In the timeline between the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century England, social change was slow. Prosperity was limited socially to the upper and middle classes of society and geographically it was confined to the south of England…
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During the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the increasing pace of economic change placed English society under considerable strain. Historians consider this as a period of gradual transition impacted by several crises which eventually led to the stabler and more prosperous situation of the later seventeenth century. The processes of economic, demographic and social changes were based on several underlying causes. Widespread poverty and vagrancy were detrimental to the social order of the time. Serious offences were common-place occurrences during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, reaching a peak between 1590 and 1620; similarly food riots caused by bad harvests, and minor agrarian disturbances took place frequently (Wrightson 1993). Additionally, a number of epidemic diseases ravaged the country. Large numbers of people migrated to London from the provinces.
Thesis Statement: The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which London’s population and economy grew at the expense of the provinces in the years 1580-1640. Social Change in England During the Timeline 1580-1640 In the timeline between the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century England, social change was slow. Prosperity was limited socially to the upper and middle classes of society and geographically it was confined to the south of England. It was counterbalanced by a number of detrimental changes such as increased costs and the charging of interests on loans. The paradoxical elements of a changing socio-economic environment were evident in “agricultural improvement and agrarian distress, increased production and widespread deprivation, undoubted prosperity and equally striking impoverishment” (Wrightson 1993: 122). The decades between 1580 and 1640 saw changes to the economic and social structures of England, based on a shifting balance between population and resources, production and demand. The process began prior to the timeline under study, and exerted its influence long afterwards. However, the change process reached its crisis and found its resolution within the period. There were regular occurrences of various epidemic diseases such as plague, typhus, dysentry and influenza in preindustrial England. Plague was endemic in the country from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries. “Severe epidemics occurred in London from 1604 to 1610, and 1640 to 1649 with at least four milder epidemics between these two larger ones” (Bollet 2004: 23). Plague weakened the social cohesiveness between the rich and poor classes, and created a high degree of social and geographical mobility. The openings in the economic, political and social spheres caused by adult deaths were filled by individuals who would not have been found suitable in a more stable system. The difficulties related to town life prompted the rich and successful to migrate to the countryside, leaving great opportunities behind them. “Geographical mobility was increased by the influx of immigrants from the countryside which so quickly replaced epidemic losses” (Dyer 1978: 321). The population of England doubled during the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The general demographic expansion was uneven both chronologically and regionally. By 1580 the population of Enland reached 3.5 million, and continued to increase until the 1620s and 1630s when it began to level off. Wrightson (1993) argues that a decline in the incidence and virulence of the bubonic plague in the later fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries may have fuelled the population rise of the sixteenth century by ceasing to regularly decimate an abundant population. Expansion renewed after checks in population growth, ceased only in the seventeenth century by an increasing death rate caused probably by the introduction of new infectious diseases. On the other hand, historical demographers have emphasized that populations in this period
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