The Planes Shown In Fig Seen From Above

Rijks Museum, Amsterdam.

part of the King to swell his private revenue, but one of the results was to destroy the East Anglian woollen and textile trades with the Low Countries. Payment, at that date, being made by weight instead of by tale, the exchanging of this debased coin for commodities constituted a fraud of the worst kind on the Xetherland merchant, a fraud to which the English trader was an unwitting accessor}*, with the result that when the cheat was discovered, the English currency was not depreciated in exchange value ; it was refused absolutely, and the English trade with the Continent was ruined.

There is an apparent rise in the wages of artisans from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, reckoned in terms of currency, but, actually, the conditions changed steadily for the worse. As Thorold Rogers remarks in Chapter XII of " Six Centuries of 11 ork and Wages," " the fifteenth century and the first quarter of the sixteenth were the golden age of the English labourer, if we are to interpret the wages which he earned by the cost of the necessaries of life. At no time were wages, relatively speaking, so high, and at no time was food so cheap. Attempts were constantly made to reduce these wages by Act of Parliament, the legislature frequently insisting that the Statute of



Rijks Museum, Amsterdam.

Labourers should be kept. But these efforts were futile ; the rate keeps steadily high, and finally becomes customary, and was recognised by Parliament."

To estimate the real value of this depreciation in wages, though accompanied by a currency increase in rate, from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, it is necessary to formulate a subsistence table, to include the food which a man with a wife and two children would require for a year, and to calculate the mimber of weeks of the man's labour at the various periods which was necessary to purchase this year's provision. It is of little moment whether the list be complete or no, providing that it remains constant in all the estimates. As stated before, food during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, although plentiful, was coarse and lacking in variety. The artisan of the eighteenth century had accustomed himself to greater variety, and, possibly, could not have existed on the fourteenth-century monotonous dietary scale, but this fact does not affect the point at issue here. Let us take, for purposes of comparison, a list comprising 3 quarters of wheat, 3 quarters of malt, 2 quarters of oatmeal, with the necessary amounts of beef and mutton for the family, before referred to, for the space of one year. It will be found that, in the late fifteenth century, fourteen weeks wages of a skilled artisan were sufficient to purchase this amount, whereas in 1530 it would take over twenty weeks' wages, and in 1564, after the proclamation of Elizabeth regulating wages, forty-four weeks' wages would scarcely buy the same amount. In 1503, fifty-two weeks' wages were required, and in 1507, a year of severe famine, when wheat rose

r b to 56s. iokl. the quarter, wages were only from £5 10s. od. to £6 5s. ocl. per year. In 1593 (not a famine year) with wheat at iSs. 4M. the quarter, as we have already stated, one year's wages only bought that for which the labour of fourteen weeks was sufficient in 14Q5. In this year of 1593, also, we see the first indication of a year being paid for as one of 312, instead of 365 days, at rates varying from £10 Ss. od. to £11 2s. od. per year. In the famine year of 1597, with wheat at 56s. iojd. as compared with iSs. 4Jd., wages only advanced by 10s. to 15s. the year. Privation, during this year, among the workers must have been extreme. In 1651, with wheat at 51s. 4c!., the sawing of a hundred of planks (six-score feet, always calculated as a da3T's work) is paid at 15s. per week, the top-sawyer receiving 8s., the under man 7s. (See Fig. 6.)

In 1661 the wages are substantially the same as ten years before, but wheat advances from 51s. 4d. to 70s. 6d. In 16S2 wheat is only 43s. Sd., but wages are reduced.

e 25

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment