Tudor style house

Society and culture in Tudor Wales

Historian John Davies on society and culture in Tudor Wales.

In 1536 Wales had about 278,000 inhabitants. The number had risen to around 360,000 in 1620 and to perhaps 500,000 by 1750.

The chief cause of this rise is the intensification of rural settlement, the growth in trade aided by greater stability and an increasingly diverse nature of economic activity.

The raising of cattle and sheep and the processing of their products remain central to the economy, although lead-mining, coal-mining, iron-making and a wide range of crafts and professions offer expanding opportunities.

In the 16th century at least, population growth probably outpaced economic growth, lowering the standard of living of the mass of the population.

Inflation - a fourfold rise in prices between 1530 and 1640 - made the situation worse, as did the increasing landlessness caused by the estate-building activities of the gentry.

The abject poor probably constituted 30% of the population. They dwelt in one-roomed hovels lacking in windows and chimneys and were subject to the Statute of Labourers of 1563 which assumed that those without property were inherently unfree.

Fearing the instability they could cause, the Poor Law was passed in 1601; it authorised every parish to raise rates to maintain the poor, to apprentice orphan children and to punish 'sturdy beggars'.

About half the population was made up of the lesser farmers and smallholders. In favoured areas, for example the Vale of Glamorgan, a smallholder could be relatively prosperous, but in the famine years such as 1585-7, 1593-7 and 1620-23 many of them lived on the edge of destitution.

Members of the professions, merchants and the more substantial craftsmen and yeomen represented about 15% of the population. This was a class whose power would increase after the reign of the Tudors.

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