making a considerable progress for full half a century, though they
did not readily permeate the cold region of poverty and ignorance."
— Hallam's "History of the Middle Ages" Vol. II., p. 204.
THE RISE OF WAGES NOT ABNORMAL. 127
rise of wages, but had made that event inevitable.
Consequently, when the pestilence came and struck
down ' ' one third of the population, ' ' the rise of wages,
which we have seen had already commenced, and
would otherwise have been gradual, now took place
But, although the rise in wages was somewhat sud-
den, it was not abnormal. Being governed by the cost
of living, wages very naturally rose only as that had
been increased. Unlike the rise of 132 1, there was
now no increase in prices, the harvests having for many
years previous been very good. Therefore, the in-
crease in the cost of living in this instance was mainly
due to the higher standard of living, caused by the
new wants which had been developed by the influences
to which we have referred. To meet the demands of
these new wants a rise of from one and a half pence to
twopence (three to four cents) a day was demanded,
which increased wages to about fivepence (ten cents) a
day. Nor is it surprising that they did not rise to
tenpence (twenty cents) a day ; indeed, it was just as
natural that they should not rise to tenpence as it was
that they should rise to fivepence, because fivepence
being sufficient to satisfy their normal wants, ten-
pence would be more than they could consume, and,
therefore, would have tended to induce idleness rather
than to stimulate industry.* Hence, they had no
motive for demanding it.
But, another, and the most conclusive proof that the
rise of wages was the natural effect of the improved
* See Brassey's experience in raising wages in India above the
wants of the Hindu, as stated in his book " Work and Wages," pp.
128 WEALTH AND PROGRESS.
standard of living, is shown by the fact that the united
power of wealth, law, and royal authority was not able
to force them down again. The plague struck Eng-
land in August, 1348, and continued till January or
February of the next year. Consequently, during the
spring and summer of 1349 wages suddenly rose. The
lords, tenants, farmers, and employers generally, be-
came alarmed at the prospect. Parliament being
broken up through the plague, they appealed to the
king, who, being himself an extensive landowner and
employer, shared their consternation. There having
been no rise in the price of provisions, the cost of liv-
ing, so far as they could see, was unchanged. They
could hardly be expected to recognize the claims of
new wants at that early time, when the political econ-
omy and the statesmanship of the nineteenth century
still regard all indulgence of new wants as extrava-
gance needing to be suppressed ; and, as the most
modern employers often do, they insisted that the de-
mands of the laborers were unnecessary and unjust and
should therefore be resisted by the iron hand of au-
thority. Accordingly, in 1349 the king issued a proc-
lamation decreeing that no higher than customary
wages should be paid. It was soon seen, however,
that the king's mandate was unavailing. His majesty
then announced that not only would laborers be pun-
ished for asking higher than the customary rate of
wages, but severe penalties would also be inflicted
upon all tenant occupiers, crown tenants, or even upon
inferior barons, priors or abbots who should be known
to do so. Many laborers, we are told, were put into
prison for disobeying the royal edict.
But all to no effect. The next year (1350) Parlia-
ment was again called together, for the first time after
THE STATUTE OF LABORERS. 129
the pestilence, when by its vote the substance of the
royal mandate became a law, under that famous title
"The Statute of Laborers," which was the first legisla-
tive attempt to deal with wages. And it remained
upon the statute-book over two hundred years. The
preamble of this statute complains of the " insolence
of the servants," who asked for higher wages than had
been previously paid, " to the great detriment of the
lords and commons," and ordains
(1) That no person under sixty years of age, serf or free, except
those who possessed property, lived by merchandise, or occupied
land, should refuse to labor for the same wages they were accustomed
to receive in the twentieth year of the king's reign (1347), which it
fixes for weeders and haymakers at one penny a day, reapers for the
first week in August at twopence, and the remainder of harvest three-
pence a day, and mowers fivepence an acre. They were to be hired
by the year, month, or day, and receive these wages in wheat or
money, as the master might decide.
(2) That the lord shall have the first claim to the labor of the serf,
and those who refuse to work for him or others at the fixed price are
to be sent to the common jail.
(3) That all persons who leave their employments before the expira-
tion of their contracts shall be punished by imprisonment.
