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


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


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.


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.


76 thoughts on “Medieval Prices and Wages

  1. I was one of the tortured medieval children who had to do arithmetic with the £sd money system. No wonder we lost the empire!

    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)

    3. I would much rather have pounds shillings and pence AND the standard English measures and measurements than that bloody awful metric system.

    4. Classic wooly thinking. The old LSD system worked really well and rather than torturing children they worked with it in their heads quickly and accurately, as did everyone regardless of education for 1000 years – during which they built the empire!

      Base 10 absolutely *sucks* for any situation where you have to do a lot of division. 12 and 20 are better and old money combined both into one very clever and usable system.

    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. Still waiting for the Normans to get there comeuppance and you forgot the Romans. things did not turn out too well for them either. I guess while they are picking on those people Yorkshire men might be left alone. After all even Shakespeare knew “Yorkshiremen! those that nature made different” It seems we must have been quite contrary even in those days.

        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.

  2. 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

    1. Soap is easily made with fat, wood ash and water using just a pan, sieve, fire,so cheap soap is easy, nice soap can be up to 100x. Compare to lamp oil. Soapwort and some other plants can replace soap, bleach,acids and lye are all available for drastic cleaning needs, so no need for filth. Proper baths and laundry can get pricey, because both are labor and fuel hogs.

  3. A fascinatIng article: thank you.

    Would a medieval scribe or an illuminator be counted as craftsmen? If so, would their pay be equivalent to, say, a master carpenter?

    1. For many centuries illumination would be done by monks; but yes, illumination becomes a craft. So at Henry VIII’s court there is a Lucas Horenbout whose father was an illumintator, and Lucas was probably brought to court by Wolsey to illuminate manuscripts. He was paid considerably more than the more famous Hans Holbein.

  4. How did the Black Death affect job wages, or businesses in general from around 1340-1360?

  5. Also, in the case of a family business, if a family member were to have died, who would take the place of those who passed? If it be the father, mother, son or daughter?

    1. Hi, in a family business it would be similar to any other situation; you’d expect the son, if of age, to take the business over. There are plenty of examples of widow’s running businesses, but it tends to be where they have no children or they are too young.

    1. Hi Lillian, and thanks for the question. I think that depends on your castle; but Harlech, a reasonably impressive example of the genre, cost Edward I £8,190 to build.

      1. Is that with the l s d system? 8190l.? I ask this because baldwin bought Manor of Bourne for 301l. It sounds like there was no castle on the site at the time.

  6. What would you guestimate the average yearly rate of inflation might have been between the 12th and 16th centuries?

  7. Hello David,
    Most folk during that period did not make their own bread, other than ash cakes, as they had no facilities to do so. Ovens and the fuel for them were very expensive. In the cities, professional bakers had the monopoly on bread baking. In the villages, a central oven that was usually owned by the manor — and cost a fee in corn — was the rule.

    While most town folk of all economic levels ate at least some wheaten breads, it was of varying quality. See the Assizes of Bread and Beer.

    In the country side, wheat was almost exclusively for export to the towns and the upper gentry. Maslin was the good stuff for most folk, oats/barley was more common. And, for the poorest folk, pottage made up way more of their diet than bread.

  8. Hi David. Thank you for this article. I am an American who is an Anglophile to a fault;-). I am reading lots of books about Tudor life right now and they all refer to things costing 4d or 6d. What does the “d” stand for?
    Lost in Translation, LOL

    1. I think I just answered my own question. Would that refer to a penny? I just re-read the beginning of your article.

      1. Hi Anna, and welcome. Yes ‘d’ stands for penny, though I understand the actual word is denarius, from the old Roman currency

  9. Dear Sir,
    Hope this is not a stupid question: I read the whole article and all the numbers. However, I just don’t understand how people lived back in the days since they eared so little daily.
    It is possible that one gallon of wine or a little bit of food will cost whole day’s wage. How does that make sense? I understand that a lot of people grow stuff in their backyard maybe and yes most people didn’t have ”normal quality of life” as we do today; but how about for those who lived in urban areas and even if I lower the expectation I still couldn’t see how the numbers build up a live….Please help 🙁

