Contemporary Opinions

  • R. B. Outhwaite
Part of the Studies in Economic History book series


CONTEMPORARY discussion of the Tudor—Stuart inflation, like much recent analysis of the problem, was coloured by the behaviour of agricultural rather than industrial prices. Dearth, to men at that time, meant usually the high cost of provisions, and in analysing what they thought about dearth and its causes we run into a number of related problems, all of which stem from the highly unstable nature of agricultural product prices. It is often very difficult to discover whether they were referring to short-run oscillations, and especially to the violent upward fluctuations that were likely to result from a series of deficient harvests, or to the longer-run trend, to the general upward drift of prices from one generation to the next. The ambiguity is heightened by the fact that it was usually the short-run situation, a series of deficient harvests, that provoked comment about more general trends in price behaviour. Finally, although some observers were prepared to put forward different reasons to account for the trend as distinct from the fluctuations of prices, others were confused and were led into providing explanations of the trend which were really more suitable for explaining short-term fluctuations.


Price Rise Poor Harvest Precious Metal Content Economic History Review Contemporary Opinion 
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  1. 1.
    See, for example, ‘An Act Avoiding Pulling Down of Towns’, 1515 (7 Hen. VIII, c. 1); in A. E. Bland, P. A. Brown and R. H. Tawney, English Economic History: Select Documents (London, 1920), pp. 260–2.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Facets of this are discussed in M. W. Beresford, ‘Habitation Versus Improvement; The Debate on Enclosures by Agreement’, in F. J. Fisher (ed.), Essays in the Economic and Social History of Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge, 1961 ), pp. 40–69.Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    See especially ‘The defence of John Hales...’, printed in E. Lamond (ed.), A Discourse of the Common Weal of this Realm of England (Cambridge, 1893), p. lxiv. See also ‘Policies to reduce this realme of Englande unto a prosperus wealthe and estate’, 1549, printed in R. H. Tawney and E. Power, Tudor Economic Documents (3 vols., London, 1924), III, 319, and ‘The Decaye of England Only by the Great Multitude of Shepe’, 1550–3, ibid. III, 51–2. The most intelligent contemporary appraisal of the role of enclosure in the price rise is to be found in A Discourse of the Common Weal, written probably by Sir Thomas Smith in the summer of 1549 (see Mary Dewar, ‘The Authorship of the “Discourse of the Commonweal”,’ Economic History Review, 2nd series, XIX (1966), 388–400), especially pp. 15–20 in the Lamond edition.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Lamond, op. cit. p. 69; Tawney and Power, op. cit. II, 181; W. A. J. Archbold, ‘A Manuscript Treatise on the Coinage written by John Pryse in 1553’, English Historical Review, XIII (1898), 710.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    This is explained most clearly in G. Unwin’s essay, ‘The Merchant Adventurers’ Company in the Reign of Elizabeth’, in R. H. Tawney (ed.), Studies in Economic History: The Collected Papers of George Unwin (London, 1927 ), pp. 154–7.Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    See the proclamations of 1545 and 1586 (printed in Bland, Brown and Tawney, op. cit., pp. 367–9, 374–80). These accusations owed much to the prevalence of bad harvests — those of both years being amongst the poorest of the century — and not a little also to heavy government demands for soldiers’ provisions. On this last point see the interesting discussion of the ‘Book of Orders’ of 1587 in Brian Pearce, ‘Elizabethan Food Policy and the Armed Forces’, Economic History Review, XII (1942), 39–46;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. and C. S. L. Davies, ‘Provisions for Armies, 1509–50. A Study in the Effectiveness of Early Tudor Government’, ibid., 2nd series, XVII (1964), 234–48.Google Scholar
  8. 2.
    See John Hales in 1549 (Tawney and Power, op. cit. II, 219); Thomas Lever, 1550 (ibid. III, 49–50); William Harrison in the 1580s (F. J. Furnivall (ed.), Harrison’s Description of England (London, 1877), p. 300; and Tawney and Power, op. cit. III, 78.Google Scholar
  9. 1.
    Dewar, op. cit. pp. 398–9. Whether Bodin deserves the accolade of being the originator of the idea, we do not know. He claimed originality, but very brief statements of the idea had appeared in earlier writings, notably Noel du Fail’s Balivernes et contes d’Entrapel (1548)Google Scholar
  10. and Gomara’s Annals of the Emperor Charles V (1557). It is unlikely that Bodin knew the latter work, however, and he certainly deserves credit for being the first writer to propound the view in an expanded form.Google Scholar
  11. See A. E. Munroe, Monetary Theory before Adam Smith (1923; re-printed New York, 1966), p. 56;Google Scholar
  12. E. J. Hamilton, ‘American Treasure and Andalusian Prices, 1503–1660’, Journal of Economic and Business History, I (1928), 33.Google Scholar
  13. The best discussion of Bodin’s views, the spread of his ideas, etc., is the introduction to H. Hauser (ed.), La Response de Jean Bodin á M. de Malestroit,1568 (Paris, 1932), which prints Bodin’s original statement on this subject.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Economic History Society 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. B. Outhwaite
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LeicesterUK

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