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Gregory King

(1648—1712) herald and political economist


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(1648–1712)

Pioneer statistician and demographer. In his Natural and Political Observations and Conclusions upon the State and Condition of England (1696) he used taxation returns to analyse English society and to estimate the numbers in each social group, starting with ‘Ranks, Degrees, Titles and Qualifications’ and descending a social ladder via the merchants and professionals down to the humblest paupers. His table has been frequently reprinted, e.g. in J. Thirsk and J. P. Cooper (eds), Seventeenth‐Century Economic Documents (1972), and in Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost (1965). At the top of the social pyramid were 161 temporal lords and an estimated 800 baronets, 3 000 esquires, and 12 000 gentlemen. King believed that at least half the population were scarcely able to maintain themselves. He estimated that at the bottom of society were some 364 000 families of labouring people and out‐servants, 400 000 families of cottagers and paupers, and 85 000 families of soldiers and sailors. At a guess, some 30 000 people were vagrants. Recent research has refined this picture, but King is still widely quoted. See Kevin Schürer and Tom Arkell (eds), Surveying the People: The Interpretation and Use of Document Sources for the Study of Population in the Later Seventeenth Century (1992).

Subjects: Economics — History.


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