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tion involved the disintegration When the payment of money personal service, the lord could emesne with compulsory labour. d was to employ hired labourers om the tenants, but subsequently ble. The high price of labour is Black Death, but this overlooks been rising for a generation before
the plague swept over England. At the manor of Great Tew in Essex 2 the tenant paid a penny apiece for autumn works and a halfpenny for winter works, while the labourer who supplied his place received three halfpence; and during the reign of Edward II. wages rose 10 per cent 3. Owing to this upward movement, due to earlier pestilences, the pecuniary compensation obtained by the landowners was already disproportionate to the true value of the services which were commuted. Hence the great pestilence only intensified but did not originate the economic crisis, for the altered equilibrium of the labour market had already begun to produce its effects. Admittedly, however, the Black Death accelerated enormously the course of events, and altogether wages rose 50 per cent. The landlords endeavoured to cope with the new situation which had arisen by a recourse to legislation. The Ordinance of Labourers was issued in 1349, and was supplemented by the Statute of Labourers in 1351. The preamble of the Ordinance recited that "because a great part of the people, and especially of workmen and servants, lately died of the pestilence, many seeing the necessity 1 Pembroke Surveys, i. 16. Services continued at Gymingham in Norfolk (temp. Eliz.): Law Quarterly Review, ix. 362.
2 W. Denton, England in the Fifteenth Century (1888), 107 (n. 1). 3 Rogers, Agriculture and Prices, i. 292.
4 Denton (op. cit. 217, n. 3) holds that the Statute of Labourers not framed to meet any demand made by the labourers on account of the pestilence. The inconveniences could hardly have been felt so soon ". But the Black Death began August 1348, and the Ordinance was issued in June 1349; an interval of nearly a year, which was quite sufficient. Compare also the preamble of the Ordinance, which makes it clear that the Black Death was responsible for the new legislation.
of masters and great scarcity of servants, will not serve unless they may receive excessive wages, and some rather willing to beg in idleness than by labour to get their living". Accordingly all able-bodied men and women, free and bond, without definite means of support, were to accept service at the old rates of payment and remain in their master's employment until their contract of service had expired 1. The able-bodied were not to be given alms, and butchers, fishmongers and bakers were bidden to sell provisions at reasonable prices and content themselves with moderate gain 2. These labour laws have been the subject of much conflicting interpretation, and we have to determine how far they were effective in keeping down wages, how far they were equitable, and in what ways they affected or modified the development of manorial institutions. Most writers (a) How are agreed that the Statute of Labourers completely failed; far even contemporaries 4 assert that "little good or none it did". The labourers, observes Knighton 5, were so wilful and elated at their good fortune, that they turned a deaf ear to the royal mandate and refused to work except upon their own terms. But it is far from certain that this view can be maintained. In the first place the government adopted definite measures to prevent the statute from becoming a dead letter. A new office was instituted and justices of labourers, afterwards merged into justices of the peace, were appointed by the Crown to regulate wages and prices throughout the country. Their zealous and active administration could scarcely have been altogether ineffective, and it is legitimate to suppose that without their efforts wages would have risen still higher. For a time, at any rate when the crisis was most acute, they must have served in some degree,
1 Statutes, i. 307. The Statute of 1351 (ibid. i. 311) was not a mere re-enactment of the earlier Ordinance, but fixed in detail the wages of labourers and artisans. Ch. Petit-Dutaillis, " Études additionnelles", in Histoire constitutionnelle de l'Angleterre, par W. Stubbs (1913), ii. 862 (n. 1), compares the French Ordinance (1351) issued against the rise of wages after the Black Death.
2 Rymer, Fœdera (R. ed.), iii. part i. 198. The Ordinance in Rymer is wrongly dated 1350.
3 E.g. G. M. Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe (1909), 188.
• Putnam, Statutes of Labourers, part i. c. i. ss. 1 and 2.
as our evidence shows 1, to check the rise in wages. This would explain the hatred displayed towards the justices by the insurgents in the Peasants' Revolt. Ultimately wages are said to have risen 50 per cent.2, for, as we have shown, the rivalry of the landlords foiled all attempts to keep wages down permanently to the old level. The Statute of Labourers failed in fact because two masters were running after one man.
The moral questions involved in this labour legislation are still more difficult to resolve. It has been contended 3 that the government was justified in its attempt to force labourers to accept the old rates, on the ground that the new rates showed such enormous increase. We must remember, however, that prices also were rising as a result of the plague, though the statement of the chronicler that "what in former times was worth a penny now was worth four or five times as much", if credible, can only refer to the immediate effects of the pestilence. This rise in prices is commonly attributed to Edward III.'s issue of new coinage, in which the weight of the currency was reduced from 22 grains to 18, but two things should be considered. In the first place, this depreciation of the coinage must not be regarded as an issue of base money from motives of cupidity; it was due to the wear and tear of the coins in circulation. The government was not strong enough financially to restore the currency to its former standard of weight, and adopted the alternative policy of lowering the standard of the new coinage to the level of the old. It sought in this way to cause the mint price of bullion to correspond with its value in the circulating money, and so encourage owners of bullion to bring it to the mint. Secondly, there appears no reason to
1 In 1336 a ploughman at Teddington received 6s. a year; the year following the Black Death he got IIS. In 1352, as a result of the statute, his wages fell to 7s.: Vict. County Hist. Middlesex, ii. 8o. There is similar evidence for Berkshire: Vict. County Hist. Berkshire, ii., tables on pp. 195-196. In Letter Book G (ed. R. R. Sharpe), 115-118, there is a list of fines imposed on labourers and artificers for infringing the statute regulating wages. Cf. also Putnam, op. cit. 221.
