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England in the aftermath of the Black Death.

The place of the Black Death among the most dramatic episodes in history has long been secure. The demise at a single stroke in the mid-fourteenth century of at least a third of the population of the known world has understandably exercised a perennial fascination for both the popular and the scholarly imagination. Yet the influence historians have attributed to this catastrophe in the shaping of the course of subsequent social and economic development has long since fallen far short of what might have been expected from the scale of the deaths it caused. In 1865 Frederic Seebohm, reacting to what he saw as the neglect of all history that was unconnected with the deeds of kings and court, made a forceful case for the Black Death having precipitated "a great social revolution".(1) In the following year Thorold Rogers, though disputing with Seebohm the precise nature of its effects, agreed that the Black Death introduced "a complete revolution in the occupation of the land". Although Rogers in the course of pursuing his monumental researches on the medieval economy over the next quarter-century was to concede progressively more weight to evolutionary influences, he continued to ascribe too much significance to what was in essence a fortuitous occurrence to be in conformity with prevailing historical opinion.(2) The authoritative surveys of Cunningham, Ashley and Denton published in the 1880s, while not denying the severity of the short-term shock of the Black Death, stressed the long-term impact upon the course of England's late medieval development exerted by a variety of political and constitutional forces as well as by independent changes in social and economic structures, most of which either pre-dated the arrival of plague or were unconnected with it. And when in 1900 T. W. Page attempted to portray the Black Death as a turning-point in the history of labour services and villeinage, he met with the instant disapproval of P. Vinogradoff, who warned sternly that "We must really not raise the plague to the dignity of a constant economic force". Vinogradoff judged that the Black Death "undoubtedly accentuated the tendencies in course of development, but it neither originated them nor has it materially affected their course".(3)

In 1918 Eileen Power, informed and emboldened by the recently published researches of Gray on the chronology of the commutation of labour services, Petit-Dutaillis on the origins of the Peasants' Revolt, and Levett on the impact of the Black Death on the estates of the see of Winchester, continued the debunking with enthusiasm. She held the great pestilence to be nothing more than a gentle accelerator of pre-existing tendencies, and wrote disparagingly that the world was already changing in the early fourteenth century "and that into this changing world the Black Death came and gave it a slight push in the direction along which it was already travelling". Power further proclaimed that "there are no cataclysms in medieval economic history", and concluded by insisting that the revolutionary theory was unlikely ever to be reinstated.(4) Levett ended her study of the Winchester estates with the speculation that it "was more seriously affected by William of Wykeham's magnificent projects than by that traditional parent of all economic development, the Black Death".(5)

Such roundly depreciatory pronouncements were warmly welcomed by political and constitutional historians who were loath to grant much significance to a demographic phenomenon, but more importantly they reinforced the predilections of those sympathetic to the rapidly mounting influence of the social sciences on economic and social history, and on the medieval period in particular. Commencing in the 1930s, M. M. Postan in a short series of searing articles created a powerful explanatory system out of a mass of local and temporal diversity, and by the application of economic theory and the concepts of Malthus and Ricardo placed the relationship between population and resources at the heart of economic change.(6) Postan's analytical framework exercised considerable sway over his contemporaries, and even those who rejected it, most notably historians of Marxist persuasion, likewise placed human behaviour at the centre of a rational account of social and economic development, and made mankind directly responsible for its own destiny.(7) Under the powerful intellectual leadership of Postan, the experience of the later Middle Ages was interpreted as the inevitable consequence of developments which had taken place in the earlier medieval period. In a self-reciprocating fashion, the remorseless growth of population in the centuries prior to c.1300 resulted in the overexploitation of natural resources to such a degree that expansion was destined to be followed by an extended period of crisis and contraction, and this second phase began in earnest a half-century or more before the arrival of plague. In this way the Black Death was duly confirmed in its role as a mere accelerator of endogenously engineered tendencies which had long been under way. Since Marxists rejected attempts to award a dominant role to demographic fluctuations in the shaping of social and economic development, with a rare consonance of views the denial of independence and significance to the Black Death appealed to so-called demographic determinists and Marxists alike. Indeed it has continued to appeal to anyone seeking to construct "rational" explanations of historical development. Devastating waves of mortality caused by a mutation in a micro-organism carried by fleas on the backs of rodents living at high altitudes in the remote steppes of Asia are not easily fitted into a dialectical process. To admit a prime role to autonomous disease is to threaten to reduce the aspiring scientific historian to a mere chronicler of the random and the bizarre.

It is now widely believed that English society and economy were already in the throes of major change, commonly called a "crisis", before the onset of plague,(8) and there is an equivalent consensus that the Black Death did relatively little to speed the process thereafter.(9) Despite the enormous death-rate many aspects of life have been shown to have reverted swiftly and powerfully towards normality: within a few years of 1350 the land of England was almost fully re-occupied, and at rents which seemingly stood comparison with former years; instead of collapsing, demesne farming experienced an "Indian summer" and serfdom survived; the incomes of landlords were sustained at surprisingly high levels; and there was a pronounced buoyancy in many spheres of urban, commercial and industrial life. Nor do the lower orders appear to have thrived to the extent that might have been predicted. We are told that in the generation after the first plague the gap between richer and poorer members of village communities widened as the upper and middle strata prospered disproportionately, primarily because the great majority of the numerically dominant smallholders, cottagers and landless lacked the resources to take full advantage of the opportunities for advancement which were created.(10) There is also general agreement, based upon sturdy statistical foundations, that any improvements which took place in the material welfare of wageearners were decidedly muted.

A prodigious body of data now exists on the movement of money wages in the later Middle Ages, based upon the evidence of hundreds of records drawn from many parts of the country and a wide variety of estates, and there is also every reason to be secure in our knowledge of the price movements of the commodities which formed the great bulk of the consumption habits of common people. The conclusion to which these abundant data point is that although money wages rose in the generation after 1348-9 so too did the prices of almost all basic goods. The net result was that, in a period of seemingly acute labour scarcity, the real rewards of labourers, servants and artisans improved only marginally if at all, with the possible exception of the environs of London where money wages seem to have risen exceptionally strongly.(11) A. R. Bridbury has summed up prevailing opinion by pointing out that "the statistics of wages and prices do not indicate by the slightest movement that there was any change in the relative scarcities of land and labour until very near the end of the century".(12) The latest and most thorough statistical compilation and presentation of prices, wages and standards of living, published by D. L. Farmer (see Table), depicts the purchasing power of labour actually falling in the twenty-five years after the Black Death.(13)


There have been few dissenters from the conclusion that the Black Death, and the two succeeding epidemics of 1361-2 and 1369, resulted in only modest improvements in the standards of living of labourers and artisans, despite the difficulty of producing satisfactory explanations of why this should have been so. Attempting to fabricate plausible hypotheses to explain why a vital commodity for which the demand was inelastic did not rise substantially in price when its supply shifted abruptly from abundance to scarcity has taxed the ingenuity of a succession of historians. It has been suggested that the failure of labour to benefit significantly from the massive reduction in numbers might have been due to the extreme overpopulation prevailing before 1348, to the existence of "a submerged and pullulating throng" who filled the places of those who died without seriously disturbing existing social and economic relationships.(14) But the plausibility of such an explanation is severely undermined by abundant indications of population decline in the opening decades of the fourteenth century and the lack of corroborative evidence of sufficiently gross surpluses of people in the 1330s and 1340s.(15) Another explanation might lie in mortality during the black Death being far less severe than has hitherto been assumed. But the tenor of many recent calculations, based upon better records and improved methods, has generally been to raise rather than lower estimates of death-rates in the country at large.(16) Alternatively, the potential gains of peasants and labourers might have been effectively reined back by social and institutional restraints; and it has been posited that the Ordinance and Statutes of Labourers may for a time at least have constituted a viable incomes policy, that manorial courts were successful in coercing villagers into accepting the status quo ante, and that the lower orders limited their demands because they were unable to overcome their traditional deference to social superiors.(17)

Instead of expending yet more energy in seeking to resolve this paradox, it would appear more profitable to examine whether the paradox itself has substance. The thrust of this article therefore is to question whether the gains of labourers and smallholders before the price falls set in from the late 1370s were in fact as limited as it has long been conventional to believe. Central to this examination will be an investigation of the ability of the data on prices and wages, which have been collected from manorial records, to reflect accurately the movements which took place in real wages and disposable incomes in the three decades after 1350. It will be noted below that when one turns to encompass a broader range of evidence of how employers and employees behaved, and of the rewards which were given and received, it becomes immediately apparent that conventional historical wisdom runs counter not only to a priori reasoning, but to the opinions and beliefs of people who lived through the aftermath of the Black Death.