(4) That even the lords of the manor who shall pay more than this
amount shall be fined in treble damages.
(5) That artificers, under which title are enumerated "saddlers,
tanners, farriers, shoemakers, tailors, smiths, carpenters, masons,
tilers, pargetters, carters, and others," are liable to the same damages.
(6) That food must be sold at reasonable prices.
(7) That alms shall not be given to able-bodied laborers.
(8) That any excess of wages, either given or taken, shall be seized
for the king's use, etc.*
Notwithstanding the fulness and severity of this act,
the enforcement of which, we may be sure, lacked
* See Hallam's " History of the Middle Ages," Vol. II., p. 310;
Rogers's " Work and Wages," p. 228 ; Wade's" History of the English
Working Classes," p. 9 ; " Wealth of Nations," Book I., ch. 11, Part
III., p. 141.
130 WEALTH AND PROGRESS.
nothing the king and the lords could do, wages rose.
But while imprisonment of laborers served to increase
the amount of ungathered crops, it did not prevent the
ultimate and permanent rise of wages. In spite of the
royal mandate, statute law, and the personal power of
the barons, wages rose, as is shown by the bailiffs' rolls
for the same year, from fifty to seventy-five per cent,
and, in some instances, even more, although at first,
in order to harvest their crops and avoid the penalties
of the statute, which were, doubtless, for some time at
least, mercilessly inflicted, the bailiffs in their entries
frequently drew a line through the new price, " fivepence
a day" and substituted the legal price, " threepence." *
The new prices were soon openly and regularly paid,
however, as is seen alike by the bailiffs' rolls and the
frequent complaints of employers that the statute was
When the terrors of the pestilence, the royal edict,
and the new statute had spent themselves, and " the
prices paid for labor had been steadied by custom," it
was found that, regardless of all authority, wages had
obeyed the natural law, and adjusted themselves to
the new standard of living, and, accordingly, rose from
fifty to seventy-five per cent. f Indeed, " the result,"
to use the language of Rogers, " is marked, universal,
permanent, and conclusive, even if we had not on
record the complaints of the landowners in Parlia-
ment, that the ' Statute of Laborers ' was entirely in-
operative. " \
The inability of the combined power of baronial in-
* " Work and Wages," p. 229.
f Ibid., p. 233.
% Ibid., p. 237. See also Eden's " State of the Poor."
WANTS GOVERN WAGES. 131
fluence, royal authority, and statute law to prevent
wages from gravitating toward the cost of living was
shown by the utter failure of this statute ; and the
principle that wants govern wages is unconsciously in-
scribed upon all subsequent legislation on wages,
which was almost incessant during the next four cen-
THE RISE OF REAL WAGES ARRESTED BEFORE I45O.
HOW IT WAS BROUGHT ABOUT.
FINDING that all the pains and penalties the gov-
erning classes were able to inflict could not prevent
wages from rising to the level of the wants of the peo-
ple, they began to legislate upon what those wants
should be — i.e., to fix the standard of living by statute
law. In 1363, in response to the numerous complaints
that the " Statute of Laborers" was not enforced, al-
though it had been re-enacted three years previous
(1360) with the penalty of imprisonment and the brand-
ing of the forehead with a red-hot iron for its viola-
tion,* a law was enacted fixing the quantity, qual-
ity and price of both the food and clothes the laborer
This statute ordains that the servants or laborers of
lords, artificers or tradesmen shall receive meat, fish,
or the offal of other victuals, etc., according to their
station, and that laborers shall wear but one kind of
cloth, of which the whole piece did not cost more
than a shilling a yard.f
* "In 1360 the 'Statute of Laborers' was confirmed by Parlia-
ment, and the observance of it was enforced, under the penalty of im-
prisonment for fifteen days and burning in the forehead with a red-
hot iron in the form of the letter ' F.' If they fled into a town the
magistrate was to deliver them up under a penalty of £10 to the king,
and £5 to the master who should reclaim them." — Ederis "State
of the Poor'' 1 Vol. I., p. 36.
f Eden's " State of the Poor," pp. 38, 3g. See also Wade's " His-
tory of the English Working Classes," p. 9.
