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Peasant Revolts
Peasants had long fought against attempts by landlords to become wealthier at the expense of peasants’ rights. In the late Middle Ages, peasants revolted in France and England when landlords tried to reimpose conditions that existed before the Great Plague had devastated the population. The landed nobility ultimately put down the revolts revealing the limit of what the peasants could achieve.
More than a century later in 1525, a much larger revolt occurred in the Holy Roman Empire. Serfs, influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther, revolted to gain greater economic and social freedom. Artisans and craftspeople joined the revolt. The forces of the nobility crushed the revolt, massacring thousands.
Commerce and the Growth of Cities
As commercial capitalism grew in the 16th and 17th centuries, the population began to shift slowly from rural to urban areas. In 1500, less than 6 percent of the population lived in cities of 10,000 people or more. By 1650, more than 8 percent made their homes in large cities.
Some peasants took advantage of their increased mobility and moved to towns to find work. Artisans, merchants, and professionals had regularly been based in towns, and their numbers continued to grow. Wealthy nobles also began to establish homes in growing cities, especially the urban financial centers. Such changes placed stress on the traditional political and social structures of cities.
Population and Prices
In the mid-16th century, Europe’s population finally reached levels that had existed before the Great Plague that began in 1347. Population estimates increased from around 60 million people in 1500 to about 80 million in 1600.
The Dutch, English, and French experienced the most growth. Much of the growth occurred in cities, which grew to unprecedented sizes for post-classical European cities. In 1500, only the largest cities in Europe—including Paris, Constantinople, and four Italian cities—had populations of more than 100,000. By 1600, Naples was up to 300,000, and more Italian cities, including Rome, had reached 100,000. Paris was the largest city, with a population of 500,000.
As populations grew, prices increased unevenly. Prices of agricultural commodities, such as wheat, rose more rapidly than workers’ wages. larger populations meant a greater demand for food, which led to higher food prices. However, the greater number of workers meant competition for jobs, so wages stayed low. The resulting difference between wages and the prices of food and other necessities reduced the standard of living for wage earners, including agricultural laborers and urban salaried workers. Also, rulers increased taxes to build up their military forces.

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