The medieval period is often regarded as part of the statistical ‘Dark Ages’ in English history before the nineteenth century. The figures which are available were mostly collected for immediate administrative or fiscal purposes far removed from the future needs of historians and by a state lacking the comprehensive administrative organization of a census-taking modern government. Medieval man in particular is usually thought to have had little concept of the meaning of high numbers. In 1371, for instance, the English parliament believed that there were 40,000 parishes in the country when in fact there were less than 9,000. Again, ‘when the pope was assured by his advisers that the Black Death had cost the lives of 42, 836, 486 throughout the world, or the losses in Germany were estimated at 1, 244, 434, what was meant was that an awful lot of people had died’. Estimates of total populations have of course been a famous source of controversy. ‘Medieval man like classical man before him was little interested in figures. Neither showed any desire to formulate a precise estimate of population, and when figures were called for they hazarded only the wildest guesses.’ Even for England, where more promising evidence survives than for any other country, Professor Postan concluded that it was not possible to measure the total size of the population at any given point of time. For 1086 for example, estimates of total population could have a ‘heroic’ margin of error of up to 150 per cent. Historians, he decided, should rather be concerned with the dynamics of medieval population than with global numbers.