The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Petty, William (1623–1687)

  • Alessandro Roncaglia
Reference work entry


Sir William Petty was born on 26 May 1623 in the village of Romsey, Hampshire, and died on 26 December 1687 in London. His life was hectic: son of a clothier, he was a cabin boy on a merchant ship at 13, admitted to the Jesuit college in Caen (France) at 14; after serving in the Royal Navy he sought refuge in the Netherlands (1643) and Paris (1645), where he studied medicine and (with Hobbes) anatomy. He returned to Romsey in 1646 to revive his father’s business; became a doctor of medicine in Oxford University in 1648, and, after an impressive academic career, Professor of Anatomy in 1650, but moved immediately – in 1651 – to the Chair of Music at Gresham College, London. He was also appointed chief medical officer to the English army in Ireland in 1651, and was responsible in 1655–8 for the topographical survey of Irish lands destined for English soldiers, from which he himself emerged with a large landed estate. From then until his death, he was engaged in the management of his estate and in endless litigation over titles of property and taxes, constantly travelling between England and Ireland. Petty also managed to participate, in 1660–2, in the founding of the Royal Society (in full: the Royal Society for the Improving of Natural Knowledge) and in furthering its activities. He married Elizabeth Waller in 1667, and had five children by her and at least one illegitimate child.


Cantillon, R. Classical value theory Demography Economic statistics Expenditure tax Fiscal pressure Inflation tax Just price Labour theory of value Market price Marx, K. H. Maximum wages Money Natural price Optimal taxation Petty, W. Political anatomy Political arithmetic Quesnay, F. Rent Subsistence wage Surplus Velocity of circulation Wealth 

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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alessandro Roncaglia
    • 1
  1. 1.