    1. Also, I would like to know how much an urban (London or one of the Italian City States) blacksmith earned in around 15th century. If you have any data…

      1. Sorry Ryan I don’t know – this was the best site I came across. I’ll let you know if I come across something

    2. It’s really not a stupid question – kills me too. Part of it is probably that people would pay in kind though less frequently. Another is that £1 back then was divided into 240 pennies rather than today’s 100 pennies (12d to a shilling, 20 shillings to £1). Another is that much of the time the bullion content was the face as the coin’s face value and so they would cut the coin in half or even quarter. And another is credit – you’d build up a bill and pay on tick, as it were. That’s the best I can do…

      1. Indeed this is NOT a stupid question. The answer to the question “how did they live?” is “rather poorly, and not long”. The data here really point out quite nicely how incredibly well even the poorest of us live today.

        Things like smart phones that have become “necessities” today were undreamed of even a century ago. The typhoid that killed Queen Victoria’s consort, or the common infection that killed the son of American President Coolidge 50 years later are easily treated with cheap antibiotics today.

        Imagine how physically difficult, short and minimal life was just a half millenium earlier! A day’s hard effort bought a pint and a loaf. You might hire out as a common foot soldier and add a pound of meat to that, but at the risk of your life. Heaven help the single woman who was even less poorly paid.

        Not a stupid question at all…. but a reason to be thankful!

  10. Can you do one just like this about how much land a tutor,cottage,Wattle and Daub,etc, would have and how much it would cost to keep it looking nice? Please
    Emma K.

    1. Hi Emma; I plan to do a few episodes on the social and economic side of people in the Tudor century; among which is a period Hoskins called the Great Rebuilding, which might help. There is in the backcatalogue an episode also which has a bit on the medieval village – episode 67 I think. Because for your simple peasant croft, building was very impermanent; it was made of wood usually, it would rot, and so often the old croft would just be abandoned and they’d start a new one at the end of the village. And so you get the phenomenon of ‘walking villages’. Anyway, there’s a little bit in 67

  11. My biggest disappointment was the fact that no effort was made to translate the data into an approximation of the % of income across the different classes that was left over for discretionary spending after paying rent, food, dues and taxes on a yearly basis. Since the prices stayed stagnant on average, only the variations in income between the classes and over time should make that at all difficult.

  12. If I may ask, as late as this comment might be, what does the “d” in the list under “prices” stand for? I can’t read anywhere else in the article what it might stand for, unless I’ve missed something obvious, :3

    I guess you could say I want the “d”,

    1. It stands for Denarius – the system comes from the Latin currency denominations of Libri, solidii, denarii, whuich turned into pound shilling and pence…

  13. Thank you for your very helpful article. I’m confused by the chart at the top which gives wages for a labourer, manservant, maidservant, and swineherd. The manservant gets 1L = 20s = 240d. But the maidservant and swineherd get 1L = 10s = 120d. What am I missing?

  14. Great article! Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    I was reviewing your numbers for bread at the end and was verifying it for a project I’m working on. I’m curious to know where you got your numbers from. Other sources I came across have a bushel at 60 lbs. In addition, your numbers seem to reflect how many loaves of white bread a bushel would output. My understanding is that white flour was a very challenging and expensive undertaking in the middle ages and was reserved for the wealthy and wasn’t within the financial grasp of the common folk until after industrialization come into play. So the masses would have been eating whole wheat bread which has a much higher output per bushel (90 lbs of whole wheat bread vs 63 lbs of white bread)

    Based on the data I’ve read up on, a 60 lb bushel of wheat ends up with the near equivalent in lbs of flour. Which leads to approximately 90 1 lb loaves. That would make the cost per loaf much cheaper and nearly doubles the number of loaves per penny compared to what you have in your chart.


    1. Hi Christopher – you’ll see that I have referenced the source in the article

      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
      The two links are:

      Good luck!