THE OUTCRY AGAINST NEW WANTS. 133
It was soon discovered, however, that the statute of
1363, fixing the diet and apparel, like its predecessor
in 1350, fixing the wages, had come too late to be
effectual. The new wants, which had been gradually
developing for more than a century previous, had be-
come too firmly established by custom to be wiped
out by any mere statutory enactment ; nothing short
of physical force could now produce that effect.
The causes which had produced this irrepressible
change in the wants, and hence in the wages, were
still active. The trade and commerce of the towns
was still prosperous, and the social intercourse and the
needs of the laboring classes were steadily progressing,
not merely in regard to their food, which is so often
erroneously taken, even by economists, as the only
measure of the cost of living, but also in regard to
dress, furniture, and amusements, which are more civ-
ilizing than diet. No better evidence of this is needed
than the general outcry of the rulers and writers of the
times against the extravagance of the poor.* Knyghton
declares that " in 1388 the vanity of the common peo-
ple in dress was so great that it was impossible to dis-
tinguish the rich from the poor, the high from the low,
or the clergy from the laity by their appearance.
Fashions were changing constantly, and every one was
trying to outdo his neighbor." This is unquestion-
ably a greatly overdrawn picture of the situation, but
the very exaggeration proves the fact. If the wants
of the laborers for dress, etc., had not been materially
increased, and caused them to become troublesome
* " The extravagance of dress was the common topic of complaint
among the historians of that period (last quarter of the fourteenth
century)." — Eden' s " State of the Poor" Vol. I., p. 37.
134 WEALTH AND PROGRESS.
in their demands for higher wages, there could have
been no ground for this alarm, and no motive for ex-
aggeration ; in fact, nothing to exaggerate.*
The rolls of Parliament for that period contain
evidence of the same fact. They inform us that
" in the year 1376 the Commons made great complaint
that the masters are obliged to give their servants and
laborers great wages to prevent them from running
away." f Again, in 1378, we are told that " the Com-
mons complained in Parliament that the ' Statute of
Laborers ' was not attended to, but that persons em-
ployed in husbandry fled into the cities and became
artificers, mariners, and clerks, to the great detriment
of agriculture." %
It is thus evident that the employing classes now
began to recognize the fact that this rise of wages,
which all the powers of government had so far failed
to suppress, originated in what was very naturally re-
garded as the ' ' evil influences of the cities and towns.
Having treacherously slain Wat Tyler, put to death
most of his associates, and at least formally suppressed
his insurrection, Parliament, in 1388, again resumed
its onerous task of fixing the wants and wages of the
laboring classes. They now commenced to direct their
efforts against the real cause of " all their woes," viz.,
the opportunities for social intercourse which had for
* In referring to Knyghton's clamor against the irrepressible de-
mands of these increasing wants of the people, Sir Frederick Eden
wisely observes : " A poor man's vanity would in vain have coveted
finer clothes than he was used to had not his industry and the im-
provement in manufactures afforded him the means of gratifying it."
— " State of the Poor," Vol. I., p. 37.
■f Eden's " State of the Poor," Vol. I., pp. 42, 43.
% Ibid., Vol. I., p. 43.
LAWS LIMITING SOCIAL MOBILITY. 135
a century and a half been gradually revolutionizing the
habits and customs of the people.
This statute,* after prescribing a schedule of prices
to be paid in the different occupations, which were
somewhat higher than those of the previous statutes,
" directs that no servant or laborer should depart from
one part of the country to another to serve or to reside
elsewhere, or under pretence of going on a pilgrimage,
without a letter patent under the king's seal, specify-
ing the cause of his departure and the time of his re-
turn, which might be granted by a justice of the peace.
Every vagrant who could not produce a letter patent
was to be taken up, put into the stocks and imprisoned
until he found surety to return to his former master. " f
Previous legislation had all been directed against the
results of the new wants, and, consequently, produced
no real effect upon wages, but this statute directly re-
lated to the causes which determined the standard of
living ; and hence, as we shall presently see, was at-
tended with most disastrous consequences to wages.
