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Nick Mayhew has made key contributions to fields as diverse as medieval European monetary history, numismatics, financial history, price and wage history, and macroeconomic history. These essays, in his honour, demonstrate the analytical power and chronological reach of the novel interdisciplinary approach he has nurtured in himself and others.




Nick Mayhew’s most important contribution to monetary history has been to apply the Fisher Equation to the medieval economy to further the debate about the roles of population and monetary growth in driving changes in prices and wages. In four annual presidential addresses to the Royal Numismatic Society in 2010–13, Mayhew explored the factors that underlie the Fisher Equation: money supply and credit, wages and national income, and prices, thereby suggesting the title of this volume.

Martin Allen, D’Maris Coffman

1. Coin Finds and the English Money Supply, c. 973–1544

One of Nicholas Mayhew’s greatest achievements has been his use of the various formulations of the Fisher Equation to investigate the connections between money supply, prices, wages and national income in England between the Domesday Book survey in 1086 and 1750 (Mayhew, 1995a; 1995b; 2004; 2013b, pp. 12–14, 35–8). In an important paper published in 1995 he analysed single finds of coins (as distinct from coin hoards), comparing them with estimates of the size of currency and GDP (Mayhew, 1995a, pp. 62–5). Mayhew brought together figures from Stuart Rigold’s pioneering study of finds from a hundred sites in England and Wales (Rigold, 1977), Michael Metcalf’s data for coins of c. 973–c. 1090 from various sources (Metcalf, 1980, pp. 22–31, 36–47), finds of c. 973–1180 published in the British Numismatic Journal in the 1980s, and coins of 1180–1544 Mayhew had himself recorded at the Ashmolean Museum. In 1997 Christopher Dyer analysed new data for finds of 1180–1544 from excavations of rural settlement sites and from the Warwickshire Sites and Monuments Record (Dyer, 1997, pp. 31–40), and Mayhew has revisited the subject in the light of finds recorded at the Ashmolean between 1992 and 2000 (Mayhew, 2002, pp. 18–21).

Martin Allen

2. National Income in Domesday England

In 1086, for the first time in recorded history, it is possible to reconstruct and provide a benchmark estimate of the national income of an economy from manorial data. A record following the watershed in English history that accompanied the successful invasion of William the Conqueror, the Domesday Book provides a broad set of information relating to England in 1086. No survey on the scale of Domesday was to be conducted for many centuries following its completion. The next attempt to provide a national survey of England, the 1279 Hundred Rolls, was abandoned before completion and only a proportion of the original returns have survived (Kosminsky, 1956; Raban. 2004).

James T. Walker

3. Modelling the Medieval Economy: Money, Prices and Income in England, 1263–1520

This chapter presents a simple econometric model of the medieval English economy, focusing on the relationship between money, prices and incomes. The model is estimated using annual data for the period 1263–1520 obtained from various sources. The start date is determined by the availability of continuous runs of annual data, while the finishing date immediately precedes the take-off of Tudor price inflation. Accounts from the ecclesiastical and monastic estates have survived in great numbers for this period, thereby ensuring that crop yields can be estimated from a regionally representative set of estates.

Mark Casson, Catherine Casson

4. Prices from the Durham Obedientiary Account Rolls, 1278–1367

Durham Cathedral archives are famously rich in evidence. They include a large number of manorial accounts as well as those of the obedientiaries and cells on which this study relies. The priory was the largest household north of York, and its records enable us to study the economic history of the north-east, to understand the experience of the region in its own right and to see how it fared by comparison with elsewhere. Although there are some valuable sales figures, notably for wool and hides, most of the prices in these records are purchases for the monastic household. Food and drink feature prominently (for a later period this represented half the priory’s expenditure: see Threlfall-Holmes, 2005a, p. 34), but many other supplies were needed too. These included draught animals for the estates; varieties of cloth for the monks and for liveries as well as linen and canvas for a range of domestic uses; materials needed for building, repairs and making implements; and fuel. Prices for a range of commodities are presented in the tables below. The purchases show that the cathedral priory was aristocratic in its tastes and patterns of consumption; and, while it relied on its own estates and its tenants for some goods, many of its requirements were met by its access to commercial markets.

