medieval depiction of two threshing people.

(Real) Wages in the Middle Ages


The project is being worked on in collaboration with Jordan Claridge (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Vincent Delabastita (Radboud Universiteit).

This project aims to provide a new basis by which to explore changes in the renumeration of agricultural workers in late medieval England. While historians have long appreciated that wages are among the best evidence to explore the dynamics of preindustrial economies, there remains a degree of arbitrariness surrounding both the data and the assumptions that underpin many wage series. One issue, largely ignored in the literature, is the composition of the payments workers received. In medieval England, as in most pre-modern societies, wages were paid both in cash and ‘in-kind’. To date, wages paid in-kind have either been ignored or their value has been estimated using a consumer price index (CPI) basket of goods.

To overcome this problem, this project utilises direct observations of the cash and in-kind wages paid to thousands of agricultural labourers who worked on lords’ estates between c.1250 and c.1450. By combining information on the amounts, types and values of grains paid to these workers, we will create a far more accurate data series than has previously been possible. This will allow the project to explore a number of topics, including the impact of the Black Death and wage legislation on remuneration and living standards, how wages varied by region and gender, and the reasons for the long-term persistence of in-kind payment in a monetised economy.