  15. I haven’t checked the other figures, but I notice that the cost for a pint of rubbish ale is out by a factor of 10. It says a gallon is 0.75d but a pint is 0.9d. As there are 8 pints in a gallon, that should read 0.09d. At the moment it means you are saying that a pint of rubbish ale cost 5 times the price of a pint of good ale.

  16. I know that pottage was kept simmering on the hearth, with choice bits added to it over the days, making it a solid if now wholesome source of nutrition. But does anyone know the recipe to make pottage? Does it start out as stew ??

  17. This is fascinating. It reminds me of an economics thing I read or listened to. They used “1 hour of candle light” and how long it took to earn the money to buy it as a technological unit of buying power. As far as I remember, in the middle ages an hour of candle light was pretty costly, perhaps a few for 1d.

  18. I wish I have posted a reply to this thread last year when I was dabbling in value of things in late medieval Venice as I have unfortunately forgotten many of the things of I have learned, but I wouldn’t agree that there was no inflation in the Middle Ages, at least not in the sense that the value of things was constant. In fact, the value of silver in relation to the gold was constantly falling through the later parts of the Middle Ages and this is well documented.

    This in turn meant that the value of coins, like the pence, for example, was consistently going down, which prompted various European states to introduce new coins for practical use such as grosso/groschen/groat, mezzo-grosso etc. that took up the place in the monetary system that the denarius/penny originally had. the latter also contained less and less silver over time, until they were practically all copper. To illustrate my point, in the database of prices that I made for Dalmatia, the price of a pound of cheese in c. 1460 was more than twice that of the same item in 1318. so in other to gather the value of things you really have to keep in the consideration the value of silver in relation to the gold.

  19. Could one build a motte and Bailey timber castle for less than £28 per year in 1086?

    Many thanks. I gave wrong email address last time, sorry

    1. I do not know the answer. But I would guess – that yes you could. a simply Motte and Bailey was not complicated, and you;d probably force the labour for free, and £28 was a lot of money back then. But it’s a guess.

  20. Hi there —

    According to David Graeber (who’s history of debt, despite its many problems, is amazing before it gets to actual capitalism), there would have been no buying of bread with coinage. In fact, there wasn’t enough coinage to pay all these workers, it was almost entirely symbolic. Bakers were the primary providers of what passed for currency in medieval times. They would take a belt of leather and slice it into pieces, then mark each piece with a crude seal. These scraps of baker coin were used by laborers and peasants, and could be redeemed for bread and other goods, as everybody needed bread.

    Metallic money was not something that normal people touched or even saw, and even monarchs didn’t have the kinds of money they talked about. One example: The amount of silver coin Charlemagne recorded owing and paying for various stately concerns were never minted, they likely never even existed. An IOU from the Holy Roman Emperor was like like the butcher or baker’s belt scrap on a national level.

    1. Hi Jonah, and I am sure you are absolutely right; and that for most of the time people worked on credit. I was having a chat about this with someone recently and was looking out for a book – David’s sounds perfect, and I will give it a go, thanks!

    2. Re .. there would have been no buying of bread with coinage. In fact, there wasn’t enough coinage to pay all these workers,…..
      Please look at the British Museum’s PAS database where 15,000 halved and quartered pennies are recorded as finds by metal detectorists. I predict that the number with quadruple within the next five years. Coins – at the halfpenny and farthing level – were ubiquitous across England in the 13th – 14th centuries.

  21. Do we know what the standard weekly, monthly, or yearly wage was for the typical castle guard/foot soldier during the 14th or early 15th century in England, please? Did you get more pay if you were a trained archer? Thanks

    1. Penny I think. They thencut it physically in half to make a ha’peeny, and into 4 to make a farthing. Which seems eminently practical. if a bit random.

      1. I remember seeing Farthing coins when I was a kid – they had a wren on them – but the other day I read that the British Govt actually even minted quarter farthings for use in what was called Ceylon back then – and there were 3840 in a pound

  22. Hello David, are there similarly extensive resources about prices of renaissance england between xvi and xvii century?

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