In the previous chapters we have studied various sectors of the economy, looking at demography, agriculture and forestry, trade, transport, banking and finance in the early modern era. But what of the economy of continental Europe as a whole. What trends and changes were taking place? Until well into the eighteenth century, agriculture was still the most important sector of the economy. By far the greater part of Europe lived on the land and a large number of people were engaged in subsistence agriculture. For continental Europe this was even more the case than in the Atlantic or the Mediterranean regions. Yet the eighteenth century also saw the rise of industry based on existing and new urban centres, gradually spreading out from north-west to central Europe. Most research into pre‐ industrial early modern Europe economic history has tended to concentrate on the history of prices and to work out trends from them. The pattern that emerges is that there was overall economic growth in Europe from the later fifteenth century until the early seventeenth century, when a period of stagnation set in. After the 1620s it seems that the economies of England, Spain and the Italian states were in recession.
In other parts of Europe this change is more difficult to trace. In the Netherlands particularly the economic position remained favourable up to 1650. Chaunu has tried to interpret the world economic situation on the basis of statistical information from the sixteenth century onwards, including the Far East, which began to be influenced by European economic factors. In agriculture he has emphasized that the price rise of the sixteenth century was followed by price stagnation in the later seventeenth and earlier eighteenth century. Yet other sectors of the economy did not altogether follow this pattern and colonial trade especially fluctuated widely. In coinage there was an