The survivors of the Great Plague of 1348-9 were in no doubt that the fortunes and demeanour of the lower orders had been tranma of successive waves of devastating pestilence was followed by the prolonged discomfort inflicted by obstreperous tenants and truculent workmen who, conscious of the prospects for betterment which the massive mortality had placed within their grasp, would not be coerced into placidly accepting their time-honoured subservient roles as the meek providers of ample rents and cheap labour. Inevitably, many attempts were made to impede the progress of the labouring and peasant classes. Employers had a vested interest in keeping wages down, and landlords fought to stop the erosion of the incomes which they derived from their tenantry and of the control which they exercised over their lives. The rewards of labour, and the position which the common people enjoyed in the economic and social hierarchy, were matters of paramount concern to each and every age, and were far too important to be left to the interplay of market forces. Consequently, throughout the Middle Ages a battery of religious, ideological and legal weaponry was directed towards the perpetuation and justification of the lowly economic and social status of labour, and towards reconciling and rationalizing the incongruities which existed between the significance of manual toil for the well-being of the community at large and the meagre rewards received by those who performed it. When population collapse threatened to turn traditional relationships upside down, a reaction by government and landlords seeking to preserve as much as possible of the old regime was destined. In the eyes of the elite, the forces of supply and demand might make labour scarce but they could not be permitted to make it expensive.

The king and his council were convinced, well before the Black Death had run its course, that the nation was facing a catastrophic shortage of manpower, gravely exacerbated by the refusal of survivors to work unless they were granted excessive rewards, and with remarkable speed the Ordinance of Labourers was enacted in June 1349.(18) It was expressly directed against those workmen who, "seeing the necessity of lords and the scarcity of servants, will not serve unless they receive excessive wages", and the Statute of Labourers was passed two years later because "such servants completely disregard the said Ordinance in the interests of their own ease and greed and ... refuse their service to magnates and others unless they have payments of food and money two or three times as great as they used to take in the said twentieth year of Edward III [1346-7] and earlier".(19) The prime intention of this and subsequent legislation was to combat the harmful effects of labour shortage by increasing its supply and forcing down its price. To this end parliament sought to impose maximum wages in cash and kind; to punish both those who gave and those who received excessive rates; to compel the able-bodied whose landholdings or income levels fell below the prescribed minima to accept work on the specified terms, including annual contracts when they were offered; and to limit competition between employers by granting lords a first option on the labour of their tenants and requiring workers to remain in their native villages.

In direct contradiction to the statistical findings of historians, the chroniclers of the post-plague years wrote repeatedly and bitterly of the high cost of workmen, their arrogance, their overindulgence in leisure and, of course, their contempt for the labour laws. According to Knighton, after the Ordinance was published the workmen were "so arrogant and obstinate that they did not heed the king's mandate, but if anyone wanted to have them he had to give them what they asked" or lose his crops, while from the time that the statute was passed "they served their masters worse from day to day than they had done previously". John of Reading claimed that the debasement of the coinage in 1351 led to still higher wages, so that labourers worked less and worse.(20) Complaints and parliamentary petitions from employers concerning the impotence of the sanctions which they had at their disposal, including most notably the Statute of Labourers, abound throughout the period under scrutiny, and they provide compelling evidence of a belief in the persistence of the scarcity and high cost of labour.(21) The concerns of commentators and employers, heightened by fears for the very survival of the traditional social hierarchy, are brought into stark relief in the burgeoning literature of the later fourteenth century. The "estates" and "complaint" literature of the period is a well-respected source for the fears and prejudices of elite society, but the numerous portraits it contains of those whose allotted role was to toil in order to provide their superiors with sustenance have been accorded scant weight by historians. Whereas a previous generation of scholars was inclined to neglect observations on the conduct and lifestyles of the lower orders as relatively unimportant for their studies, the present generation has largely chosen to look elsewhere for its evidence, consciously shunning sources which are judged to be vitiated by bias.(22) G. R. Owst in 1933 felt justified, when writing a volume of almost six hundred pages devoted to sermons, in proclaiming that "A page or two will enable us to dismiss the one remaining class of society"; in 1991 D. L. Farmer, who has assiduously addressed the fortunes of the peasants and labourers, explicitly favoured the evidence of manorial accounts over the testimony of "critics of social change and disorder, like the poet John Gower or the monastic chronicler Henry of Knighton".(23)

At first glance it is undeniably tempting to favour business accounts, which seemingly provide a factual record of the payments which were made to employees, over the polemical assertions of writers who dealt bewilderingly by turns with observation, castigation and the road to salvation. Yet does the comfort bestowed by quantification rest upon secure foundations, and is the testimony of contemporaries so riddled with bias that it is rendered worthless to the historian?


A long-term drift in favour of statistical evidence on the part of historians, and the warnings voiced by influential literary critics of the "relativism" and "positivism" which can result from excessive attention to the historical context of texts, have not been conducive to the utilization of literature for information about the age in which it was composed. Yet later fourteenth-century literary texts can be made to yield a wealth of insights for the historian of society. Although much medieval literature has often been correctly diagnosed as presenting a gallery of traditional stereotypes rather than a mirror of contemporary society, the works of a number of later fourteenth-century writers resonate with the social, religious and political realities of this tumultuous age.(24) Although leading writers with scant exception clung to a traditional hierarchical ideology, many were aware that their audiences were widening and deepening, and that in these perilous times it was appropriate for their writings to assume a more direct social function, with description, instruction and exhortation taking precedence over entertainment. Prominent among the images and messages urgently conveyed is the stark contrast evident in the world about them between the lamentable failings of present society and the eternal ideal of a harmonious and prosperous community in which the members of each of the three estates selflessly fulfilled their divinely ordained roles. In keeping with the tone and content of many contemporary sermons, each of the three estates is subjected to fierce criticism for falling far short of the immemorial standards required of it, but nowhere is the immediacy of the reporting more evident than when the failings of servants, labourers and peasants are addressed. Read sensitively, much later fourteenth-century literature can be seen to convey, not merely age-old expressions of the inherent viciousness of oppressed masses seeking to break free from the bonds of perpetual toil, but reports of actual achievements secured in an age of bewildering shifts of fortune and authority.

In fact, the poetry of the period, and especially the wide social worlds created by Gower and Langland, describe patterns of behaviour which have a good measure of economic coherence, and which closely resemble those which we would be disposed to recreate for ourselves if no other evidence existed. Furthermore, in their treatment of the lower orders many literary sources accord closely with the import of governmental, judicial and seigneurial records. The elites whose views are represented in surviving records tell us that those whose allotted role was to toil in order to provide them with sustenance have become selfish and greedy; they are demanding extremely high wages and extravagant fringe benefits, including fine clothes and the best food and drink. They are lazy; they refuse to work unless they are hungry, and when they do accept employment they labour far less assiduously than in past times. Most workmen prefer to be hired by the day, refusing to serve by the year, or indeed by any term of reasonable length. They break their contracts and wander from place to place and from employer to employer. They engage in unbecoming leisure pursuits, including excessive drinking, poaching and hunting, and their enhanced incomes enable them to buy clothes and other commodities which are unbefitting their lowly status.