Elizabeth Gemmill

5. Credit, Crisis and the Money Supply, c. 1280–1330

In an unpublished paper, written some 40 years ago, Nicholas Mayhew offered a wide-ranging survey of the money supply and the importance of the role of money within medieval England. (I am very grateful to Nicholas Mayhew for permission to cite his unpublished work. There is some shorter discussion of the same material in Mayhew, 2000, pp. 34–5; the same paper is also discussed by Briggs in this volume.) In addressing more removed issues, including gold and silver supply from the Middle East, Mayhew reminded his audience of the degree of potential integration of even the smallest rural communities with international exchange in the high and late Middle Ages. Importantly, from my point of view at the time and subsequently, the paper also included some summary findings from an examination of manorial courts for the Dorsetshire manor of Gussage All Saints. Mayhew’s discussion of debt litigation at Gussage All Saints offered a number of valuable observations, most of which had not previously been considered by historians of the medieval village. While it was known, and had already been subjected to comment and, in one case, detailed study, that medieval villagers used credit extensively, Mayhew offered some perceptive comment on the variety of ways in which debt might be recorded in the manor court. His own purpose was to attempt to show the significance of money rather than money’s worth or goods in kind in credit agreements.

Phillipp Schofield

6. Finance on the Frontier: Money and Credit in Northumberland, Westmorland and Cumberland, in the Later Middle Ages

Nicholas Mayhew’s work has made a major contribution to the debates about the expansion and decline of the medieval English economy by claiming for money the significance which for too long was denied it. In doing this he has had to counter some of M.M. Postan’s arguments which his followers still repeat today (Mayhew, 2013b, pp. 6–20). One of them is that if money was such an important influence on prices, wages and credit then ‘fluctuations in the money supply should have resulted in broad uniformity rather than diversity’; wages should have shown ‘broadly similar patterns of rise and decline’, and credit, too, ‘should have dried up everywhere in line with the decline in the money supply’ (Hatcher and Bailey, 2001, p. 61; Langdon, 2010, p. 123; Bolton, 2012, p. 307). These arguments interpret the role of money in the economy in terms only of major changes in its volume, and ignore where, and by what means, it was distributed. They assume that when imports of bullion increased significantly, coin must have flowed like a tidal wave from the mints to the provinces, uniformly affecting prices, wages and credit in every region and locality. If the evidence shows persistent regional and local diversity, this is seen as proof that the money supply cannot have been a major agent of economic change.

Pamela Nightingale

7. Money and Rural Credit in the Later Middle Ages Revisited

In a series of influential papers Nick Mayhew has argued consistently and persuasively for the importance of money in the medieval English economy. He has emphasized, in particular, that the economy was monetized — by which he means that a significant share of all payments were made in coin — from a comparatively early date. The Domesday Book, Mayhew has stressed, shows considerable evidence of rents and taxes being paid in coin in 1086 (Mayhew, 2004; 2007). This process of monetization increased further over the succeeding two centuries and more, and involved the peasantry and the rural economy in general as well as the towns in the extensive use of coin in a wide variety of transactions (Mayhew, 1995a; 2002). Another of Mayhew’s key contributions has been to emphasize the importance of monetary influences on prices, and to argue that in this regard medieval and early modern prices behaved in essentially the same fashion as prices today (Mayhew, 2013b).

Chris Briggs

8. The Morality of Money in Late Medieval England

It is well known that late medieval England was a society that was increasingly market-oriented, particularly from the twelfth century onwards, and that its peasantry and townspeople were well acquainted with coinage and credit (Mayhew, 2004; Briggs, 2009). The peasantry clearly understood market mechanisms and the volume of currency per capita was increasing rapidly, probably allowing the majority of transactions to be conducted in money rather than in kind (Mayhew, 1987, pp. 125–6; M. Allen, 2001). Indeed, it is a commonplace of the scholarship on the medieval English economy that the thirteenth century saw peasants increasingly use the burgeoning market network not only to acquire goods or to feed themselves, particularly if landless or smallholders, but also to obtain cash in order to meet their fiscal obligations (Britnell, 1996). Value was increasingly determined in monetary terms by the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as is evident if one looks at any manorial documentation. Although Marc Bloch rightly provided a note of caution as to whether all the mentions of monetary value in the documents necessarily meant that the price or due was paid in a form of specie (Bloch, 1967, pp. 236–7; Briggs, this volume), money was nevertheless probably used for convenience in a great many local, petty market transactions, particularly between strangers or if your ‘credit’ was poor.

