The Economic History Review

The sixteenth‐century price rise: new evidence from Scotland, 1500–85

Volume 68 Issue 1
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Pages: 167-190Authors: Amy Blakeway
Published online: July 22, 2014DOI: 10.1111/1468-0289.12051

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This article contributes to the emerging belief among early modern economic historians that sixteenth-century inflation was primarily caused by monetary factors. The Scottish case study reveals a strong relationship between coinage debasement and rising prices, a contention strengthened by the fact that the Scottish experience of inflation was high in European terms, and, in particular, stands at a considerable distance from the English pattern. This study includes the first scholarly examination of prices during the 1540s, and reveals that substantial inflation first emerged during this hitherto neglected decade. Prices plateaued during the 1550s, and rose consistently from 1560 to 1585. Meanwhile real wages declined during the 1540s and from 1560 onwards. This article is methodologically innovative in constructing two baskets of commodities, designed to represent the elite experience, alongside a more traditional basket based on a working household. These reveal the divergent experiences of the price rise within Scotland: rising prices hit the poor harder than the rich due to the high cost of domestic agricultural goods in the subsistence basket and the deflationary impact of wages and luxury goods upon the overall elite basket.