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A Golden Age Rediscovered: Labourers’ Wages in the Fifteenth Century

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Abstract

The ‘golden age of the English labourer’ in the fifteenth century is one of those frequently quoted phrases which offers a clear signpost in a famously murky period in economic history. Many of the apparently helpful generalizations and slogans of earlier generations such as ‘the rise of the money economy’ or ‘the rise of the middle class’ have been abandoned by historians as inadequate and misleading. The ‘golden age of the labourer’, however, has survived as a beacon through 130 years of writing about economic history, and the use of the phrase has been extended to the ‘golden age of the peasantry’ and the ‘golden age of women’, referring to the same period. It has become such a commonplace and cliché that it has been applied ironically as the ‘golden age of the bacteria’. The purpose of this essay is to re-examine the idea, and to decide if it has any validity for our understanding of the late medieval economy and especially of the prices and wages which have been analysed by Nick Mayhew. The essay will begin with a review of the significance of the idea from the perspective of historians of population, environment, society, politics, economy and money. Then the appropriateness and implications of the concept will be examined using some empirical evidence.

Keywords

  • Wage Rate
  • Real Wage
  • Wage Earner
  • Fifteenth Century
  • Agricultural Labourer

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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  • DOI: 10.1057/9781137394026_11
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© 2015 Christopher Dyer

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Dyer, C. (2015). A Golden Age Rediscovered: Labourers’ Wages in the Fifteenth Century. In: Allen, M., Coffman, D. (eds) Money, Prices and Wages. Palgrave Studies in the History of Finance. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137394026_11

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