After the rapid increase in population in the Tudor century, the number of births began to fall in the Stuart age. In 1600 Britain and Ireland had a total population of 6 million. Although it increased to 7.7 million by 1650, the rate then started to fall. No one is quite sure why the population either rose so rapidly in the Tudor age, or steadied during the seventeenth century.
One reason for the smaller number of births was that people married later than anywhere else in Europe. Most people married in their mid twenties, andby the end of the century the average age of first marriages was even older, at twenty-seven. This, of course, meant that women had fewer rabies. Some women tried to control the size of their families by breast-feeding babies for as long as possible. It also seems that more men remained unmarried than before. But the pattern of regulation growth and human behaviour remains railing. A study of south Wales, for example, shows that one in three of all heads of gentry families remained unmarried at the end of the seventeenth century. A century earlier, hardly any heads of gentry families in the area had remained unmarried. There is uncertainty as to why this should have been.
By the end of the sixteenth century there were already signs that the authority of the husband was increasing. This resulted from the weakening of wider family ties. Furthermore, just as the power of the monarch became more absolute during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, so also id that of the husband and father. But while the rower of the monarchy was brought under control, the authority of the head of the family continued to grow.
This power partly resulted from the increasing authority of the Church following the Reformation. The Protestants believed that personal faith was important, and put extra responsibility on the head of the family for its spiritual welfare. The father always led daily family prayers and Bible reading. In some ways he had taken the place of the priest. As a result, his wife and children belonged to him, mind, body and soul. Absolute obedience was expected. Disobedience was considered an act against God as well as the head of the house.
One result of this increase in the father's authority was that from the early seventeenth century children were frequently beaten to break their "sinful" will. The child who was not beaten was unusual. William Penn, the Quaker who founded the colony of Pennsylvania in north America, advised parents to "love them [their children] with wisdom, correct them with affection, never strike in passion, and suit the corrections to their ages as well as their fault." It is unlikely his advice was accepted except among the Quaker sect, which rejected all violence. Another result was the loss of legal rights by women over whatever property they had brought into a marriage.
However, the Protestant religion also gave new importance to the individual, especially in Presbyterian Scotland. Many Scottish women were not afraid to stand up to both their husbands and the government on matters of personal belief. In fact many of those who chose to die for their beliefs during Scotland's "killing times" were women. Thus, self-confidence was almost certainly a result of greater education and religious democracy in Scotland at this time.
The eighteenth century (three lectures)
Lecture sixteen. The political world.
Politics and finance. Wilkes and liberty. Radicalism and the loss of the American colonies. Ireland. Scotland.
Well before the end of the eighteenth century Britain was as powerful as France. This resulted from the growth of its industries and from the wealth of its large new trading empire, part of which had been captured from the French. Britain now had the strongest navy in the world; the navy controlled Britain's own trade routes and endangered those of its enemies. It was the deliberate policy of the government to create this trading empire, and to protect it with a strong navy. This was made possible by the way in which government had developed during the eighteenth century.
For the first time, it was the king's ministers who were the real policy and decision-makers. Power now belonged to the groups from which the ministers came, and their supporters in Parliament. These ministers ruled over a country which had become wealthy through trade. This wealth, or "capital", made possible both an agricultural and an industrial revolution which made Britain the most advanced economy in the world.
However, there was an enormous price to pay, because while a few people became richer, many others lost their land, their homes and their way of life. Families were driven off the land in another period of enclosures. They became the working "proletariat" of the cities that made Britain's trade and industrial empire of the nineteenth century possible. The invention of machinery destroyed the old "cottage industries" and created factories. The development of industry led to the sudden growth of cities like Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool and other centres in the north Midlands.
None of this could have happened without great danger to the established order. In France the misery of the poor and the power of the trading classes led to revolution in 1789. The British government was afraid of dangerous revolutionary"' ideas spreading from France to the discontented in Britain. In fact, Britain ended the century fighting against the great French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, and eventually defeating him. In this way, perhaps, many who might have been discontented were more concerned with the defeat of Napoleon. Revolution was still a possibility, but Britain was saved partly by the high level of local control of the ruling class in the countryside and partly by Methodism, a new religious movement which offered hope and self-respect to the new proletariat. Methodism was careful to deal only with heavenly matters. It did not question political or social injustices on earth.