From the date of this statute the causes began to
operate which finally arrested the rise of wages, and,
consequently, the prosperity of the English laborers,
which afterward became practically stationary for more
than three centuries. Although wages did not imme-
diately stop rising, it was this and similar statutes
which followed it that laid the foundation for the fear-
ful arrest of material prosperity which was consum-
mated before the middle of the fifteenth century, and
* 12th Richard II., ch. 3.
f Eden's " State of the Poor," Vol. I., p. 44. " By a very harsh
statute in the 12th of Richard II. no servant or laborer could depart,
even at the expiration of his service, from the hundred in which he
lived without permission under the king's seal." — " History of the Mid-
dle Ages" Vol. II., p. 207.
136 WEALTH AND PROGRESS.
became so marked in the sixteenth. In fact, this en-
actment really sustained the same relation to the low
wages and poverty of the masses during the sixteenth,
seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries that the char-
tered towns of the thirteenth century did to the in-
creased wages, prosperity, and progress of the four-
teenth and fifteenth centuries. What the charters
gave this statute took away. The free towns afforded
opportunity for industrial contact and social inter-
course and association, which naturally tended to in-
crease the wants and develop the social and intellectual
character of the laborer, and to prepare him for the
freedom he thereby acquired. While the purpose and
effect of this legislation, so far as it was operative, was
to destroy all opportunity for travel and social inter-
course, it prohibited all association, prevented the de-
velopment of new tastes and wants, and prepared the
laborer for the despotism and degradation which fol-
lowed for nearly three centuries after the death of
That the law of 1388 was rigidly enforced is manifest
from what immediately followed. The " uplandish
folk," as the country people were called, properly
envying the prosperity and freedom enjoyed in the
towns, f and being now prohibited from leaving the
place of their birth or changing their occupation after
twelve years of age, began to send their children
under that age into the towns, and bind them as ap-
* Rogers's " Work and Wages," p. 50S.
\ " It was natural," says Hallam, " that the country people or ' up-
landish folk,' as they were called, should repine at the exclusion from
that enjoyment of competence and security for the fruits of their labor
which the inhabitants of towns so fully possessed." — " History of the
Middle Ages" Vol. II., pp. 204, 205.
RISE OF REAL WAGES ARRESTED BY 1444. 137
prentices to learn some trade or craft — become " arti-
ficers." In order, therefore, to complete the statute
of 1388, and make it operate as effectually upon chil-
dren under twelve as it had done upon all over that
age, it was further enacted in 1406* " that no person
whosoever, unless possessed of land or rental of twenty
shillings a year, shall put a child of any age apprentice
to any trade or mystery in any city or borough, but
that children should be brought up in the occupations
of their parents, or other business suitable to their
station ;" and this was further strengthened by another
statute of similar import in 1483.
It was thus during what Rogers calls " the golden
age of the English laborer" that the foundation of his
degradation was laid. The machinery for arresting
the growth of new tastes and wants among the masses
was now put into full operation, and we shall soon see
with what result. Although the tendency of wages
continued upward for a time, long before the middle
of the fifteenth century the rise was completely and
permanently arrested. This is clearly shown by the
rates of wages as fixed by subsequent statutes, that
of 23d Henry VI., in 1444, being from seventy to
ninety per cent above that fixed by the statutes of Ed-
ward III., Richard II., and Henry IV. in 1350, 1388,
and i4o6,f and was the highest point they ever reached
until the depreciation of the currency by Henry VIII.
in 1545-46 and Edward VI. in 1549-51, which, though
it increased nominal wages, had no tendency to ad-
vance real wages. In fact, while through the variation
* 7th Henry IV., ch. 17. See Eden's " State of the Poor,"
Vol. I., p. 63 ; also Hallam's " History of the Middle Ages," Vol. II.,
f See Eden's " State of the Poor," Vol. I., pp 65, 66.
138 WEALTH AND PROGRESS.
of prices produced by changes in the value of money
and bad harvests, nominal wages frequently rose dur-
ing the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centu-
ries, historians agree in assuring us that the general rate
of real wages never again rose till the present century.
