For most of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries England’s economy, along with that of much of the rest of Europe, expanded and grew.1 From the mid thirteenth century, however, the economic tide began to turn, and by the 1290s it is clear that prosperity was waning fast.2 The circumstances, timing, pace and scale of the recession naturally varied a great deal from region to region, but the net outcome was the same almost everywhere: by the early fourteenth century a great and growing proportion of the population found itself living in seriously reduced circumstances and ever more prone to crises of subsistence.3 That symptoms of distress were widespread is not in doubt; it is their diagnosis that remains problematic. The theories of Marx, Malthus and Ricardo have all been invoked to account for the worsening state of affairs,...

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