William Langland's Piers Plowman, dating from c.1362-70 in its earliest version, the A-text, contains a passus which chronicles cycles of plenty and want in a rural community, and in so doing encapsulates many of these sentiments and furnishes a cautionary tale of the inherent idleness of labourers when they are not driven by necessity. Passus VII of the A-text, which becomes passus VI in the B-text written in the late 1370s, tells how Piers has to prepare his land, plough it, and sow it with wheat, before he leaves on pilgrimage. Initially Langland describes a rural idyll, with each member of the community happy to perform a task commensurate with his or her status, in return for the food which the ploughman will supply from the fruits of his land. The knight covenants to protect Holy Church and Piers from wasters and wicked men, and to hunt the creatures which damage his fields and crops. Lovely ladies with long fingers sew silk and sendal, wives and widows and their daughters spin wool and flax and make cloth, and labourers join willingly with Piers in a variety of agricultural tasks. All seems to go well until Piers lays down his plough "at high prime-tide" in order to oversee the workmen and select the best so that he might hire them again at harvest-time. To his dismay Piers finds that some are drinking and singing instead of labouring, and when Piers chides them they first feign disabilities and sickness, and then insult him and threaten to steal whatever they want from him. The knight, on whom Piers calls for assistance, has no greater success despite threatening them with the law. Finally, Piers whooped after Hunger, imploring him to wreak vengeance on these wasters who ruin the world. With relish Langland tells how Hunger immediately invigorated the slothful workforce: in fear threshers flailed from morning till eve, for a potful of pease hermits dug and delved with spades and shovels, and many a beggar was pleased to sweat for beans. When at last the world was again in good order, Piers asked Hunger to leave, but before Hunger departed Piers sought advice on how he might have mastery over wasters in the future, for he knew that their present submissiveness was only due to want of food. Predictably, when Hunger finally goes to sleep the inherent wickedness of the rustics is awakened: waster would not work, beggars demanded the best bread and ale, and:

Laborers that haue no lond . to liuen on bote heore honden,

Deyne not to dyne a day . niht-olde wortes.

Mai no peny-ale hem paye . ne no pece of bacun,

Bote it weore fresch flesch . or elles fisch i-friyet

Bothe chaude and pluschaud . for chele of heore mawe.

Then, in a castigation of behaviour in his own day, Langland proclaims how the labourer must be hired at high wages, or he will complain and bemoan his fate, instead of bearing the burden of poverty patiently; and how he blames God, grumbles against Reason, and curses the king for passing laws that oppress labourers. Langland concludes the passus with a warning that workmen had better earn while they may, for Hunger is certain to return.(25)

To members of the upper and middle strata of later fourteenth-century society the recalcitrant behaviour of the lower orders was all too comprehensible. Indeed, Bartholomaeus Anglicus, writing in the mid-thirteenth century when the pressure of population ensured that the peasantry were normally "iholde lowe with diuers and contrarious chargis and trauailes, and among wrecchidnesse and woo", foretold that any alleviation in their condition would make "here herte toswelleth and waxith stoute and proude".(26) John Gower, a contemporary of Langland, fills a substantial part of his copious verses with nostalgia for a bygone age when, in stark contrast to the aftermath of the Black Death, not only did the higher estates obey God's prescription, but the third estate also knew its place. In the Mirour de l'omme, written before 1378, Gower rebukes the labourers of the present day for their laziness and for receiving wages three times more than their work deserved, and he laments:

So goes the world from bad to worse when they who guard the sheep or

the herdsmen in their places, demand to be rewarded more for their

labour than the master-bailiff used to be. And on the other hand it may

be seen that whatever the work may be the labourer is so expensive that

whoever wants anything done must pay five or six shillings for what

formerly cost two.(27)

This sad state of affairs Gower contrasts nostalgically with the good old days, and relates how:

The labourers of olden times were not accustomed to eat wheat bread;

their bread was made of beans and of other corn, and their drink was

water. Then cheese and milk were as a feast to them; rarely had they any

other feast than this. Their clothing was plain grey. Then was the world

of such folk well-ordered in its estate.(28)

In the Vox clamantis (c.1378) Gower complains that "our happy times of old have been rudely wiped out, for a bitter day afflicts the present", and he seeks to explore where the responsibility lay for the "strange and highly burdensome evils [which] attend us almost daily".(29) Each stratum of society is examined by him in turn, and few within them are absolved from guilt; the prime failing being the pursuit of personal gratification to the neglect of the common good. The vices of peasants, labourers and servants warrant a lengthy diatribe. Gower, who was a member of the gentry and had held manors in Kent, writes with much firsthand experience of workmen and even at times uses the first person. He finds that sloth rules among those whose duty it was to "enter into the labours of agriculture, which are necessary for obtaining food and drink for the sustenance of the human race", and grieves that "Now, however, scarcely a rustic wishes to do such work; instead he wickedly loafs everywhere":

they are sluggish, they are scarce, and they are grasping. For the very

little they do they demand the highest pay ... one peasant insists upon

more than two demanded in days gone by. Yet a short time ago one

performed more service than three do now, as those maintain who are

well-acquainted with the facts ... They desire the leisures of great men,

but they have nothing to feed themselves with, nor will they be servants

... everyone owning land complains in his turn about these people; each

stands in need of them and none has control over them. The peasants of

old did not scorn God with impunity or usurp a noble worldly rank.(30) Gower then writes of:

yet another group, associated with the peasants, which is widespread and

has no discipline. They are those who are unwilling to serve anyone by

the year. A man will retain them for scarcely a single month. On the

contrary, I hire such men for even a day's pay -- now here, now

somewhere else, now for myself, now for you ... Because such a man is

hired as a member of your household, he scorns all ordinary food ...

he grumbles ... and he will not return tomorrow unless you provide

something better.(31)

Nor did the effrontery of the labourer stop at demanding leisure and "things for his belly like a lord". According to Gower, "Servants are now masters and masters are servants ... the peasant pretends to imitate the ways of the freeman, and gives himself the appearance of him in his clothes". What is more, such lowly people now had an appetite for luxuries, including beds and pillows, and the "rich man in the city could hardly procure his modest and proper foods".(32)

The wealth of corroborative material contained in an extensive range of records dating from the 1350s to the 1380s amply supports John Gower's claim that the faults he found within society were not merely a personal opinion but a reflection of the views of all prudent people, which he reports "just like a well-informed messenger". The works of Gower and Langland have been quoted at length because they contain the fullest and most coherent analysis, but they are broadly representative of observations contained in the literature, chronicles and sermons of their age.(33) Moreover, legislation was enacted to curb not only the excessive rewards enjoyed by common people, but the manner in which they spent their ill-gotten gains. A statute in 1363 was directed towards the correction of "the outrageous and excessive apparel of divers people against their estate and degree", and prescribed detailed regulations for the dress of grooms, agricultural workers and those lowly persons who did not have goods to the value of 40s., thereby confirming the exasperation felt by Henry Knighton with "the elation of the inferior people in dress and accoutrements in these days, so that one person cannot be discerned from another, in splendour of dress or belongings". And in 1390, in response to a parliamentary petition complaining that "low persons ... at times when good Christians on holy days are at church, hearing divine services, go hunting in parks, rabbit-runs and warrens of lords and others", a statute was passed prohibiting "any kind of artificer or labourer" from taking or destroying "beasts of the forest, hares or rabbits, or other sport of gentlefolk".(34)

It is no coincidence, still less a contradiction, that a literary cult of sancta rusticitas in which honest and true workmen were idealized, especially in the form of the ploughman, should thrive at a time when contemporary rustics were thought to be so manifestly delinquent. Wyclif's admonition to the labourer to "lyve in mekenesse, and trewly and wylfully do thi labour" was uttered when the battle was in real danger of being lost.(35) Exhortation to spend a life of toil in order to secure eternal bliss in the next world went hand in hand with coercion and the threat of punishment in this. In Chaucer's pilgrim band there are three idealized portraits -- the knight, the parson and the ploughman -- one from each of the three estates. They differ starkly from the vibrant three-dimensional characters who form the rest of the throng, because unlike the others they were not intended to be representative of the social realities of the later fourteenth century. The qualities ascribed to the knight, parson and ploughman instead are a flat recitation of the traditional virtues appropriate to each of their estates in a divinely ordered society, and as such they were in direct contrast to the selfishness which Chaucer's audience might be expected to perceive all around them. Accordingly, the ploughman:

a trewe swynkere and a good was he,

Lyuynge in pees and parfit charitee, who loved God, helped his neighbours, paid his tithes, and dressed in a simple tabard.(36)


