The Stuart Age
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The Stuart Age

England, 1603–1714

Barry Coward, Peter Gaunt

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eBook - ePub

The Stuart Age

England, 1603–1714

Barry Coward, Peter Gaunt

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About This Book

The Stuart Age provides an accessible introduction to England's century of civil war and revolution, including the causes of the English Civil War; the nature of the English Revolution; the aims and achievements of Oliver Cromwell; the continuation of religious passion in the politics of Restoration England; and the impact of the Glorious Revolution on Britain. The fifth edition has been thoroughly revised and updated by Peter Gaunt to reflect new work and changing trends in research on the Stuart age. It expands on key areas including the early Stuart economic, religious and social context; key military events and debates surrounding the English Civil War; colonial expansion, foreign policy and overseas wars; and significant developments in Scotland and Ireland. A new opening chapter provides an important overview of current historiographical trends in Stuart history, introducing readers to key recent work on the topic. The Stuart Age is a long-standing favourite of lecturers and students of early modern British history, and this new edition is essential reading for those studying Stuart Britain.

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Information

Publisher
Routledge
Year
2017
ISBN
9781351985413
Edition
5
Topic
Storia

Part 1
Early Stuart England, 1603–1640

Introduction

This book is concerned with political-constitutional, religious-ecclesiastical and social-economic developments in Stuart England. Although these are often treated separately, attempts have been made, wherever possible, to see interconnections between them. In some respects this has become easier than it once was. As will be seen later, social historians have become more concerned than they once were with putting their subject into a wide political context, following Patrick Collinson’s prescription to put ‘politics back in’ to social history. Making interconnections between the history of England and developments in the rest of the British Isles is also now more possible than it once was, given the vast explosion in interest in the ‘new British history’ in recent years, which grew out of the accession to the English and Irish thrones of a king who was also the ruler of the kingdom of Scotland.
However, research and writing on other areas of the Stuart age have not made making interconnections with other areas any easier. It is true that there are clear connections between economic and political developments in early Stuart England. The fortunes of England’s major industry, the manufacture of woollen cloth, cannot be explained solely by the impact on it of political changes. However, the ending of the long war with Spain in 1604 contributed to the temporary boom in cloth exports in the early years of the reign of James I, while the Cockayne Project of 1614–17, which was essentially a product of the political world of the Jacobean court, was a severe blow to the cloth industry and trade. Economic developments generally in the early seventeenth century make little sense without considering the impact of government intervention. The early Stuart State both indirectly, through its expenditure on armaments and dockyards, and directly, in its attempts to intervene in economic affairs, played a major role in influencing economic development, though not always in the direction it intended. Conversely, many aspects of early Stuart politics are inexplicable without a knowledge of economic developments. One major feature of economic life, the rise in prices, contributed both to the financial problems of James I and Charles I, which seriously weakened their political position, and to the creation of an expanding county electorate as inflation brought more people into the ranks of the forty shilling freeholders. One of the best examples in the early seventeenth century of the way economic and political developments combined is the case of industrial and commercial patents of monopoly issued by both early Stuart kings, which became a major source of political contention in every parliament from 1597 to 1640. These connections will be examined throughout this book. However, economic historians have not proved as adept as social historians at bringing their subject into the mainstream history of the Stuart age, and in this respect much work remains to be done.
Making connections between the history of England and the rest of the British Isles is also not without its problems. Throughout this book care has been taken not to segregate England from the historical development of the rest of the British Isles. But, as has been made clear in the ‘General introduction’ and in some of the later chapters of this book, the dangers of taking the ‘British’ interconnections too far have certainly not been ignored.
It is hoped that these and other connections between political, religious, economic, social and intellectual developments will become clear in the narrative sections of the book. The aims of the next three chapters are to analyse separately some of the major characteristics of the economy, society, Church and government of early Stuart England, and also to address the question of how serious were the strains and stresses that existed in the social, economic, ecclesiastical and constitutional structure of England in the early seventeenth century.

