History 367 Society and Ideas in Shakespeare’s England

Debate: was there an Agricultural Revolution 1500-1700?

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Debate: was there an Agricultural Revolution 1500-1700?

  • Did agricultural change (especially the dubiously legal enclosure by landlords of common fields) cause more harm (impoverishing smallholding farmers; driving them off the land, and to London) or good (improving the general efficiency of agriculture)?

    Agriculture 07

    • R. H. Tawney: enclosure and capitalist farming in general were highly destructive, destroying traditional rural life;

    • Eric Kerridge: improved efficiency ultimately benefited everyone.

    • Agricultural innovation and intellectual change: Foure Bookes of Husbandry by Conrad Heresbach; translated 1577.

    Agriculture 08

    • Gervase Markham (d. 1637).

    • Samuel Hartlib (c.1600-62): German-Polish immigrant into England; interested in all kinds of scientific experiment, especially ones with agricultural applications; at center of a circle of people with similar interests; connected to a similar Continental group centered on Marin Mersenne.

    • Royal Society.

    Markhams Farewell to Husbandry, fourth edition, 1638

    Industry and Commerce

    • Industry expanded, but there was no revolution; coal; cloth (crisis as result of Alderman Sir William Cockayne’s project 1614; New Draperies; tin; lead.

    • Commerce: large expansion especially in trans-Oceanic trade; establishment of companies to trade in, and colonize North America.

    • East India Company 1600.

    Portcullis Money, for use by the East India Company, 1600


    • Introduction of tea 1660s; coffee (by a Turk at Oxford) 1650s.

    • Coffeehouses spread from 1650s; they became centers of political debate and organization; different coffehouses supported different political viewpoints; they helped form public opinion.

    • By the end of the seventeenth century, England had overtaken the Dutch Republic as the world’s leading commercial and seagoing power.

    Pasqua Rosée, Sicilian born servant of an English Levant merchant, set up a coffee house in 1652 (Cornhill, London)

    Commerce and Finance

    • As commerce developed, so did financial institutions.

    • The Bank of England established 1694.

    • In Shakespeare’s time usury (charging interest on loans) was often criticized, and associated with Jews (cf. Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, c. 1596-7).

    • Jews were expelled from England for religious reasons in 1290.

    Finance, Economy, and Toleration.

    • 1656 Cromwell readmitted Jews, partly in the hope that their financial skills would benefit the economy; by then, usury was largely accepted (an Act of 1624 officially allowed it, at 8%).

    • 1700: the first English Jew (a financier) was knighted – by the religiously tolerant William III, a Dutchman; the Dutch were noted for tolerance and prosperity; a key argument for toleration was that it benefited trade.

    Social Change 1500-1700

    • The rise in population to the mid-1600s increased poverty for many, and sharpened social divisions; the wealthy prospered.

    • A key social distinction came to be between the respectable – who had enough to live comfortably – and the rest.

    • Though many were desperately poor in 1700, agricultural improvement, and commercial expansion were beginning to make the population as a whole more prosperous.

    The Divine Right of Kings 01

    • The Vicar of Bray (anon., 1734): satirical song, recording career of a fictional Vicar of Bray, who changed his views to fit with the regime in power; his only settled principle was:

    • that whatsoever King may reign, I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

    • In Charles II’s time, when intolerant High Church Tories ruled,

    • “Unto my flock, I daily preached, Kings are by God appointed, and damned are those that dare resist or touch the Lord’s anointed”.

    The Divine Right of Kings 02

    • Later, when the High Church Anglicans lost power to tolerant Whigs, and “William our Deliverer” (William III) took the crown, he instead preached that:

    • Passive Obedience is a joke, a jest is non-resistance”.

    • This is about the Divine Right of Kings, and its failure after 1689.

    Rubens, Apotheosis of James I (Whitehall; 1629-34)

    The Divine Right of Kings 03

    • In Psalms 105:15 the Lord says “Touch not mine anointed”. This was held to mean that we should not use violence against people appointed by God, such as Kings.

    • The doctrine of non-resistance is the claim that we may never actively (violently) resist kings (or other governments).

    • The doctrine of passive obedience is the principle that even if in some circumstances we cannot actively obey Kings (because what they order is immoral/ irreligious) we must meekly accept punishment (or perhaps flee) and not resist.

    The Divine Right of Kings and Sovereignty

    • After 1689, the Divine Right of Kings came to seem silly and superstitious; Tom Paine argued that it was as foolish to have a hereditary mathematician as a hereditary King

    • But in Shakespeare’s time it seemed logical and sensible.

    • A key claim of the theory was that in every state there must be one sovereign power – either a single person or an assembly.

    Sovereignty: absolute and indivisible

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