Sharply declining population was bound to increase the ratio of land to people, but it is likely that the scarcity of labour was further aggravated by the pronounced buoyancy of the post-plague economy. Predictably, employers as a class responded by attempting to negate and circumvent market forces, but although as a body they supported the enactment of labour legislation they lacked the solidarity necessary to ensure its successful enforcement. In default each employer's own best interests were served by securing enough labour to perform the work which he needed to be done, and this involved competing with other employers by offering higher wages and more allowances. As a Commons petition of 1376 complained, servants and labourers "as soon as their masters accuse them of bad service, or wish to pay them for their labour according to the form of the statutes ... take flight and suddenly leave their employment and district". It also grumbled that:

above all and a greater mischief is the receiving of such vagrant labourers

and servants when they have fled from their masters' service; for they

are taken into service immediately in new places, at such dear wages that

example and encouragement is afforded to all servants to depart into fresh

places, and go from master to master as soon as they are displeased about

any matter. Most significantly, the petitioners continued, "For fear of such flights, the commons now dare not challenge or offend their servants, but give them whatever they wish to ask, in spite of the statutes and ordinances to the contrary".(37) These precise sentiments must have been shared by the employer who brought an action before the justices when two of his servants, to whom he was giving respectively 2d. per day with food and 7s. a year and a quarter of corn every ten weeks, were enticed away from his service by another who offered them each 12d. per day.(38) In the words of Bertha Putnam, "The statutes of labourers must be regarded not as having created a new system or a new set of economic relations, but as affording proof that radical changes had occurred, ushering in a new era".(39) The high prices which farmers could obtain from selling their produce enabled even a sharply rising wage bill to be comfortably absorbed, especially by those employers who were able to call upon labour services from their tenants to satisfy part of the needs of the demesne.(40)

In direct contrast, however, the accounts kept by the great landlords of the income and expenditure of their estates reveal, at first sight at least, scant trace of the inflation of wages and the cascade of blandishments which contemporaries witnessed all about them. Instead the accounts of estates beyond the ambit of London generally record relatively modest increases in basic rates of pay. The composite indices compiled by Farmer, for example, have payments for a range of agricultural tasks increasing by 12-28 per cent comparing the 1340s with the 1350s, and 20-4- per cent comparing the 1340s with the 1360s. Further investigation, however, soon reveals that the wage payments incorporated in these indices are far from comprising the total remuneration which workers received. The construction of adequately representative time series demands data which are not only voluminous and continuous, but amenable to precise quantification. As a consequence those compiling such series have had to ignore a whole range of additional payments in cash as well as in kind which are referred to in the accounts.

Beveridge reached a "provisional conclusion" that casual workmen on Winchester manors did not normally receive an appreciable addition in kind to their money wages, and Farmer was obliged to exclude from his calculations the "gifts" in cash and corn which appear in very many accounts because they could not consistently be quantified satisfactorily. Yet in their pursuit of internally consistent wage series both scholars were aware of the risks they ran of understating the true rate of increase in remuneration after 1349. Not everything which counted for fourteenth-century employees can be counted by historians, and it is evident that even those unquantifiable extras which found their way into the records of the great estates added an extremely significant element to the real wages of those who sold their labour. Further investigation of the Winchester accounts by Beveridge's team of researchers, after his 1936 article had been set up in proof, necessitated the addition of a postscript which admitted that "extra payments for threshing over and above the stated piece rates in fact occur in most of the manors investigated in a good many years between 1348 and 1373".(41) Farmer, when he analysed these bonuses in more detail, found that they were often very substantial indeed, although he too could find no way of satisfactorily incorporating them into his tables. In 1363-4 at Witney, for example, threshers and winnowers were paid in cash at the conventional basic rate of 5 1/4d. for processing three mixed quarters, amounting in all to a wage bill of 58s. 2 1/2d., but they were also given currall wheat worth 30s., which brought the average value of their piece-rates up to almost 8d. per task. In the following year the threshers and winnowers at Witney were given a cash bonus of 11s. 11 1/2d. instead of free corn, which effectively raised their rate of pay to 7 1/2d. But it is 5 1/4d. and not 7 1/2d.-8d. which finds its way into the published table of wagerates for these years; the true level of pay is not listed until eventually, at Witney as well as at many other Winchester manors, it was formally established by the estate administration as the new basic rate.(42)

A similar sequence of official subterfuge and pretence followed by acceptance and practice can be observed at Gussage (Dorset), a manor of the earl of Northampton. In 1364 the auditors disallowed the reeve's attempt to charge 7d. rather than 4d. per acre for the remuneration of hired harvesters who supplemented the services rendered by the customary tenants. In the following year, however, 7d. per acre was accepted by the auditors on the pretext that extra casual labour was needed because some customary holdings were in the lord's hands, and in 1366 7d. per acre was also accepted by the auditors, who gave rain at harvest time as a reason. For a few years thereafter, although casual harvesters continued to receive a total of 7d. rather than 4d. for each acre that they cut, the additional 3d. per acre was accounted for under the heading of "expenses", until at last the pretences were finally dropped and almost all the grain was cut by contract at an officially recognized 7d. per acre.(43) Thorold Rogers too had noted that frequently in the accounts after the Black Death entries of payments at certain rates were struck through, and lower rates inserted in their place. He decided that there was little alternative but to take for his data the substituted figures, but it made him uneasy and he remarked: "I cannot help thinking that these changes point to evasions of the statute, and that perhaps the labourer was compensated to the full extent of the previous entry, but in some covert way, or by some means which would not come within the penalties of the statute".(44)

We should share Thorold Rogers's unease with official entries in accounts, for employers were naturally unwilling to permit excessively illegal rates to be openly recorded, and there were innumerable ways of covertly circumventing the limitations which the labour legislation sought to impose. New College, Oxford, had lands in the manor of Havering to the east of London, but, although Havering was a high wage area where remuneration far in excess of legal levels was commonly paid, the college accountants recorded only the permitted statutory levels of pay in its accounts. However, in order to be able to recruit adequate labour the college gave its day workers substantial allowances of grain, and it also appears to have granted allotments of land on the demesne to servants.(45) Many other devices were available by which reeves and auditors could conceal their breaches of the law; for example, on the Winchester estates, as elsewhere, much of the occasional work was carried out "ad tascham", or by "conventio", with the daily rate of pay conveniently hidden within a lump sum.(46)

While the evidence of manorial accounts proves beyond contention that the vast majority of the greater landlords openly paid cash wages in excess of the unrealistic maxima specified by the law, and by a variety of means gave substantial supplements to these rates, the lengths to which employers could be forced to go in order to get the workers they needed is revealed even more starkly in prosecutions brought under the labour legislation. Here wages two or three times higher than the legally permitted levels are very frequently cited.(47) Despite the potential for distortion which bedevils all legal sources, proceedings before the justices reveal much of the reality of the workings of the labour market, including the variety of bargains which were struck. Wide differences in rates of pay and fringe benefits are often recorded in a single year for similar sorts of work within the same region. Putnam, for example, found that in the East Riding of Yorkshire in 1362-3, harvest workers were given 3d., 4d. and 6d. per day, in each case "with food", while unlawful threshing rates varied from 1 1/2d. to 4d. per day, also with food.(48) The highest recorded wages doubtless owed much to acute labour shortages, at particular times and in particular places, and perhaps something also to the malice of plaintiffs, while the almost contemporaneous instances of the acceptance of near-statutory wages might reflect a temporary local sufficiency of labour even in an age of general scarcity. The market for labour was clearly far from being a perfect one, but the impression which emerges strongly from the judicial records of the third quarter of the century is that, despite the statutes and the seigneurial authority which landlords possessed over their men, it was very frequently a seller's market. There were very many workmen who drove extremely hard bargains with those who sought their labour and when they could not obtain the terms they desired, like the Lincolnshire ploughman who refused to serve except by the day and with meals of fresh meat instead of salt, they moved on confident of finding them elsewhere.(49) At Knightsbridge even the carpenter who made the stocks with which to imprison those workers who refused to swear obedience to the Statute of Labourers was paid at the illegal rate of 5 1/2d. per day.(50)

Although the series of cash wage payments which have been extracted from manorial records are almost certainly a serious understatement of the prevailing norm, the extraordinarily sluggish behaviour of the real wage statistics which have been computed for the quarter-century after the Black Death is also due in major part to the high prices of basic foodstuffs. Thus it is a matter of prime importance whether casual labourers were commonly provided with meals at work or other allowances of food. What could be more natural than for farmers to offer inducements to their workforces in the form of free food and drink? It was an arrangement which could satisfy both parties: it was cheaper for employers to supply to their labourers the produce of their own farms than its equivalent value in cash, and it was attractive for labourers to be fed on the job rather than having to purchase their subsistence retail. Moreover, the feeding of the workforce had the added advantage of hiding extra payments from the prying eyes of auditors and justices. Overwhelming evidence as well as common sense indicates that such fringe benefits were indeed extremely widespread.