1
The economy of early Stuart England

The population and the economy1

For a long time historians have been divided about the state of the early Stuart economy. They can be grouped into two broad camps. Some reach optimistic conclusions, based on the assumption that the rising population of England and Wales from the 1520s to the 1650s presented the potential for economic growth. A growing population, it is assumed, could be the source of more and cheaper labour, as well as the basis of an expanding market. Conversely, others reach pessimistic conclusions, based on the assumption that the sustained rise in population could pose serious problems of economic adjustment, as agriculture struggled to increase its productivity to feed more people and the economy failed to expand sufficiently to employ all of them.
One of the keys to resolving these differences – or at least helping to understand and clarify them – is to explore the rapid rise in the population of England and Wales that had been under way since the early sixteenth century and how the economy responded to it. Following the publication in 1981 of the work of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure on parish register statistics, much is now known about short-term and long-term population trends in early modern England and the reasons for these trends.2 From the early sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth century, the population of England recovered from the decimating effects of the Black Death of 1348–9 and the long subsequent period of demographic attrition in the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
The Cambridge Group’s estimates of the population of England and Wales (millions)
1522–3 2.3
1541 2.774
1601 4.110
1656 5.281
This population growth did not take place at a uniform rate. Spurts of rapid expansion in the early 1550s, 1561–86 and 1601–56 were punctuated by periods of population decline (1556–61) and slower population growth (1586–1601). Indeed in some years (1587, 1591, 1592, 1597, 1623) burial figures in some parishes were as high as or higher than baptismal rates. As might be suspected, mortality crises were the principal governing factors behind these short-term population fluctuations, as sharp rises in burial rates were followed by rises in birth rates in subsequent years. This is a process called ‘demographic homeostasis’ by historical demographers. The work of the Cambridge Group shows that mortality crises were caused by harvest failure and famine as well as by diseases like bubonic plague. In Cumberland and Westmorland and parts of Durham and Yorkshire, the main cause of mortality crises between 1594 and 1597 was starvation following four successive bad harvests. In Lancashire in 1623, similar evidence of burials peaking during the winter months when the plague virus was inactive suggests that famine temporarily and dramatically reversed population expansion in the North West. Changes in death rates, too, are not surprisingly a major explanation for the long-term population expansion in the century-and-a-half before 1650, when bubonic plague outbreaks were less virulent and largely restricted to towns (unlike plague epidemics of the later Middle Ages).
More surprising, however, is the Cambridge Group’s conclusion that changes in fertility levels were more important than mortality factors in explaining the long-term rise in population in the period before 1650. In an age when illegitimacy rates were very low, changing fertility levels were largely controlled by the age at which women married and by the numbers of people who married. The Cambridge Group’s estimates show that both figures tended to move together and that both were significantly higher in the period before 1650 than after, indicating that the ensuing rise in the birth rate was a major cause of long-term population growth. This conclusion is supported by the Group’s gross reproduction rate figures, which show a fairly rapid rise in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, coinciding with the dramatic rise in the size of the national population.
How well did the English economy respond to the challenge of this sustained population rise? One of the difficulties in answering that question with any certainty is that a case can be made for both an ‘optimistic’ and a ‘pessimistic’ conclusion.

