.
  • As Charles I did not protect the English people, they were compelled to obey a new state.
  • The republican state had as much authority as monarchy as a state was legitimised if it could protect the people under its power.


  • Locke was influencial after the Glorious Revolution publishing Two Treaties of Government in 1689.
  • Though this work should be seen as the context of politics pre-1688.
  • It was an anti-absolutist response to the growing power of Charles II and James II. He argued:
    • A contract was in place between the ruler and the ruled, but power was held by the people
    • All men deserved to be treated equally
    • people had a right to resist a monarch acting tyranically.
  • Though his work provoked little reaction at the time.
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