James Davis

9. Labour Turnover and Wage Rates on the Demesnes of Durham Priory, 1370–1410

The study of employment in medieval agriculture tends to operate with questions concerning numbers employed, wage levels and, on occasion, labour productivity, rather than the work experience of the labour force. This is for the simple reason that most manorial accounts do not sufficiently distinguish between individual employees. Usually accounts merely report how many farm workers were hired in each category and what their total remuneration amounted to. It is impossible from such data to discuss continuity of employment, length of service, levels of individual remuneration, or even the gender of employees. Piece-rate workers are similarly underspecified. The manorial accounts to be discussed here have several distinct points of interest, but the one of present concern is that they frequently include the names of those farm servants, the famuli, who were employed and paid for a year or half year rather than casually at daily or piece rates (for famuli, see in particular Postan 1954; Farmer 1996; Farmer (pp. 228–9) comments on the restrictions imposed by the absence of names in most manorial accounts). This is not a lot to work on, but it allows an examination of some aspects of their work experience not otherwise recoverable.1

Richard Britnell

10. A Golden Age Rediscovered: Labourers’ Wages in the Fifteenth Century

The ‘golden age of the English labourer’ in the fifteenth century is one of those frequently quoted phrases which offers a clear signpost in a famously murky period in economic history. Many of the apparently helpful generalizations and slogans of earlier generations such as ‘the rise of the money economy’ or ‘the rise of the middle class’ have been abandoned by historians as inadequate and misleading. The ‘golden age of the labourer’, however, has survived as a beacon through 130 years of writing about economic history, and the use of the phrase has been extended to the ‘golden age of the peasantry’ and the ‘golden age of women’, referring to the same period. It has become such a commonplace and cliché that it has been applied ironically as the ‘golden age of the bacteria’. The purpose of this essay is to re-examine the idea, and to decide if it has any validity for our understanding of the late medieval economy and especially of the prices and wages which have been analysed by Nick Mayhew. The essay will begin with a review of the significance of the idea from the perspective of historians of population, environment, society, politics, economy and money. Then the appropriateness and implications of the concept will be examined using some empirical evidence.

Christopher Dyer

11. Corn Prices, Corn Models and Corn Rents: What Can We Learn from the English Corn Returns?

The Fisher Equation was not the first attempt to explore the interaction of money, wages and prices in economic life. The classical political economists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were also interested in elaborating these relationships, though they framed their investigations in different terms. Although Smith, Malthus, Ricardo and Mill meant various things when they employed a ‘corn model’ of the macro-economy, they were nevertheless interested in understanding primitive accumulation and in characterizing the nature of rents. Their development of the notion of the ‘corn-price’ of labour was not arbitrary, but rather a reflection of their awareness of the fluctuating value of silver coinage, the reality that food costs were a large percentage of household budgets and the most immediate constraint to population growth, and the fact that they had access to long-term data series that allowed them to observe the volatility of wheat prices from the previous 700 years (Fleetwood, 1707; Smith, 1766). In the late seventeenth century, the regular collection of the prices of the leading ‘corns’ (which in the British Isles meant any kind of grain, but usually wheat, barley, oats, rye, peas and beans) became formalized in law.

D’Maris Coffman, David Ormrod

12. London’s Market for Bullion and Specie in the Eighteenth Century: The Roles of the London Mint and the Bank of England in the Stabilization of Prices

A public market for bullion and foreign coins flourished in London for most of the eighteenth century. Prices were published by Houghton (1969) and Freke,1 but Castaing’s Course of the Exchange provides a remarkable record over an extended period.2 Professor Mayhew encouraged us to study these prices when he was Director of the Winton Institute for Monetary History at the Ashmolean Museum. It is therefore a great pleasure to report some of the results of this project in this volume.

Anthony C. Hotson, Terence C. Mills

13. Monetary Trends in the UK since 1870

Nick Mayhew is an eminent scholar of British currency, and has provided much encouragement to others working in this area. This was shown by his effective leadership of the Winton Monetary Institute. His Sterling: The History of a Currency (2000) provides an admirably succinct account of British monetary history from the Norman Conquest to the present day. This chapter, which is a tribute to his work, reviews British monetary history since 1870. It draws on the Bank of England’s Macroeconomic Data Set. The data has been used to examine British experience with cyclical fluctuations, via the Bank of England (Hills et al., 2010). In this chapter the same sources are used to present British monetary data, using a basic theoretical framework.

Nicholas Dimsdale


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