View Full Version : Wage Controls Enacted by Monarchy in Wake of Black Plague

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008, 09:46 AM
Interesting bit of history:


The Statute of Laborers; 1351
("Statutes of the Realm," vol. i. p. 307.)

Edward by the grace of God etc. to the reverend father in Christ William, by the same grace archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England, greeting. Because a great part of the people and especially of the, workmen and servants has now died in that pestilence, some, seeing the straights of the masters and the scarcity of servants, are not willing to serve unless they receive excessive wages, and others, rather than through labour to gain their living, prefer to beg in idleness: We, considering the grave inconveniences which might come from the lack especially of ploughmen and such labourers, have held deliberation and treaty concerning this with the prelates and nobles and other learned men sitting by us; by whose consentient counsel we have seen fit to ordain: that every man and woman of our kingdom of England, of whatever condition, whether bond or free, who is able bodied and below the age of sixty years, not living from trade nor carrying on a fixed craft, nor having of his own the means of living, or land of his own with regard to the cultivation of which he might occupy himself, and not serving another,if he, considering his station, be sought after to serve in a suitable service, he shall be bound to serve him who has seen fit so to seek after him; and he shall take only the wages liveries, meed or salary which, in the places where he sought to serve, were accustomed to be paid in the twentieth year of our reign of England, or the five or six common years next preceding. Provided, that in thus retaining their service, the lords are preferred before others of their bondsmen or their land tenants: so, nevertheless that such lords thus retain as many as shall be necessary and not more; and if any man or woman, being thus sought after in service, will not do this, the fact being proven by two faithful men before the sheriffs or the bailiffs of our lord the king, or the constables of the town where this happens to be done,-straightway through them, or some one of them, he shall be taken and sent to the next jail, and there he shall remain in strict custody until he shall find surety for serving in the aforesaid form.

And if a reaper or mower, or other workman or servant, of whatever standing or condition he be, who is retained in the service of any one, do depart from the said service before the end of the term agreed, without permission or reasonable cause, he shall undergo the penalty of imprisonment, and let no one, under the same penalty, presume to receive or retain such a one in his service. Let no one, moreover, pay or permit to be paid to any one more wages, livery, meed or salary than was customary as has been said; nor let any one in any other manner exact or receive them, under penalty of paying to him who feels himself aggrieved from this, double the sum that has thus been paid or promised, exacted or received and if such person be not willing to prosecute, then it (the sum) is to be given to any one of the people who shall prosecute in this matter; and such prosecution shall take place in the court of the lord of the place where such case shall happen. And if the lords of the towns or manors presume of themselves or through their servants in any way to act contrary to this our present ordinance, then in the Counties, Wapentakes and Trithings suit shall be brought against them in the aforesaid form for the triple penalty (of the sum) thus promised or paid by them or the servants; and if perchance, prior to the present ordinance any one shall have covenanted with any one thus to serve for more wages, he shall not be bound by reason of the said covenant to pay more than at another time was wont to be paid to such person; nay, under the aforesaid penalty he shall not presume to pay more.

Likewise saddlers, skinners, white-tawers, cordwainers, tailors, smiths, carpenters, masons, tilers, shipwrights, carters and all other artisans and labourers shall not take for their labour and handiwork more than what, in the places where they happen to labour, was customarily paid to such persons in the said twentieth year and in the other common years preceding, as has been said; and if any man take more, he shall be committed to the nearest jail in the manner aforesaid.

Likewise let butchers, fishmongers, hostlers, brewers, bakers, pullers and all other vendors of any victuals, be bound to sell such victuals for a reasonable price, having regard for the price at which such victuals are sold in the adjoining places: so that such vendors may have moderate gains, not excessive, according as the distance of the places from which such victuals are carried may seem reasonably to require; and if any one sell such victuals in another manner, and be convicted of it in the aforesaid way, he shall pay the double of that which he received to the party injured, or in default of him, to another who shall be willing to prosecute in this behalf; and the mayor and bailiffs of the cities and Burroughs, merchant towns and others, and of the maritime ports and places shall have power to enquire concerning each and every one who shall in any way err against this, and to levy the aforesaid penalty for the benefit of those at whose suit such delinquents shall have been convicted; and in case that the same mayor and bailiffs shall neglect to carry out the aforesaid, and shall be convicted of this before justices to be assigned by us, then the same mayor and bailiffs shall be compelled through the same justices, to pay to such wronged person or to another prosecuting in his place, the treble of the thing thus sold, and nevertheless, on our part too, they shall be grievously punished.

And because many sound beggars do refuse to labour so long as they can live from begging alms, giving themselves up to idleness and sins, and, at times, to robbery and other crimes-let no one, under the aforesaid pain of imprisonment presume, under colour of piety or alms to give anything to such as can very well labour, or to cherish them in their sloth, so that thus they may be compelled to labour for the necessaries of life.
Henderson's Note

The Statute of Labourers, was issued after the great plague of the Black Death, which raged in Europe from 1347 to 1349. The same fields remained to be tilled, the same manual labour to be performed; but a large proportion of the labourers had died, and the rest could command what wages they pleased. Edward III, to stop this evil, issued this rather Draconian decree.