As has been noted, both Gower and Langland took it for granted that it was common practice for agricultural day labourers to be given meals, and for them to consist of large quantities of good food and drink. Their testimony finds ample confirmation in records of the actual rewards of labourers revealed in prosecutions under the Ordinance and Statutes. There we find an abundance of casual labourers and artisans of all kinds in receipt of illicit food: ploughmen, haymakers, threshers, thatchers, tilers, shepherds and common labourers. John Bishop, whose speciality was simple digging, was reported to be unwilling to work except by the day, taking 5d. with food, and even then he was only prepared to dig up small trees.(51) Significantly, a statute of 1390 went some way towards acknowledging widespread practice when it empowered the justices of the peace in each county:

[to] make Proclamation by their discretion according to the dearth of

victuals how much every Mason, Carpenter, Tiler and other Craftsmen,

Workmen, and other Labourers by the Day, as well in Harvest as in other

Times of the Year, after their Degree, shall take by the Day with Meat

and Drink, or without Meat and Drink.(52)


What the new opportunities and enhanced rewards meant to the standards of living of the peasant and labouring classes in the third quarter of the fourteenth century cannot be determined in precise quantitative terms. But some probable outcomes can be projected. The third estate had many constituent elements, of course, whose fortunes were affected in different ways and to differing extents, and they should not be dealt with en masse. Just as John Gower treats separately at times the position of peasanthusbandmen, ploughmen, labourers and servants, so must historians. A crucial factor in the outcome was the amount of land which the individual or family held. Landholding not only played a major part in the determination of the quantities of food which needed to be purchased or could be sold, it was also a prime influence on the amount of time that could be spared for casual labouring or the amount of help that needed to be hired.

Let us consider first the experience of landless agricultural labourers, the men who in Langland's words had "no land to live on but their hands". For the sake of simplicity we may begin with the single man who sought to earn his living entirely from casual labouring. After the Black Death his money wage was likely to have been significantly higher, his ability to find work was likely to have been substantially greater and, for at least part of the time, he was likely to have received enhanced allowances of food and drink and other benefits from his employers. Operating in the other direction, of course, was the rise in the cost of the food and drink which he had to buy. But it is scarcely credible that a labourer in the 1350s and 1360s was not far better-off than he, or his predecessors, had been in the 1330s and 1340s, and if the comparison is extended backwards to the early fourteenth century the scale of the improvement becomes even greater. Parallel assumptions would hold true for single women, who also benefited markedly from enhanced employment prospects and earnings.(53) Likewise, the household incomes of married labourers would have risen, and children too doubtless made a greater contribution to the family budget. If the provision of food by employers shielded labourers from the full impact of the high food prices of this period, so too did the possession of land. To the degree that labourers were landholders, their disposable incomes would be boosted by the self-supply of at least part of their subsistence requirements. Once again, conditions post-plague were in general more favourable than hitherto, with the landless and near-landless having improved prospects of obtaining the plots that they desired. Labourers in Stebbing and Thaxted (Essex) in 1381-93 had a mean of 4.25 acres per head, and a median of 2.25 acres, upon which no doubt they spent part of their "leisure" time in intensive cultivation.(54)

It has been argued, possibly with justification, that in the aftermath of the Black Death richer peasants gained to a greater extent than did smallholders and landless.(55) But this does not mean that the latter did not gain substantially, still less that they did not gain at all. Nor does the persistence of smallholders, or even a rise in their aggregate numbers on some manors, indicate that there was no promotion taking place among the lowest orders of rural society, for the simple reason that the manorial rentals upon which such calculations are based take no account of the numbers or proportions of landless. It is quite possible to envisage circumstances where in periods of declining population the gaining of land by individuals and families which had previously been landless might lead to an increase in the numbers of smallholders rather than a reduction, and betoken betterment rather than impoverishment.

Earnings in the era following the Black Death, it has been suggested, increased by much less than wages because a strong preference for leisure led to a reduction in the number of days that were worked.(56) The profile that emerges from the labour legislation and its enforcement, and from the observations of contemporaries, is undoubtedly of a workforce which was simultaneously demanding high wages and refusing to accept work. The compulsory service clauses in the Ordinance and Statutes were enforced actively and the details of the cases arising from them indicate the widespread appeal of leisure. Refusal to work was apparently endemic. The compulsory service and the maximum wage clauses of the legislation were, of course, intimately linked, and some of the refusal to work was undoubtedly due to an unwillingness to accept employment for wages pegged at statutory levels. But it is also clear that the opposite was true: work was being refused because high wages had already been earned. Such behaviour exasperated employers at a time of labour scarcity, and led to a profusion of complaints, which found enduring expression in the works of Langland and Gower. "The servant of the plough, contrary to the law of the land, seeks to make a fool of the land. They desire the leisures of great men, but they have nothing to feed themselves with, nor will they be servants."(57) Viewed from the lofty heights of affluence, the behaviour of peasants and labourers who refused to accept work on unprecedentedly favourable terms when they evidently possessed so little, was not only destructive of the common good: it was irrational. Yet from the perspective of labourers who had satisfied their immediate subsistence needs, the purchase of a break from toil by the forgoing of the wages that could be earned by undertaking it was both desirable and rational. The newly found freedom to choose when to work and on what terms was highly prized, as the peasants confirmed when they petitioned the king at Mile End in 1381 seeking that "no man should serve any man except at his own will and by means of regular covenant".(58)

Nevertheless, the cherishing of freedom of contract and the enjoyment of leisure should not be taken to imply that after 1349 the number of days actually worked by labourers fell below the levels that had been common in preceding decades, when there was a glut of people seeking work and long periods of enforced idleness must have been the lot of many. It is far more likely that although labourers and smallholders were refusing to accept all the work they were offered they were on average spending more time, not less, in employment than their predecessors had been able to. Such enhanced levels of employment would reconcile the two common but seemingly contradictory complaints, that the lower orders never worked more than they had to and that they habitually defied the church by working on religious holidays.(59) Increased employment as well as higher rewards would also lend credence to the universal observation that labourers and peasants now possessed the purchasing power with which to endow themselves with a whole range of consumables unbecoming their station.

Despite the notorious reluctance of men and women to enter into long-term contracts at this time, many thousands did accept employment as servants and famuli. At first sight, the payments made to the permanent manorial labour force would seem to confirm the judgement that "many peasants did not prosper greatly after the Black Death".(60) For once again the superbly documented Winchester estates have provided the bulk of the information, and once again they are models of conservatism. On most of the Winchester manors the recorded money wages of the famuli were no higher at the close of the fourteenth century than they had been just prior to the Black Death, nor did grain allowances, which usually comprised the bulk of incomes, increase much in either quantity or quality.(61) But elsewhere there is abundant evidence of significant improvements in the level of rewards. For example, the money wages of the famuli working on the demesnes of Christ Church priory and Ramsey abbey rose sharply in the wake of the Black Death. The permanent increases in the stipends of Kentish ploughmen were of the order of 3s.-5s. annually, which generally took them to 10s.-12s., while in Huntingdonshire the stipends of famuli frequently doubled from 3s.-3s.6d. to 6s. The augmentation which took place in grain liveries was normally, in percentage terms, far less generous than that which took place in stipends but, in a period of rising prices, their value rose markedly. Significantly, in a labour market renowned for the narrowing of pay differentials, it was the less-skilled servants who enjoyed the greatest rises: the Christ Church pigmen's money wages and grain liveries were commonly doubled.(62)

Once again far higher rates of remuneration are to be found in judicial records, where many ploughmen and other senior famuli were stated to have been receiving stipends well in excess of 20s., with some in excess of 40s. Moreover, we find that farm servants were granted a wide range of enhanced allowances and perquisites in addition to their cash wages and board, including clothing, pasture rights, plots of land rent-free, concessionary ploughing of that land by their employer's plough team, gifts of cash at festival times, and occasional free meals and parties.(63) In fact, the varied forms of the payments and allowances enjoyed by the famuli render any accurate quantification impossible, and it is rare to be able to discover the full constituents of the package of remuneration even on the best-documented estates. The entitlement to free clothing was an especially popular benefit, the precise nature of which must often have been a matter of spirited negotiation. To a considerable extent it was the improved bargaining power of servants which lay behind the lamentations in sermons about the outrageous apparel of rustics. Exaggerated though it no doubt was, there was likely to have been a kernel of truth in the satirical portrait of a dandified

wrecchid cnave, that goth to the plough and to carte, that hath no more

good but serveth from yer to yer for his liflode [for whom] there-as

sumtyme a white curtel and a russett gowne wolde have served suchon

ful wel, now he muste have a fresch doublet of fyve schillings or more

the price; and above, a costly gowne with bagges hangynge to his kne,

and iridelid undir his girdil as a new ryven roket, and a hood on his

heved, with a thousand ragges on his tipet; and gailli hosid an schood as

though it were a squyer of cuntre; a dagger harneisid with selver bi his

gurdel, or ellis it were not worth a pese.(64) The food allowances given to the senior members of the famuli often exceeded six quarters of mixed grains annually, which would have gone a long way towards keeping a family in bread, pottage and ale; sometimes they also received portions of cheese and meat. Thus servants' families would have been largely cushioned against the high food prices which prevailed in the third quarter of the century. If, on the other hand, servants were single or childless surplus corn could be sold, thereby adding appreciably to their disposable incomes. The produce from the plots of land and animals which the famuli commonly held also contributed substantially to their budgets.

