Economic History Review: 2nd ser. XXXIX, I (1986), pp. 19-38
For decades medieval historians have placed population at the centre of they concerns, but it is only in recent years that their studies have begun to constitute a respectable branch of historical demography. From the scrutiny of oblique records which provide indications of such matters as settlement, the size of landholdings, land values, prices and wages, attention has increasingly turned towards sources which may be capable of throwing a more direct light on mortality, fertility and nuptiality. The ultimate benefits of such a shift of emphasis promise to be substantial. For although we are becoming ever more confident about the general direction and scale of movements in England’s population between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries, we know relatively little about how and why it behaved as it did.
So uncertain is our grasp of the mechanics of population change in the middle ages that a detailed explanation of the causes of the long rise in numbers before 1300, and of the demographic mechanisms whereby it was accomplished, has scarcely ever been attempted and the relative importance of mortality and fertility in the decline of the late medieval population seems set to remain a contentious matter for the some time to come.