Thursday, June 23, 2022

A Living Wage

I've talked about different jobs here and here. What could you earn in different professions?

First, we need to know the currency:

1 pound (£) = 20 shillings (s)
1 shilling = 12 pence (d)
1 pence (penny) = 4 farthings
Additionally, 1 crown was only 5 shillings, and 1 mark = 13 shillings and 4 pence
The £, s, d symbols are from French Livre, sou, and denier, which are in turn from Latin liber, solidus, and denarius.

Lists of wages are not readily available; the information must be gleaned from various sources found in various time periods. For comparison's sake, I will keep to wages in the 1300s.

An unskilled laborer in 1300 could make £2/year, or 40s; by 1390 that had doubled to £4.

A manservant in 1390 could make 20s/year; a maidservant half that, 10s.

A swineherd made as much as the maidservant.

In 1351, as the Black Death was reducing the labor pool, a mason could earn 107s/year; by 1390, that had risen to £8, or 160s!

A carpenter in 1300 could make 53s/year. By 1351 (Black Death killing off workers!), that had risen to 80s/year, and a master carpenter could earn 107s. A little later, in 1400, the carpenter's apprentice would be worth 40s/year.

While the carpenter might be hired to help build a house, the thatcher might be needed for the roof. Collecting sufficient reeds, binding them, making them secure so that the roof is thick enough to keep out inclement weather and secure enough that high winds don't destroy it—these arduous and skilled tasks probably explain why the thatcher in 1390 could make £6/year, or 113s!

Of course, building a house took a lot more than one's savings. A two-story cottage in the early 1300s could cost £2, four times what the swineherd makes. A house with several rooms could cost £10-15! So what did the typical person/family do to afford it? Why, get a mortgage, of course. Did mortgages work the same way they do now? Let's find out tomorrow.

The Medieval Sourcebook has a lot of pricing information ranging from the 11th to 15th centuries, if you'd like to explore further.

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