The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

By Godfrey Davies | Go to book overview

XI
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC HISTORY

IN certain respects, to attempt to write a social and economic history of England under the early Stuarts is like making bricks without straw. Our knowledge of many fundamental facts is imperfect, and of some it is likely to remain so. There are additional difficulties due to the failure of economic periods to coincide with political.

A serious defect in our knowledge is the lack of any satisfactory data about population. It is not known how many people were living in England in the reign of James I, or how they were distributed between the north and the south or between town and country. Yet it may be assumed that there were between 4,000,000 and 4,500,000 inhabitants and that a large majority lived in the country, in parishes with only a few hundred inhabitants.1 It is likely that a large proportion, perhaps as many as six-sevenths, of the people of England lived south of the Humber, and that the eastern half of the country was more densely populated than the western (with the exception of the clothing areas in Wiltshire, Somerset, and Gloucestershire). Similarly, although England has, with trifling exceptions, remained constant in size and therefore contained about 32,005,000 acres in 1603 as at present, it is not known how many of those acres were cultivated. This has an important bearing upon such a question as the extent of inclosures. A great scholar2 has calculated what proportion of the total area was inclosed, but that information, though valuable, does not indicate what proportion of the land under cultivation was affected.

The year 1603 is not an outstanding date in economic history, except that probably the woollen industry had by then almost reached the peak of its prosperity and London had attained a supremacy over all other towns and ports greater than before or since. Even in 1603, however, there were signs that the

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1
If the population be taken as 4,500,000 and the number of parishes as 10,000, the average would be 450 people per parish. As the urban parishes were more thickly populated than this, the country parish probably did not average more than 300 people.
2
E. F. Gay. See below, p. 279.

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