Medieval Prices and Wages

market-sceneMedieval prices and wages are basically impossible to know. I can hear you fighting against this as a write but there are so many vagaries. Just for example – board and lodging would be part of some jobs not of others; wages might vary a lot around the country. However it’s possible to get an idea of scale. When you look at the below, bear in mind that inflation is basically zero  throughout the Middle Ages; when inflation arrives with the bullion of the new world, in the 16th century, it’s a terrible shock.

Old Money

As it says in Kenneth Hodges’ site, the English system is based on the pound, shilling and penny (Latin liber, solidus, and denarius,   which is where the English abbreviations “L.s.d” come from). The French livre, sou, and denier are equivalent to the pound.  The conversion is:

  • £1 = 20 shillings
  • 1 shilling = 12 pence

Wages

So a labourer for example, earned £2 a year in 1300, which means 40 shillings, or 480 pence a year – or 2 pence a day…see how the table works? It gets a bit meaningless higher up the social scale; an Earl might have between £500 and £3,000 for example. wages

Prices

Then there are prices. Here are a few to give an idea of how far that might stretch; I’ve picked a few out. So, if you were a labourer, a bottle of plonk was a day’s work; a mildly fashionable gown a quarter of his annual income. A university education would cost £81/2 a year – beyond the means of Master Craftsmen. Bread, by the way, is not on the lists, presumably because most people bought wheat and made their own. I had a go at calculating the price of a loaf. If you want the detail go to the end. It’s quite dull. But I enjoyed it.

prices

Great sites to find out more

The statistics that float around derive often from a monster list put together by a chap called Kenneth Hodges – you can see it on the Medieval Sourcebook. There is a little more detail in this other website.

There is a really interesting article from a chap called Vlad here – interesting, but I cannot vouch for the accuracy.

And then, very bravely, there is a converter here which tries to convert money values into modern values. It’s a hopeless task of course, because it’s really about buying power. But it’s a bit of fun. The Bishop of Winchester’s income was £4,000 give or take in days medieval; according to this site this equates to £2m. Huh. Doesn’t seem unreasonable.

The Price of bread (for the most nerdy) 

We will immediately notice that the main staple of the medieval diet, bread, is not there. I imagine this is because people would buy wheat and make their own bread, but I could be wrong. so I worked it out from the price of a bushell of wheat. The thing to note is that the price of wheat was very volatile in the short term, though stable in the longer term. So in bad years, the lower earners were badly affected.

bread-price

15 thoughts on “Medieval Prices and Wages

    1. I must also, for a while, have done the same thing; I can just remember walking down to the post office to buy sweets with my sixpence of something. But I can’t remember the pain. I can remember the pain of any kind of maths, but that’s a different story. I always wondered how the Romans managed to conquer the western world with their numbering system.

    2. Luxury!
      When I was young my dad took me to visit London. Imagine a 14-year old swede who had never had any contact with anything except the correct monetary and measuring system (i.e 10-based money and metric)trying to figure out if he could afford to buy a drink or how much a pint was… (rather a lot as it turned out, but that’s another story)

    1. May I add……
      Taking the silver pennyweight (1.56g), and current silver price (£0.41/g) youe medieval “penny” would be today’s 64 “pence”.
      Your ALE (@ 0.18d/pint) would be today 12p/pint – which is absurdly low, for today….but quite comparable to the 2s/4d per pint, when I was a young man!
      By the Beer Standard, therefore, your thesis is more than just academic!
      Thank you!

      1. You may so add…and very good to have someone who can, unlike me, do the maths! I think that it illustrates one of the reasons historians are so chary of making comparisons – because there are so many things I assume that must price. Almost everyone drank ale/beer then affect – so I assume that means it would be relatively plentiful and cheap. You’ve managed to rekindle my nostalgia though – I could handle 12p a pint!

        1. Thank you, sir!
          I am using your (relatively) modern history (1300) to extrapolate back to the century when the Anglo-Saxon interlopers got their comeuppance (the native Brits, already having had theirs’!). Assuming early medieval inflation to be 0.25%pa (ie 25%/century), prices in 1,000 AD would have been neatly half of yours for 1,300!
          Thanks, again! Your very practical tabulation has resolved a problem, which has been vexing me for months!

        1. There’s a thing. First first pint was also mild, age of 15, Griffin Inn – how times have changed. Never a fan of mild since, though.

          1. When I say “mild”, I’m translating; it was Scots’ “light”!
            (And I was a bit nearer legal age!)

          2. There was a residual problem, with ale @ 0.18d/pint!
            Since smallest coin was the penny, one could not buy fewer than 5 pints!
            (Actually – why is that a “problem”???)

          3. Well that was the advantage of a coin where the bullion value was the same as face value. They just cut the penny into halves or quarters.

  1. I am locked in a debate with a friend regarding the cleanliness of the average peasant. Any idea what the cost of soap or cleaning of ones self compared to wages earned for those not part of an army

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