It is also important to appreciate that little is known of the precise demands placed upon the famuli by their employers. The extent of their duties is likely to have been a matter of negotiation, and it would be wrong to assume that all servants were obliged to work full-time throughout the whole year. Thus, despite the lack of precision in surviving sources, there can be little doubt that the incomes and purchasing power of the great majority of famuli and servants rose appreciably after midcentury, as employers competed actively for labour and sought to entice reluctant workers into long-term contracts.

It has been the intention of this article to concentrate upon the rewards gained from labouring for wages, and not to analyse in detail the incomes of those among the peasantry who held significant or substantial amounts of land. None the less, it is difficult to conceive that the generality of peasant landholders did not register some appreciable imporvement in their condition in the generation after the Black Death. Members of peasant landholding families, of course, usually spent some of their time working for wages, but their economic fortunes depended in addition upon the rents they paid, the yields of their lands and the prices they obtained for the produce which they sold. Families which possessed a subsistence-sized holding, of perhaps ten to fifteen acres, were shielded from high food prices and were unlikely to have needed much if any hired help to supplement that provided by members of the household. Those with larger holdings derived benefits from the sale of produce at buoyant prices which were likely to have far outweighed the increased costs of the labour which they needed to hire. To the extent that aggregate payments to landlords declined, whether in the form of regular cash rents, occasional seigneurial dues or labour services, the net benefit which accrued to tenants would have further appreciated.

Thus, excessive reliance upon real wage statistics derived from the basic daily money wage rates recorded in manorial accounts and the price of grain and other necessities has masked the gains which labourers and smallholders made. In the aftermath of the Black Death there was a dramatic shift away from the rampant unemployment and underemployment which had characterized the preceding era, and there were far greater and more diverse employment opportunities than hitherto. Since workmen were scarce, employers naturally sought to entice and retain them by offering an attractive selection of "perks" and bonuses in addition to money wages, while at the same time endeavouring, because of the labour legislation, to hide these illicit incentives from prying eyes. Non-monetary "perks", commonly in the form of essential items such as food, clothing and accommodation, when combined with increased earnings, resulted in materially enhanced disposable incomes. Perhaps for the first time, labourers and smallholders were commonly left with money in their pockets after their basic subsistence needs had been satisfied. Such sums might well appear, in comparison with more recent times, to have been pitifully small, but they endowed their owners with a measure of independence and choice, which in addition to enabling them to acquire more in the way of necessities also facilitated the purchase of leisure or the odd item of conspicuous display which so infuriated their social superiors. It was an unprecedented state of affairs, and, though they were far from enjoying true affluence, in comparison with former times, there was more than a grain of truth in Froissart's belief in the "ease and riches that the common people were of".(65)

This is not to say that improvement was the lot of all, or that its scale was invariably substantial. High wages were not on offer at all times and in all places, and awareness of opportunities was doubtless often limited by imperfect knowledge. Nor, of course, was poverty eradicated by population decline. In the C version of Piers Plowman, dating from the 1380s or early 1390s, Langland writes eloquently of poor people in cottages, burdened with many children and with their landlord's rent to find, who though working as hard as they were able still suffered the pangs of hunger and privation; and his portrayal of the victims of poverty was echoed in other works, including most notably Pierce the Ploughman's Crede.(66) Life even in an age of general labour scarcity could sometimes be precarious for the industrious as well as for the impotent. Harvest failures continued to occur, and the incidence of bad weather may well have increased in the 1350s and 1360s. Nor should it be forgotten that major epidemics were the harbingers of upheaval and trauma which did not leave the survivors undamaged. The post-plague era was certainly far from being the best of all possible worlds for those who gained their livelihoods from manual labour and from working their own lands. But we must beware of allowing the enduring features of pre-industrial societies to obscure the relative gains made by the great majority of the post-plague generation. Indeed the harshness with which Langland castigates the sturdy beggars and idlers of his day should alert us to the significance of the new emphasis which society was placing upon the necessity of discriminating between the deserving and the undeserving poor. The indigent able-bodied, personal misfortune aside, were deemed by the affluent classes to be more in need of punishment than of charity, for the simple reason that gainful employment seemed to be available for everyone capable of working.


It is time to rein back the exuberance with which historians have long sought to undermine the significance of the Black Death. The fact that there was much in the years after 1349 which appeared to revert towards the status quo ante should not be permitted to overshadow the fact that there was also much that had been transformed. Nor should it be assumed that the new directions which can be discerned in the first half of the fourteenth century would all have been followed with the same force and for the same duration without the intervention of the Black Death and later epidemics.(67)

The peasant and labouring masses were at the heart of the most dramatic changes. The huge death-rate of 1348-9, and the succeeding epidemics of 1360-2 and 1369, helped to ensure that the survivors were better rewarded for their labours and better fed. But, most importantly, the scarcity enjoyed by the common people had ramifications which went far beyond a simple increase in their real wages. Even the meanest of them had been endowed with value. With their basic subsistence needs virtually assured they could focus their ambitions elsewhere: more and tastier food and drink, better clothing, a little leisure, a little more land. Many in the common multitude raised their horizons higher still. The competition for their labour as well as the improvement in their living standards enhanced their self-esteem and encouraged them to question authority and tradition. Froissart with hindsight identified a link between the high living standards of the common people and the Peasants' Revolt of 1381; Gower with foresight a few years before the rising proclaimed in the Mirour de l'omme that rebelliousness was so rampant that it threatened the "merciless destruction" of the higher estate:

it is certainly a great error to see the higher estate in danger from the

villein class. It seems to me that lethargy has put the lords to sleep so

that they do not guard against the folly of the common people, but they

allow that nettle to grow which is too violent in its nature.(68)

The Black Death may have brought improved material living standards but it did not bring a swift end to villeinage. The same buoyancy in the rural economy which ensured speedy and substantial increases in the wages of labourers and servants and the incomes of peasant landholders also helped to shore up the rickety framework of villeinage. High and rising agricultural prices boosted the profits of farmers and sustained the demand for land, and despite the sharp drop in population there was a swift and almost complete re-occupation of the holdings of those who perished. As long as tenants continued to derive considerable benefit from landholding, rent reductions on decent land were in the main kept to relatively modest proportions, the efforts of landlords to resist change were bolstered, and the severity of the antagonism towards villeinage was tempered.(69) In the mid-1370s, however, conditions began to alter: the era of expensive grain came to a sudden end, and prices tumbled.(70) The slump in grain prices at a time when population may well have been continuing on a downward path finally undermined the value of land. In such circumstances it was natural for tenants to seek reductions in their payments; but whereas the rents of leasehold and non-customary land could be renegotiated with relative ease, the dues and obligations of the unfree were in theory fixed at the will of the lord, and in practice hedged about by custom enforceable through manorial courts. As the competition for land waned so resentment over the persistence of villeinage intensified, and the unfree were stimulated to seek means of escaping from its burdens and even to demand its abolition.