The effect of this legislation soon began to show it-
self, and finally proved to be as disastrous to the pros-
perity and progress of the laboring class as its most
sanguine projectors could have hoped or desired. In-
deed, were all other evidence wanting of the fact that
the rise of wages was permanently arrested before the
middle of the fifteenth century, it is fully demon-
strated by the statute of Henry VII., Chapter XL,
in 1496, and that of Henry VIII. in 1514; for, al-
though nearly three-quarters of a century had elapsed
between the statutes of the Sixth and Eighth Henrys,
during which time several laws regulating the price of
labor had been passed," the rate of wages as fixed by
them all was substantially the same, as is clearly shown by
the following schedule of wages fixed by the statutes of
Henrys VI., VII., and VIII., in 1444, 1496, and 1 5 14 :
* See Rogers's "History of Prices," Vol. IV., pp. 17-23; also
Eden's " State of the Poor," Vol. I., pp. 30-75.
f The wages of the bailiff in the statute of 1496 are stated by some
early writers at sixteen shillings and eightpence, which is clearly an
error. Eden thinks it should be one pound, sixteen shillings and eight-
pence. But this appears to be equally improbable, as that is as much
out of proportion to the rate fixed by other statutes as sixteen shillings
and eightpence. What seems to be more probable, however, is that
in the earlier copying the figures 1 and 6 have got placed together as
i6j. instead of £i bs. The probable correctness of this view is sustained
by the fact, that in the statute of 15 14 where all the other wages are
exactly the same as in that of 1496, the bailiff's wages are one pound
six shillings and eightpence. Rogers appears to have taken this view
also, as he has put it at one pound six shillings and eightpence in his
" History of Prices."
RATE OF WAGES IN 1444, 1496, AND 1514.
" 2. 3 « 3^-g 3
o o „ S S
"'i'n £ »> 2
o o c o o o is
o o o o o o h
IJ u) jj u 4- 4- !.,
O o o o o o is
*.^4^-P- *0 -P> -fi. .Ji. -&• -f^ R.
On On O On.-£» o o^ o o^ o ^
-I> -h^ -P>. -P* M -P> -P» -f^ -t- -£. ft.
On On On ON-J-h On On On On On R*
3- q 1 =r P
S3 3 £g
O O O H w ^S
On O <-» O 00 h
O O O O -£. R,
5 ET —
O O O H H iS
ON O ON O ON J"
00 00 a.
— *~ '
cT = —
•- 2 <
4 1 1- '-n <-n J>
O O O O O R,
O O O W M ^S
ON O ON O ON h
00 00 a.
O O O O O R.
14° WEALTH AND PROGRESS.
It is difficult to ascertain the exact cost of provisions
for each year in the foregoing table, but all authorities
agree that the price of wheat was lower in the first
than in either of the other years.* If we take Thorold
Rogers, who, being the most recent writer on prices,
has had the best opportunities for forming a correct
estimate, we find that the price of wheat in 1444 f was
three shillings and elevenpence three farthings a
quarter. In 1496,^: according to the same writer, it
was five shillings and fivepence halfpenny, and in
1 5 14 § it was five shillings and fourpence. If we take
the average for the decades in which each of these
years occur, which is still better, we find the result to
be the same. The average price of wheat from 1441
to 1450 |j was five shillings and threepence three far-
things ; from 1491 to 1500 it was five shillings and three
farthings, and from 1 5 1 1 to 1520 it was six shillings
and eightpence three farthings.
It is therefore very clear that while nominal wages
in a few cases were a fraction lower, real wages were,
if anything, higher in 1444 than at either of the other
periods, which conclusively shows that the rise of real
wages was unmistakably arrested before the middle of
the fifteenth century.
Nor were the evil effects of those enactments con-
fined to the ' ' uplandish folk, ' ' but it affected the towns
also. The statutes of Richard II. and Henry IV. vir-
tually cut off the industrial and social intercourse be-
* See Tooke's "History of Prices," Vol. VI., pp. 423, 424, 425 ;
" Wealth of Nations," conclusion of Book I., p. 206 ; Arthur Young's
" Progressive Value of Money;" Eden's "State of the Poor," and
Rogers's " History of Prices," Vol. IV.
f " History of Prices," Vol. IV., p". 2S4.
% Ibid., p. 286. § Ibid., p. 288. || Ibid., p. 292.
DECLINE OF THE CHARTERED TOWNS. 141
tween the laboring classes in the country and those in
the towns, which was necessarily very inimical to the
growth of the population and prosperity of the latter.
Several circumstances contributed to this result.