Economics in Elizabethan Times
London was Europe's most dynamic city at the end of the 16th century. It had grown from approximately 120,000 people in 1550 to 200,000 in 1600. (In comparison, Paris had only 70,000 people in 1600.) And London's growth had paralleled that of England, which had doubled in population between the 1520s and the 1640s. The English economy grew even more rapidly: agriculture prospered because of the significant increase in demand for food, and London became the leading center of the international woolen cloth trade after Antwerp was sacked in 1576. The overall European money supply had grown rapidly as a result of the gold and silver being brought in by Spain from Latin America; the resulting inflation had proved good for capitalists because it lowered the cost of labor and debt. The great merchants had prospered mightily during this "Age of Exploration"--a prosperous London merchant could earn 2-3000 pounds a year, making him the financial equal of an aristocrat. The total volume of trade increased rapidly in the early 17th century, notably between England and the countries around the Baltic, the Mediterranean, India and the Americas During this period the upper middle and middle classes were visibly prospering. Increased social mobility seems to have led to the breakdown of social tradition. Education was on the rise, with the number of students at Oxford and Cambridge growing from 450 a year to nearly 1000 a year between 1575-1642, far in excess of the growth in the numbers of the aristocracy. And this democratization of education happened despite the rising cost of a university education: 20 pounds a year in 1600. (For comparison, a common laborer earning minimum wage made about 8 pounds a year--in the unlikely event that he worked steadily throughout the year) The number of active lawyers tripled between 1570 and the 1630s; the Inns of the Court where they were trained was a center of theatrical activity and the students were...
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