In October 1377, perhaps at the precise time when Gower was penning his prescient remarks in the Mirour de l'omme, and when the general run of grain prices had plunged 40-50 per cent below those prevailing in the preceding two years and the average level of the 1360s, a petition was presented to parliament claiming that "in many parts of the kingdom of England the villeins and tenants of land in villeinage" were staging a withdrawal of customs and services and had "made confederation and alliance together to resist the lords and their officials by force".(71) The speedy response of parliament in granting to all aggrieved landlords the right to have special commissions of inquiry set up under the Great Seal, with the power to imprison malefactors without bail, together with evidence of riots and confederations from the special commissions which had already been appointed, confirms that England was indeed experiencing an unprecedented wave of unrest. Such a conclusion is further supported by a contemporaneous rash of appeals to Domesday Book from the rebellious villein tenants of at least forty manors across a broad swathe of southern England, which, it was asserted, they sought to use as a pretext for claiming discharge "of all manner of service both from their persons and their holdings".(72) Such aspirations were to be echoed a few years later in the demand made by the rebels in London to the king that "henceforward no man should be a serf nor make homage or any type of service to any lord".(73) The common people had already gained substantial improvements in the rewards they obtained for selling their labour, and now the tide was turning irrevocably against villeinage.

(1)F. Seebohm, "The Black Death and its Place in English History," pts 1-2, Fortnightly Rev., ii (1865).

(2)J. E. T. Rogers, "England before and after the Black Death", Fortnightly Rev., iii (1866). A review of Rogers's equivocal stance on the impact of the Black Death is contained in N. Hybel, Crisis or Change: The Concept of Crisis in the Light of Agrarian Structural Reorganisation in Late Medieval England (Aarhus, 1989), pp. 9-19.

(3)W. Cunningham, The Growth of English Industry and Commerce (Cambridge, 1882; rev. and extended, 2 vols., Cambridge, 1890); W. J. Ashley, An Introduction to English Economic History and Theory, 2 vols. (London, 1888-93), i; W. Denton, England in the Fifteenth Century, ed. C. A. Denton (London, 1888); P. vinogradoff, review of T. W. Page, The End of Villainage in England (New York, 1900), in Eng. Hist. Rev., xv (1900), pp. 774-81.

(4)E. Power, "The Effects of the Black Death on Rural Organisation in England", History, new ser., iii (1918); H. L. Gray, "The Commutation of Villein Services in England before the Black Death", Eng. Hist. Rev., xxix (1914); C. Petit-Dutaillis, introduction to A. Reville, Le soulevement des travailleurs d'Angleterre en 1381 (Paris, 1898); C. Petit-Dutaillis, "Causes and General Characteristics of the Rising of 1381", in his Studies and Notes Supplementary to Stubbs' Constitutional History, 3 vols. (Manchester, 1909-27), ii; A. E. Levett, "The Black Death on the Estates of the See of Winchester", in P. Vinogradoff (ed.), Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History, 9 vols. (Oxford, 1909-27), v.

(5)Levett, "Black Death on the Estates of the See of Winchester", p. 160.

(6)A number of these articles were republished in M. M. Postan, Essays on Medieval Agriculture and General Problems of the Medieval Economy (Cambridge, 1973).

(7)See, for example, E. Kosminsky, "The Evolution of Feudal Rent in England from the XIth to the XVth Centuries", Past and Present, no. 7 (Apr. 1957); R. H. Hilton, "Peasant Movements in England before 1381", Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., ii (1949-50); R. H. Hilton, "Y-eut-il une crise generale de la feodalite?", Annales E.S.C., vi (1951).

(8)B. M. S. Campbell (ed.), Before the Black Death: Studies in the "Crisis" of the Early Fourteenth Century (Manchester, 1991).

(9)Summarized in A. R. Bridbury, "The Black Death", Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xxvi (1973).

(10)Z. Razi, Life, Marriage and Death in a Medieval Parish: Economy, Society and Demography in Halesowen, 1270-1400 (Cambridge, 1980), pp. 147-50; L. R. Poos, A Rural Society after the Black Death: Essex, 1350-1525 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 16-20, 226.

(11)The fact that recorded money wages and the prices of a wide range of basic commodities moved in concert for approximately twenty-five years after the Black Death was established by Thorold Rogers and confirmed by the researches of W. H. Beveridge. The implications of these data for living standards have been accepted by successive generations of scholars: see, for example, M. M. Postan, "Some Economic Evidence of Declining Population in the Later Middle Ages", Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., ii (1949-50), p. 226; J. L. Bolton, The Medieval English Economy, 1150-1500 (London, 1980), p. 72; H. E. Hallam (ed.), The Agrarian History of England and Wales, ii, 1042-1350 (Cambridge, 1988), p. 778; C. Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social Changes in England, c. 1200-1520 (Cambridge, 1989), p. 218; Poos, Rural Society, p. 209. For London wages, see W. H. Beveridge, "Westminster Wages in the Manorial Era", Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., viii (1955-6).

(12)Bridbury, "Black Death", p. 578.

(13)Presented in full in D. L. Farmer, "Prices and Wages, 1350-1500", in E. Miller (ed.), Agrarian History of England and Wales, iii, 1348-1500 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 431-525. Similar conclusions have been reached on the basis of an independent analysis of price and wage data by J. H. Munro ("Industrial Transformations in the North-West European Textile Trades, c. 1290-c. 1340: Economic Progress or Economic Crisis?", in Campbell (ed.), Before the Black Death, p. 141; "The Behaviour of Wages during Deflation in Late Medieval England and the Low Countries", paper submitted to the Ninth International Economic History Congress, Berne, 1986).

(14)Bridbury, "Black Death", pp. 590-1; Dyer, Standards of Living, pp. 218-19. Despite repeated re-readings I am still not confident of having mastered all the subtleties of Bridbury's arguments; but see also A. R. Bridbury, review of J. Hatcher, Plague, Population and the English Economy, 1348-1530 (London, 1977), in Population Studies, xxxi (1977), pp. 606-7.

(15)For recent discussions of likely pre-plague population movements, see the essays by B. H. Harvey and R. M. Smith in Campbell (ed.), Before the Black Death; E. Miller and J. Hatcher, Medieval England: Towns, Commerce and Crafts, 1086-1348 (forthcoming 1995), ch. 7.

(16)Hatcher, Plague, Population and the English Economy, pp. 21-5, surveys the evidence then available. Subsequently published estimates of death-rates based upon robust data include: over 50 per cent on Durham priory manors (T. Lomas, "South-East Durham: Late Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries", in P. D. A. Harvey (ed.), The Peasant Land Market in Medieval England (Oxford, 1984), pp. 259-60; R. A. Lomas, "The Black Death in County Durham", Jl Medieval Hist., xv (1989), p. 129); 40-46 per cent on Halesowen manor, Worcs. (Razi, Life, Marriage and Death, pp. 101-9); 50-60 per cent in Coltishall, Norfolk (B. M. S. Campbell, "Population Pressure, Inheritance and the Land Market in a Fourteenth-Century Peasant Community", in R. M. Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle (Cambridge, 1984), p. 96); 49 per cent on Cottenham manor, Cambs. (J. Ravensdale, "Population Changes and the Transfer of Customary Land on a Cambridgeshire Manor in the Fourteenth Century", in Smith (ed.), Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle, pp. 197-9); 45 per cent in mid-Essex communities (Poos, Rural Society, p. 107); 45-55 per cent in Walsham-le-Willows, Suffolk (R. Lock, "The Black Death in Walsham-le-Willows", Proc. Suffolk Inst. Archaeology and Hist., xxxvii (1989-92), pp. 316-17).

(17)Dyer, Standards of Living, p. 219. It might also be noted that the laws of economics as interpreted by Snooks do not permit falling population to result in labour scarcity and hence in rising real wages: G. D. Snooks, Economics without Time: A Science Blind to the Forces of Historical Change (Basingstoke, 1993), pp. 258-62.

(18)The Ordinance is printed in Latin in B. H. Putnam, The Enforcement of the Statutes of Labourers during the First Decade after the Black Death, 1349-1359 (New York, 1908), pp. 8*-12*; and in English in English Economic History: Select Documents, ed. A. E. Bland, P. A. Brown and R. H. Tawney (London, 1914), pp. 164-7.

(19)25 Edw. III, 2, cc. 1-7: printed in The Statutes of the Realm, ed. A. Luders et al., 11 vols. in 12 (London, 1810-28), i, pp. 311-13.

(20)Chronicon Henrici Knighton, ed. J. R. Lumby, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, London, 1889-95), ii, p. 74; S. L. Waugh, England in the Reign of Edward III (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 91, 109-10.

(21)Putnam, Enforcement of the Statutes of Labourers, throws much light on these matters. In 1368 smaller landlords petitioned parliament drawing attention to the damage they were suffering from the shortage and high cost of labour: N. Saul, Knights and Squires: The Gloucestershire Gentry in the Fourteenth Century (Oxford, 1981), p. 238.