Monday, May 27th, 2019, 08:35 PM
The Black Death was a devastating epidemic, taking around 50 million lives, or more than half (https://www.historytoday.com/archive/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever) of Europe's population. After the first major outbreak in 1348, the plague continued to return for centuries, with outbreaks occurring in Europe through the middle of the 17th century. People infected with the plague had a 4-in-5 chance of succumbing to their symptoms, making it one of the most devastating diseases in human history. In the face of the epidemic, medieval plague doctors (https://www.ranker.com/list/facts-about-medieval-plague-doctors-and-their-methods/melissa-sartore) tried - and usually failed - to save lives. Some cities instituted quarantines to stop it from spreading. Venice sent victims to an isolated location called Poveglia Island (https://www.ranker.com/list/creepy-facts-about-poveglia-the-italian-black-plague-island/cheryl-adams-richkoff) where many spent their final days. Milan sealed up plague victims and their living relatives in their homes.

People who survived the plague inherited a better world, where living standards increased and life expectancy grew higher. In fact, the effects of the Bubonic plague (https://www.ranker.com/list/how-the-black-death-changed-the-world/kellen-perry) on modern culture are surprisingly positive. So, how could you survive the plague? While many methods promoted by European doctors didn't help much, there were several ways to increase your chances of living through history's worst epidemic.

Avoid Urban Centers

Rats carried fleas infected with the plague (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/04/avoiding-black-plague-today/360475/) into Europe's cities. Major cities like Florence and Siena lost at least 60% (https://www.historytoday.com/archive/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever) of their population during the epidemic. Cities had a higher mortality rate because crowded areas helped the spread of the disease.

As Dr. Tim Brooks, an expert in diseases at Public Health England explains, the plague could spread pneumonically from person to person, and "n the right social conditions, with the right circumstances to bring humans and rats together, and in a society where caring for relatives and neighbors was the thing, you get bubonic plague, followed by pneumonic plague."

Infected people spread their disease unknowingly because fleas would jump from them to any healthier host within a two-meter radius. Avoiding other people ended up being one of the best strategies for survival.

Wall Up And Isolate Any Houses With Signs Of Infection

The plague was incredibly dangerous, with an astonishing 80% mortality rate (https://www.historytoday.com/archive/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever). Some cities chose draconian approaches to limit the spread of disease, including walling up houses that showed signs of infection. In Milan, for example, which had a population of 100,000, the ruling Visconti family ordered authorities to wall up the homes of plague victims (https://books.google.com/books?id=oK4HTBcdSJsC&lpg=PA49&dq=black%20death%20milan&pg=PA48#v=onepage&q&f=false), trapping both infected and uninfected people inside. Some Milanese even sealed up their own family members with plague victims, almost guaranteeing their demise. As gruesome as the practice was, Milan had the lowest mortality rate of any Italian city at just 15%.

Avoid The Remains Of Plague Victims

One Florentine chronicler (https://www.historytoday.com/archive/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever) wrote, "All the citizens did little else except to carry bodies to be buried." Mass burial sites haunted the chronicler, who wrote of layers of victims and dirt, "just as one makes lasagne with layers of pasta and cheese." Exposure to plague victims (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xd5ebw/a-history-of-burial-rituals-during-the-worlds-worst-epidemics-324), even after they have passed, could spread the disease. When some Florentines abandoned the remains of their loved ones, tossing them into the street without burial, Boccaccio complained (http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/authors/boccaccio/boc-1-1.html) about the lack of mourners or funerals. But avoiding the remains of plague victims was a solid survival strategy.

Sit Alone Within A Ring Of Fire

The epidemic took a huge toll on the Catholic Church. In Avignon, where Pope Clement VI lived, a third of the cardinals (https://www.thoughtco.com/pope-clement-vi-1788680) succumbed to the illness; however, Clement survived. The pope may have lived because of his doctors' recommendation to sit surrounded by fire. Even in the summer, Clement followed the advice, which may have prevented plague-carrying fleas from reaching him. The flames may have also kept infected people (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/04/avoiding-black-plague-today/360475/) from coming too close to Clement - and kept rats away, as well.

Wear Leather Masks, Overcoats, And Breeches

When the plague struck Florence, Boccaccio complained (http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/authors/boccaccio/boc-1-1.html) about the "ignorance of the physicians" who did not know how to treat the disease. After decades of recurring epidemics, doctors developed a plague costume (https://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-ancient-technology/secrets-behind-plague-doctor-mask-terrifying-costume-009201) that may have protected them. First worn by a high-ranking physician in France, Charles de l'Orme, the outfit included a long overcoat, hat, and pointed mask. The bird-like mask provided protection, according to early modern doctors, because it was filled with pleasant-smelling items like rose petals and mint. Doctors believed foul air, called miasma, spread disease, so sweet smells could therefore banish the plague.

