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

45 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

    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.

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?
    Sincerely,
    Lost in Translation, LOL

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

  5. 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…

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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…

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