2 Rogers, Agriculture and Prices, i. 292, 687.
3 Putnam, op. cit. 219.
4 Chronicon Knighton, ii. 65.
5 Cunningham, Growth of English Industry, i. 335, 336 n.
A. Hughes, C. G. Crump and C. Johnson, "The Debasement of the Coinage under Edward III.”, in Economic Journal, vii. 187, 189; W. A. Shaw, History of Currency (1895), 46.
connect Edward's monetary changes with the rise in wages and prices. The issue of the new currency was made in June 13511, whereas the Ordinance of Labourers was published in June 13492, and the Statute of Labourers in February 1351 3, that is, before the alteration was effected in the coinage. In any case, however, prices did not remain constant, and while the government certainly did order that prices should be 'reasonable', the term was elastic and would be variously interpreted. Again it was equally to the advantage of employers that prices should remain stationary. The act, moreover, fixed the maximum but not a minimum wage 4. On the whole, then, the Statute of Labourers must be regarded as a one-sided piece of legislation, an unfair exercise of political power in the interests of a single class of the community. It is to be condemned because the government only sought to interfere with wages at the moment when the labourers were endeavouring to improve their economic and social position.
The effect of the Statute of Labourers upon villeinage (c) Their is also disputed. One writer holds that the labour legislation influence weakened the dependence of the bondman on the manorial villeinage. court and helped to transform the legal relations between the lord and his servile tenants. "The legal category of free and bond dissolved itself ", according to this view, "into the wider economic category of employer and employé❞ 5. But it would seem that the power of the lord over his tenants was not materially impaired, for whenever need arose, he still retained the right to reclaim his villeins from the service of a stranger even before their contract of employment expired". Hence there appears no ground for the opinion that the labour laws struck a very heavy blow at, villeinage, or contributed in any marked degree to the disintegration of the manorial system.
Apart from all speculations as to their equity, their
1 Economic Journal, vii. 196.
Close Rolls, 1349-1354, p. 87.
3 Rot. Parl. ii. 225.
4 The labourers were to take the rates in vogue before the Black Death; this fixed the maximum at a time when prices were rising, while the lords were still free to depress wages if occasion served.
A. Savine, in Trans. Royal Hist. Soc. N.S. xvii. 254-255, and English Hist. Review, xvii. 782. • Putnam, Statutes of Labourers, 200-205.
(d) Their import
effectiveness and their influence upon the manor, interest attaches to the labour laws on other grounds. They represented the first serious effort on the part of the central government to regulate the labour conditions of the country as a whole, and the question arises how far the attempt embodied new principles. The intervention of the state in the economic life of the realm had ample precedent in the assizes of bread and ale which applied to the whole kingdom 1. These assizes, it is true, were executed in local courts as a normal function of municipal activity, while justices of labourers were expressly instituted for the purpose of the new legislation. But even "the establishment of this separate set of crown-appointed officials " to administer the Ordinance and the Statute of Labourers had its precedent and parallel in the aulnagers, who had been appointed by the Crown half a century earlier as national officials to carry out the Assize of Cloth 2. Again, the enforcement at law of statutory contracts constituted no new departure from recognized usage, for contracts had previously been enforced in local courts 3. In two respects, however, the enactments of 1349 and 1351 apparently contained innovations 4. In the first place, while the wages of artisans had been previously regulated by the municipal or gild authorities 5 even in the thirteenth century, the wages of agricultural labourers had hitherto been determined only by custom. Secondly, the provisions by which all labourers could be forced to accept work at legal rates, and might not fare abroad in quest of better conditions, restricted the fluidity of labour. For the first time they controlled the movements of the free labourers, who in contrast to the villani adscripti glebae had enjoyed in the past the right of free men to go whither they would.
The first expedient devised by the landlords, the recourse tion of the to legal compulsion, thus proved in the long run a failure. Wages did not fall to their old level, and for the new rates
1 Infra, p. 266.
2 Miss Putnam in her admirable monograph (pp. 153, 160) appears to have overlooked the aulnagers (infra, p. 406), who served to establish a precedent for state-appointed officials.
Putnam, op. cit. 157-160. Compare the ordinance at Northampton that servants who wilfully left their master shall be attached: Records of Northampton (1898), i. 222. 4 Putnam, op. cit. 156, 157. ↳ Infra, p. 300.