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The English Inflation of 1180-1220

The English Inflation of 1180-1220

By P.D.A. Harvey

Past and Present, no. 61 (1973)

Introduction: Historians have for long been aware of the rise in prices that occurred in thirteenth-century England. In 1908 Sir James Ramsay gave examples to show that “prices were rising steadily and continuously” from 1200 to the death of Henry III. In 1914 S. K. Mitchell, citing Ramsay, considered that “a rise in prices was going on, probably slowly, from about 1190 to 1250″. N. S. B. Gras in 1915, writing particularly of the price of corn, discussed the general increases that he found throughout the century for all agricultural commodities and suggested that they were caused by an “increase in the volume of trade due in part to a growing foreign demand and more especially to the growth of the town population, a subject bound up with the evolution of the local market”. Three years later Gras also commented on the increase in the price of wine between the reigns of Henry II and Edward I. But it was not until the work of the future Lord Beveridge in 1927, A. L. Poole in 1940 and Dr. D. L. Farmer in 1956-8 that the chronology and scale of these price rises were defined with real precision. Their tables, drawn from the royal Pipe Rolls and from the estate accounts of the bishops of Winchester, show that the prices of corn, livestock and the few other goods for which we have evidence doubled or trebled between 1180 and 1220; they continued to rise slightly until about 1260 but then levelled off, just at the date when manorial accounts start to provide real profusion of evidence on prices, evidence that had been tabulated and analysed by Thorold Rogers as long ago as 1866.

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