While the rose petals probably did little against the plague, the leather outfit likely did prevent flea bites.

Avoid Flagellants

Many Europeans believed God sent the plague as a punishment for their sins. The flagellants tried to atone for their sins by publicly whipping themselves. Groups of thousands gathered across Europe, carrying whips to punish themselves. An English eyewitness (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/flagellants.htm) in 1350 wrote:

[T]hey made two daily public appearances wearing cloths from the thighs to the ankles, but otherwise stripped bare...
Each had in his right hand a scourge with three tails. Each tail had a knot and through the middle of it there were sometimes sharp nails fixed. They marched [without clothes] in a file one behind the other and whipped themselves with these scourges on their [unclothed] bodies.

Ironically, the flagellants may have helped spread the plague by walking from town to town. Avoiding the flagellants may have helped people survive.

Quarantine The City

In Italy, some city-states instituted quarantine procedures (https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/19/2/12-0312_article) to limit the spread of plague. The word "quarantine" comes from the Italian word for 40, [I]quaranta, (https://www.etymonline.com/word/quarantine) a reference to the length of time quarantines were enforced. Some cities set up armed guards at city gates, denying entry to anyone suspected of carrying disease. While the quarantine may have worked to keep disease out of cities, it could have the opposite effect on those inside an already infected city.

Do Not Let Ships Dock In Your City

Ships from the east were the first to carry the plague (https://www.historytoday.com/archive/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever) to Europe. Not surprisingly, many quickly realized these ships were carrying disease. Some ports banned ships (http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/themes/publichealth/blackdeath) that had docked in infected cities. By 1348, Venice banned certain ships from docking, establishing a 30-day quarantine for travellers and goods suspected of carrying the plague. While banning ships may have slowed the plague, it didn't protect Venice, where tens of thousands still lost their lives.

Move To A City With Strong Plague Laws

Cities tried to avoid the plague in many ways. Venice banned ships from infected areas (http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/themes/publichealth/blackdeath), Pistoia limited imports, and Milan sealed up the homes of plague victims. While these public health measures had varying levels of success in stopping the spread, cities with strong plague laws at least attempted to protect their citizens. When the Great Plague of 1665 (https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/The-Great-Plague/) struck, it took out 15% of London's population, a number that might have been lower with stricter plague laws.

Keep Yourself In Good Health

Recent research into the Bubonic plague shows that people who were ill before the infection (http://www.livescience.com/9561-black-death-selective.html) were more likely to succumb to it than healthy people. Dr. Sharon DeWitte, a biological anthropologist, explains, "It makes sense that [it] would [harm] people who are already weak. What's important is that we've provided quantitative evidence to counter the assumption that [people suffered] indiscriminately." Instead, the highest mortality rates were among unhealthy people, particularly those who were malnourished and had a weakened immune system. While healthy people were still infected, they had a greater chance of surviving.

Remain In Colder Climates

Unlike the modern flu and pneumonia, the plague wasn't a winter illness. In fact, most people succumbed to the plague in the warmer months. The plague nearly disappeared in winter (https://www.historytoday.com/archive/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever). One of the best ways to survive the plague, then, was remaining in a cold climate. Unfortunately, the plague reached nearly every corner of Europe, with thirty plague epidemics occurring in Norway between 1348 and 1654. Still, none of Norway's epidemics occurred during winter, so climbing a mountain or living on a glacier may have provided the best protection.

Be Born With A Genetic Immunity To The Disease

Some populations had genetic protection against the plague. In Europe, the Roma people had specific gene clusters (https://www.livescience.com/43063-black-death-roma-evolution.html) that protected them from becoming sick. Researchers found several genes linked to the immune system that may have protected Roma peoples from the plague. While the genes didn't prevent the plague completely, recent research demonstrates that the genetic variation triggered a heightened immune response (https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/02/black-death-left-mark-human-genome)when exposed to Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that spread the sickness.

Clear The Air Of Miasma And Pray

Europeans believed the disease was spread by miasma, or foul-smelling air (http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/special-edition-on-infectious-disease/2014/plagues-of-the-past/). Rather than understanding contagion with modern germ theory, medieval Europeans believed toxic air was the distributor. They developed masks to prevent foul smells and avoided the sick. In response to the plague, many tried to avoid miasmas and prayed for survival. Although it was a last resort for medieval Europeans, avoiding plague-infected people probably did help.

Eat, Drink, And Be Merry

Many Europeans responded to the plague by abandoning rules and giving into a hedonistic lifestyle. Boccaccio wrote (http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/authors/boccaccio/boc-1-1.html) that some Florentines vowed "to carouse and make merry and go about singing and frolicking and satisfy the appetite in everything possible." These men and women were "going about day and night, now to this tavern, now to that, drinking without stint or measure." While the bacchanalia likely didn't provide any protection against plague, Boccaccio reported that the hedonists succumbed at the same rate as those who ate and drank in moderation.

How Did People Survive The Black Death? (https://www.ranker.com/list/how-did-people-survive-the-black-death/genevieve-carlton)