BOOK greater proportion than the demand, that metal v *• , would gradually become cheaper and cheaper; or, in other words, the average money price of corn would, in spite of all improvements, gradually become dearer and dearer.

But if, on the other hand, the supply of the metal should increase nearly in the fame proportion as the demand* it would continue to purchase or exchange for nearly the same quantity of corn, and the average money price of corn would, in spite of all improvements, continue very nearly the fame.

These three seem to exhaust all the possible combinations of events which can happen in the progress of improvement; and during the course of the four centuries preceding the present, if we may judge by what has happened both in France and Great Britain, each of those three different combinations seem to have taken place in the European market, and nearly in the same order too in which I have here set them down.

Digression concerning the Variations in the Value of Silver during the Course of the Four lajl Centuries.


In 1350, and for some time before, the average price of the quarter of wheat in England seems not to have been estimated lower than four ounces of stiver, Tower-weight, equal to about twenty slullings of our present money. From I . this this price it seems to have fallen gradually to c H A P. two ounces of silver, equal to about ten millings ^ . of our present money, the price at which we find it estimated in the beginning of the sixteenth century, and at which it seems to have continued to be estimated till about 1570.

In i35o,being the 25th of Edward III.,was enacted what is called, The Statute of Labourers. In the preamble it complains much of the info, lence of servants, who endeavoured to raise their wages upon their masters. It therefore ordains, that all servants and labourers should for the future be contented with the fame wages and liveries (liveries in those times signisied, not only cloaths, but provisions) which they had been accustomed to receive in the 20th year of the King, and the four preceding years; that upon this account their livery wheat should no-where be estimated higher than ten-pence a bushel, and that it should always be in the option of the master to deliver them either the wheat or the money. Ten-pence a bushel, therefore, had, in the 25th of Edward III., been reckoned a very moderate price of wheat, since it required a particular statute to oblige servants to accept of it in exchange for their usual livery of provisions; and it had been reckoned a reasonable price ten years before that, or in the 16th year of the King, the term to which the statute refers. But in the 16th year of Edward III., ten-pence contained about half an ounce of silver, Tower-weight, and was nearly equal to half a crown of our present money. Four ounces of silver, Tower-weight, - T 3 therefore, BOOK therefore, equal to six shillings and eight-pence w _*'_ , of the money of those times, and to near twenty shillings of that of the present, must have been reckoned a moderate price for the quarter of eight bushels.

This statute is surely a better evidence of what was reckoned in those times a moderate price of grain, than the prices of some particular years which have generally been recorded by historians and other writers on account of their extraordinary dearness or cheapness, and from which, therefore, it is difficult to form any judgment concerning what may have been the ordinary price. There are, besides, other reasons for believing that in the beginning of the fourteenth century, and for some time before, the common price of wheat was not less than four ounces of stiver the quarter, and that of ©ther grain in proportion.

In 1309, Ralph de Born, Prior of St. Augustine's, Canterbury, gave a feast upon his installstion-day, of which William Thorn has preserved, not only-the bill of fare, but the prices of many particulars. In that feast were consumed, 1st, Fifty-three quarters of wheat, which cost nineteen pounds, or seven shillings and two-pence a quarter, equal to about one-and-twenty shillings and six-pence of our present money; sdly, Fifty-eight quarters of malt, which cost seventeen pounds ten shillings, or six shillings a quarter, equal to about eighteen shillings of our present money; 3dly, Twenty quarters of oars, which cost four pounds, or four shillings a quarter, ter, equal to about twelve (hillings of our present Char money. The prices of malt and oats seem here t Xl' , to be higher than their ordinary proportion to the price of wheat.

These prices are not recorded on account of their extraordinary dearness or cheapness, but are mentioned accidentally as the prices actually paid for large quantities of grain consumed at a feast which was famous for its magnisicence.

In 126a, being the 51st of Henry III, was revived an ancient statute called, The AJjize of Bread and Ale, which, the King fays in the preamble, had been made in the times of his progenitors, sometime kings of England. It is probably, therefore, as old at least as the time of his grandfather Henry II., and may have been as old as the conquest. It regulates the price of bread according as the prices of wheat may happen to be, from one shilling to twenty millings the quarter of the money of those times. But statutes of this kind are generally presumed to provide with equal care for all deviations from the middle price, for those below it as well as for those above it. Ten shillings, therefore, containing six ounces of silver, Tower-weight, and equal to about thirty shillings of our present money, must, upon this supposition, have been reckoned the middle price of the quarter of .wheat when this statute was sirst enacted, and must have continued to be so in the 51st of Henry III. We cannot therefore be very wrong in supposing that the middle price was not lei's than one-third of the highest price at which this

T 4 statute

BOOK statute regulates the price of bread, or than six .*'. shillings and eight-pence of the money of those times, containing four ounces of silver, Towerweight.

From these different facts, therefore, we seem to have some reason to conclude, that about the middle of the fourteenth century, and for a considerable time before, the average or ordinary price of the quarter of wheat was not supposed to be less than four ounces of silver, Tower-weight.

From about the middle of the fourteenth to the beginning of the sixteenth century, what was reckoned the reasonable and moderate, that is, the ordinary or average price of wheat, seems to have funk gradually to about one-half of this price; so as at last to have fallen to about two ounces of silver, Tower-weight, equal to about ten shillings of our present money. It continued to be estimated at this price till about 1570.

In the houshold book of Henry, the sifth Earl of Northumberland, drawn up in 1512, there are two different estimations of wheat. In one of them it is computed at six shillings and eightpence the quarter, in the other at sive shillings and eight-pence only. In 1512, six shillings and eight-pence contained only two ounces of silver, Tower-weight, and were equal to about ten shillings of our present money.

From the 25th of Edward III. to the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth, during the space of more than two hundred years, six shillings ami eight-pence, it appears from several different statutes, had continued to be considered as what

« ForrigeFortsett »