In 1351, England, overpopulated and feudal, was hit by the Black Death. This solved the overpopulation problem, but there was a shortage of labourers to work the land. This led to massive wage increases, accompanied by inflation and a better lifestyle for serfs. This was clearly unacceptable, so the government (the King and selected advisors) passed the Statute of Labourers in 1352 to put a stop to increased wages. This created a thriving black market in labour, as serfs ran away from their lords to work for better wages on other estates.

The Statute of Labourers was highly unsuccessful from the point of view of the lords, and was one of the contributing factors in the Peasants Revolt of 1381.

This excerpt from the Statute of Labourers is taken from "The Pound" by David Sinclair, with some of my own explanations added. This excerpt is essentially saying that all wages should return to 1347 rates, and lists many occupations and the wages allowed to them.

First, that carters, ploughmen, drivers of the plough, shepherds, swineherds, deies [dairy maids], and all other servants, shall take liveries and wages, accustomed the said twentieth year [of Edward IIIs reign, ie 1347, or four years before ] so that in the country where wheat was wont to be given, they shall take for the bushel ten pence, or wheat at the will of the giver, till it be otherwise ordained. And that they be allowed to serve by a whole year, or by other usual terms, and not by the day; and that none pay in the time of sarcling [hoeing] or hay-making but a penny the day; and a mower of meadows for the acre five pence, or by the day five pence; and reapers of corn in the first week of August two pence, and the second three pence, and so till the end of August, and less in the country where less was wont to be given, without meat or drink, or other courtesy to be demanded, given, or taken; and that such workmen bring openly in their hands to the merchant-towns their instruments, and there shall be hired in a common place and not privy.

Item, that carpenters, masons, and tilers, and other workmen of houses, shall not take by the day for their work, but in the manner as they were wont, that is to say: a master carpenter 3d. and another 2d.; and master free-stone mason 4d. and other masons 3d. and their servants 1d.; tilers 3d. and their knaves 1d.; and other coverers of fern and straw 3d. and their knaves 1d.; plasterers and other workers of mudwalls, and their knaves, by the same manner, without meat or drink, 1s. from Easter to Saint Michael [ 29th September] and from that time less, according to the rate and discretion of the justices.

Item, that cordwainers and shoemakers shall not sell boots nor shoes, nor none other thing touching their mystery, in any other manner than they were wont the said twentieth year: item, that goldsmiths, saddlers, horsesmiths, spurriers, tanners, curriers, tawers of leather, tailors, and other workmen, artificers, and labourers, and all other servants here not specified, shall be sworn before the justices, to do and use their crafts and offices in the manner they were wont to do the said twentieth year, and in time before, without refusing the same because of this ordinance; and if any of the said servants, labourers, workmen, or artificers, after such oath made, come against this ordinance, he shall be punished by fine and ransom, and imprisonment after the discretion of the justices.

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