The particular importance of the period was that it witnessed a new emphasis on religious division, one that created serious problems at home and abroad, and that there was a related stress on relations between the parts of the British Isles. It is also significant in the long term that England developed trans-oceanic interests and ambitions, not least in the New World. At the same time, there were important continuities, including the dynastic need for heirs, which, in the sixteenth century, was a cause of religious strife focused on the new disruption presented by the break with the Papacy and the Protestant Reformation. First, however, it is appropriate to turn to pressures on society and the condition of the people. The central fact affecting the lot of the British in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was that there were more of them. The population of Wales, for example, rose from about 226,000 in the 1540s to about 342,000 in 1670; that of Scotland from about 500,000 in the fourteenth century to about one million by 1650. The biggest increase was in England – the population more than doubled from under 2.5 million in 1500 to about 5 million by 1651, thus increasing England’s strength within the British Isles.
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