The optimistic case

Those who have put this case have pointed out the differences in the demographic structure of early modern England from modern Third World countries, which suffer from a youthful population, low average expectation of life at birth figures and the predominance of extended families. The Cambridge Group’s figures show that the percentage of people in the 0–14 age group was smaller (31.3 per cent) and that the average expectation of life at birth figure was higher (the upper 30s) than was once thought. This means that ‘the dependency burden’ – the percentage of the population who could not work at full productive capacity – was lighter than in many traditional societies, and did not act as a drag on the productive capacity of the early modern English economy. Nor did it suffer from the presence of large extended family households, in which ‘all the family’s resources go on supporting an army of relations, many of whom contribute nothing to production’.3 Instead in early modern England the norm was the nuclear family, consisting only of parents and unmarried children. When a son married he set up his own separate household. Since, as a result, households in this period were small (an average of four or five people), so too was the typical economic unit, the family farm or workshop, the family workforce being supplemented only by a few living-in apprentices, labourers or servants. Though small, the nuclear family is much more likely to produce more than it needs for its own subsistence. This means that many sectors of the economy were organized for production for the market, as they had been since at least the thirteenth century.
In addition to these arguments, the ‘optimists’ point to the fact that the early modern English economy was stronger than that of many other contemporary countries, including Scotland, Ireland and France. Contemporary glowing accounts of the English economy were not just written by blinkered, patriotic Englishmen. In England, wrote Paul Hentzner, a visitor from Brandenburg in 1598,
the soil is fruitful and abounds with cattle, which inclines the inhabitants rather to feeding than ploughing, so that near a third part of the land is left uncultivated for grazing. … There are many hills without one tree or any spring, which produce a very short and tender grass, and supply plenty of food to sheep, upon these wander numerous flocks extremely white, and whether from the temperature of the air or goodness of the earth, bearing softer and finer fleeces than any other country.4
The ‘optimists’ also bring forward the ways in which all sectors of the economy responded with some vigour to the challenge of the rise of population and demand for food. Historians have found enterprising farmers like Robert Loder of Harwell in Berkshire and Henry Best of Elmwsell in Yorkshire who had the entrepreneurial skills necessary to bring about changes in farming techniques to increase both food production and their own profits. There is little doubt that under the combined pressure of a rising population, the development of food markets and the example of the Low Countries, English farming made rapid strides forward before 1650 by adopting new crops and techniques, most notably new fodder crops that enabled more animals to be kept alive during the winter and so ensuring a continuing supply of fertilizers, and by extending the area under cultivation, most notably by the reclamation of large expanses of marshland in eastern England using the engineering skills of Dutchmen like Cornelius Vermuyden. The same story has been used regarding England’s only commercial manufacture, the woollen cloth industry. English cloth manufacturers were no less sensitive to market forces than English farmers, and in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries there was a remarkable, sustained effort by the English woollen textile industry to respond to changing fashions in European markets, and especially to demands from southern Europe for a new type of cloth. Manufacturers in the West Country, who were the most heavily committed to broadcloth manufacture, found it more difficult to adapt than others, though there were notable successes in this region. In Wiltshire and Somerset a small thriving industry was established, using fine Spanish wool to produce the so-called Spanish medley cloth associated with the enterprise of Benedict Webb, who was not slow to advertise his activities.5 At the same time, the development of the Somerset serge industry was also a response from within the old broadcloth-producing area to the changes in demand. Manufacturers elsewhere, especially in eastern England, had greater success in producing what contemporaries called ‘the new draperies’, varieties of lighter, more highly coloured and cheaper cloths than the old broadcloths, and produced from longer-staple, coarse wool. Their success must be attributed largely to the influx of Protestant refugees who settled in southern and eastern England after fleeing from the Spanish armies in the Low Countries in the last decades of the sixteenth century.
Optimistic assessments of the early Stuart domestic economy also highlight the availability of various by-employments, including spinning, weaving and the making of small metal items such as pins and nails, which might provide alternative sources of income to rural households suffering from the seasonal employment patterns and underemployment rife within agriculture; the presence of a vibrant sector of craftsmen and artisans, some directly but others only indirectly or distantly reliant upon agricultural products for their trade; and the modest expansion of some larger manufacturing processes, including iron smelting – using the water-powered blast furnace technique developed during the sixteenth century and focusing on new centres of production in the Forest of Dean, the West Midlands and South Yorkshire, English output of iron increased roughly five-fold between the mid-sixteenth and the mid-seventeenth century – and coal mining – using mainly shallow pits or open-cast works, output also grew steadily in this period, in part to power other manufacturing processes, such as glass-making and soap-boiling, but mainly to burn in domestic hearths and heat homes. Moreover, a modestly expanding urban sector – via huge inward migration the population of London roughly doubled between 1600 and 1650 to around 400,000, making it the biggest city in western Europe, though provincial towns, even established re...

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