Some Measures of the Price Rise
WHETHER the inflation experienced by the Tudors and early Stuarts was tantamount to a ‘price revolution’, the name given to it originally by historians who had yet to experience the startling price rises of the past fifty years,1 is largely a matter of one’s vantage point. It is true that from a mid-twentieth century position the inflationary experience of the Tudors was extremely mild, 2 but at its most rapid, in the middle decades of the sixteenth century, it aroused great concern, especially coming as it did after a century or more of relative price stability. It was also almost certainly more rapid and sustained than anything experienced in England during the early middle ages or the three centuries following the sixteenth. ‘The most marked feature,’ said Professor Phelps Brown and Miss Hopkins of a graph depicting the movements of certain prices over seven centuries of our history, ‘is the extent, and persistence, of the Tudor inflation: what carried it on so far, and why did it end when it did?’ 3 To these questions we might add others. What caused it? When did it begin?
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- 1.The phrase appeared first in Georg Wiebe, Zur Geschichte der Preisrevolution des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts (Leipzig, 1895). Wiebe was referring, of course, not solely to England and its inflation but to the price rise in western Europe generally.Google Scholar
- 2.This is the view taken by J. D. Gould, ‘The Price Revolution Reconsidered’, Economic History Review, 2nd series, XVII (1964–5), 250.Google Scholar
- 2.Especially the analysis of Mr. Y. S. Brenner. Columns 1 and 2 of Table I are drawn from the table in E. H. Phelps Brown and Sheila V. Hopkins, Wage-rates and Prices: Evidence for Population Pressure in the Sixteenth Century,’ Economica, XXIV (1957), 306. Column 1 is an index of the prices of certain grainstuffs, malt, butter and cheese, and meat and fish, weighted in the proportions 20%, 22½%, 12½% and 25%; column 2 is an unweighted index of a few industrial products: charcoal, candles, oil, some canvas, shirting, woollen cloth, some building materials, and lead and solder. Column 1 is weighted to conform with the supposed outlay of a southern building worker. That it does not completely misrepresent the upward climb of agricultural prices is suggested by comparisons with the index numbers of ‘an average of all agricultural products’ compiled by P. J. Bowden in his Statistical Appendix to Joan Thirsk (ed.) The Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol. IV, 1500–1640 (Cambridge, 1967), p. 862. (Cited hereafter as AHEW.)Google Scholar
- 1.This is the ‘basket of consumables’ constructed by E. H. Phelps Brown and Sheila V. Hopkins in their ‘Seven Centuries of the Prices of Consumables, compared with Builders’ Wage-rates,’ Economica, XXIII (1956), 296–314. The whole index is weighted to conform with the supposed outlay of a southern building worker. It combines all the items represented in Table I, col. 1, above, as there weighted, with some of the items which figure in col. 2, industrial products (textiles) being given a weight of 12½%, and fuel and light 7½%.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 1.Y. S. Brenner, ‘The Inflation of Prices in Early Sixteenth Century England’, Economic History Review, 2nd series, XIV (1961–2), 227.Google Scholar