The 16th and the 17th century were times of population growth and increased economic activity in commerce, the crafts and industry. The population of England and Wales grew from about two million to 5,5 million inhabitants; the population of London expanded from 60,000 to 500,000 inhabitants. Urban expansion was partly due to the migration of the rural population. What used to be common land in the villages where the peasants’ cattle could graze, was enclosed by the rich landowners. The poor peasants who depended on the common land, in addition to the wages they earned by working for the lords, were no longer able to produce enough food to stay alive. Their hopes of finding better conditions in the cities were thwarted: the constant migration to the cities led to increasing urban poverty and social problems.
In the course of the 17th century wealthy and endeavouring citizens formed the rising middle class; the dividing line between gentry and prosperous citizens became blurred.