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Wealth in C17th England

 

Copyright © Julian Tilbury, 1998

The following table was drawn up by Gregory King in the late C17th. King was one of the most important figures in the devolopment of the science of statistics. In this case he also seems to have started the habit of fudging the statistics for political ends. He underestimated the numbers of families in his wealthier categories, and grossly underestimated the incomes of those above the poverty line, probably because he did not believe England could afford to be involved in the European wars of the 1690s.

The wages of labourers were at their lowest level for three centuries at the end of the C16th. They rose during the C17th, especially in the three generations after the Civil War. King’s figures may therefore be a better estimate of wealth during the Civil War than of 1688.

The table shows the average family income to be just over £32 per year. Only 25% of the population have a family income over £50.00 per year, 50% have a family income of £20.00 or under, and 25% of the population have a family income of £14 or under. Note that servants are included in the numbers of the wealthier households. The Civil War rates of common soldier pay of 8d or 9d per day are £13 3s 4d and £13 13s 9d per year (365 days) respectively.

Included in the table are the number of ‘characters’ required for an imaginary ‘1688 Living History Society’ of about a thousand members. Such a society could reconstruct a small C17th town showing all its social classes.

Obviously with such a small number of society members the wealthiest social classes cannot be proportionaly represented, so the fraction of families they would represent is accumulated down the wealth scale until there is enough for one family. The one rich merchant family in the table is therefore representative of the rich merchants and all the wealthier classes. Similarly the four families of artists, scientists or the better off clerics also represent military officers.

Source: Barnet, George E. (1936), Two Tracts by Gregory King, The John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, reproduced on p.6 of Seventeenh-century England, A Changing Culture, Volume I, Primary Sources, Edited by Ann Hughes, Ward Lock Education, London, 1980, 1982, 1983.

Population and Income of England in 1688

Population of England in 1688
 
Population in ‘1688 Society’
 
Ranks, degrees, titles and qualifications
Family income, £ per annum
 
People per family
 
Families
 
People
 
Families
 
People
 
Temporal Lords

2800

40

160

6,400

Spiritual Lords

1300

20

26

520

Baronets

880

16

800

12,800

Knights

650

13

600

7,800

Esquires

450

10

3,000

30,000

Merchants and Traders by sea

400

8

2,000

16,00

1

8

Gentlemen

280

8

12,000

96,000

2

16

Persons in Offices

240

8

5,000

40,000

1

8

Merchants and Traders by sea

200

6

8,000

48,000

1

6

Persons in law

140

7

10,000

70,000

2

14

Persons in offices

120

6

5,000

30,000

1

6

Freeholders

84

7

40,000

280,000

7

49

Naval Officers

80

4

5,000

20,000

1

4

Clergymen

60

6

2,000

12,000

1

6

Military Officers

60

4

4,000

16,000

Persons in liberal arts and science

60

5

16,000

80,000

3

15

Freeholders

50

5

140,000

700,000

26

130

Clergymen

45

5

8,000

40,000

1

5

Shopkeepers and tradesmen

45

4

40,000

180,000

7

31

Farmers

44

5

150,000

750,000

28

140

Artisans and handicrafts

40

4

60,000

240,000

11

44

Common seamen

20

3

50,000

15,000

9

27

Labouring people and outservants

15

3.5

364,000

1,274,000

66

231

Common soldiers

14

2

35,000

70,000

6

12

Cottagers and paupers

6-10

3.25

400,000

1,300,000

73

237

Vagrants

2

1

30,000

30,000

5

5

Total

5,499,520

994

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