(22)R. H. Hilton is one of the few exceptions; see, for example, his use of literature in "Ideology and Social Order in Late Medieval England", in R. H. Hilton, Class Conflict and the Crisis of Feudalism: Essays in Medieval Social History (London, 1985), pp. 246-52, and "Rent and Capital Formation in Feudal Society", in R. H. Hilton, The English Peasantry in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford, 1975), pp. 174-214.

(23)G. R. Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England: A Neglected Chapter in the History of English Letters and of the English People (Cambridge, 1933), p. 361; Farmer, "Prices and Wages, 1350-1500", p. 443.

(24)Recent notable "historical" approaches to late fourteenth-century authors include J. Coleman, English Literature in History, 1350-1400: Medieval Readers and Writers (London, 1981); D. Aers, Chaucer, Langland and the Creative Imagination (London, 1980); D. Aers, Community, Gender, and Individual Identity: English Writing, 1360-1430 (London, 1988); D. Pearsall, Geoffrey Chaucer (Oxford, 1992); A. Baldwin, "The Historical Context", in J. A. Alford (ed.), A Companion to "Piers Plowman" (Berkeley, 1988).

(25)William Langland, Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman, in Three Parallel Texts, together with Richard the Redeless, ed. W. W. Skeat, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1886), i, pp. 192-224.

(26)Quoted from the late fourteenth-century translation by John Trevisa: On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa's Translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De Proprietatibus Rerum, ed. M. C. Seymour et al., 3 vols. (Oxford, 1975-88), i, pp. 305-6 (vi, II).

(27)Mirour de l'omme, II. 26437-48 (The Complete Works of John Gower, ed. G. C. Macaulay, 4 vols. (Oxford, 1899-1902), i, p. 293).

(28)Ibid., II. 26449-60 (ed. Macaulay, i, p. 293).

(29)The Major Latin Works of John Gower: The "Voice of One Crying" and the "Tripartite Chronicle", ed. E. W. Stockton (Seattle, 1962), pp. 98-9.

(30)Ibid., pp. 208-9.

(31)Ibid., p. 210.

(32)Ibid., pp. 58, 210, 259.

(33)Owst, Literature and Pulpit, pp. 363-5; Coleman, English Literature in History, pp. 126-56; J. Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire: The Literature of Social Classes and the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (Cambridge, 1973), pp. 70-1.

(34)37 Edw. III, cc. 8-15; 13 Ric. II, 1, c. 13 (Statutes of the Realm, ed. Luders et al., i, p. 380; ii, p. 65); Rotuli parliamentorum, 6 vols. (London, 1783), iii, p. 273; Chronicon Henrici Knighton, ed. Lumby, ii, p. 299.

(35)Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire, pp. 68-9; B. White, "Poet and Peasant", in F. R. H. Du Boulay and C. M. Barron (eds.), The Reign of Richard II: Essays in Honour of May McKisack (London, 1971), pp. 70-2; Hilton, Class Conflict and the Crisis of Feudalism, pp. 249-50.

(36)Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales"; quotation from II. 531-2: The Text of the Canterbury Tales, ed. J. M. Manly and E. Rickert, 8 vols. (Chicago, 1940), iii, p. 24.

(37)Rotuli parliamentorum, ii, pp. 340-1: printed in The Peasants' Revolt of 1381, ed. R. B. Dobson, 2nd edn (London, 1970), pp. 72-4.

(38)Putnam, Enforcement of the Statutes of Labourers, p. 178.

(39)Ibid., p. 223.

(40)Levett, "Black Death on the Estates of the See of Winchester", pp. 102-3.

(41)W. H. Beveridge, "Wages in the Winchester Manors", Econ. Hist. Rev., vii (1936-7), p. 37.

(42)Farmer, "Prices and Wages, 1350-1500", p. 470. Farmer notes that "had tips been included, the effect would have been to show wages rising more swiftly in the 1360s and more slowly in the 1370s".

(43)Ibid., p. 472.

(44)J. E. T. Rogers, A History of Agriculture and Prices in England, 7 vols. (Oxford, 1866-1902), i, p. 300; J. E. T. Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages (London, 1884), p. 229.

(45)M. K. McIntosh, Autonomy and Community: The Royal Manor of Havering, 1200-1500 (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 164-5.

(46)Levett, "Black Death on the Estates of the See of Winchester", pp. 97, 101.

(47)As may be seen from a perusal of the published proceedings. These are conveniently listed in S. A. C. Penn and C. Dyer, "Wages and Earnings in Late Medieval England: Evidence from the Enforcement of the Labour Laws", Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xliii (1990), pp. 375-6.

(48)Yorkshire Sessions of the Peace, 1361-1364, ed. B. H. Putnam (Yorkshire Archaeol. Soc., record ser., c, Wakefield, 1939).

(49)Putnam, Enforcement of the Statutes of Labourers, p. 91.

(50)Farmer, "Prices and Wages, 1350-1500", p. 484 n.

(51)Rolls of the Warwickshire and Coventry Sessions of the Peace, 1377-1397, ed. E. G. Kimball (Dugdale Soc. Pubns, xvi, London, 1939), p. 159.

(52)13 Ric. II, 1, c. 8 (Statutes of the Realm, ed. Luders et al., ii, p. 63).

(53)S. A. C. Penn, "Female Wage Earners in Late Fourteenth-Century England", Agric. Hist. Rev., xxxv (1987); J. Goldberg, Women, Work and Life-Cycle in a Medieval Economy: York (Oxford, 1992).

(54)Poos, Rural Society, p. 26.

(55)Razi, Life, Marriage and Death, pp. 147-8.

(56)G. Persson, "Consumption, Labour and Leisure in the Late Middle Ages", in D. Menjot (ed.), Manger et boire au Moyen Age, 2 vols. (Nice, 1984), i, pp. 211-23.

(57)Gower, Vox clamantis, v, 9 (ed. Stockton, p. 209).

(58)The Anonimalle Chronicle, 1333 to 1381, ed. V. H. Galbraith (Machester, 1927), pp. 144-5.

(59)Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire, p. 79.

(60)Farmer, "Prices and Wages, 1350-1500", p. 480.

(61)Ibid.; Levett, "Black Death on the Estates of the See of Winchester", p. 101.

(62)M. Mate, "Labour and Labour Services on the Estates of Canterbury Cathedral Priory in the Fourteenth Century", Southern History, vii (1985); N. R. Goose, "Wage Labour on a Kentish Manor: Melopham, 1307-75", Archaeologia Cantiana, xcii (1977); J. A. Raftis, The Estates of Ramsey Abbey (Toronto, 1957), pp. 199-208; Penn and Dyer, "Wages and Earnings in Late Medieval England", p. 371.

(63)Raftis, Estates of Ramsey Abbey, p. 201; D. L. Farmer, "Crop Yields, Prices and Wages in Medieval England", Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Hist., new ser., vi (1983), pp. 145, 148.

(64)Owst, Literature and Pulpit, p. 369.

(65)The Chronicles of Froissart, trans. Lord Berners, ed. G. and W. Anderson (London, 1963), p. 160.

(66)G. Shepherd, "Poverty in Piers Plowman", in T. H. Aston et al. (eds.), Social Relations and Ideas: Essays in Honour of R. H. Hilton (Cambridge, 1983); Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, ed. W. W. Skeat (Early Eng. Text Soc., original ser., xxx, London, 1867), pp. 16-17.

(67)Miller and Hatcher, Medieval England, ch. 7.

(68)Gower, Mirour de l'omme, II. 26482-90 (ed. Macaulay, i, p. 293).

(69)Hatcher, Plague, Population and the English Economy, pp. 31-5.

(70)Farmer, "Prices and Wages, 1350-1500", pp. 502-3.

(71)Rotuli parliamentorum, iii, pp. 21-2. The petition is translated in Peasants' Revolt of 1381, ed. Dobson, pp. 76-8.

(72)J. H. Tillotson, "Peasant Unrest in the England of Richard II: Some Evidence from Royal Records", Historical Studies, xvi (1974); R. Faith, "The 'Great Rumour' of 1377 and Peasant Ideology", in R. H. Hilton and T. H. Aston (eds.), The English Rising of 1381 (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 43-73.

(73)Anonimalle Chronicle, ed. Galbraith, p. 144.
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Date:Aug 1, 1994
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