Friday, March 4, 2022

The Bishop's Sea: Wage Slavery


Oops! Turns out that the Statute of Labourers was passed in the twenty-fourth year of Edward III. Although I was looking for a fashion-plate sort of image, and everyone knows that gay men are fabulous, right? Gaveston's gloves, at least, look like fine Moroccan leather. 

So, about that Statute:

That every person, able in body and under the age of 60 years, not having enough to live upon, being required, shall be bound to serve him that doth require him, or else be committed to gaol until he shall find surety to serve, and that the old wages shall be given and no more; whereas lately it was ordained by our lord king and by the assent of the prelates, earlsbarons and others of his council, against the malice of servants who were idle and not willing to serve after the AM pestilence without excessive wages, that such manner of servants, men as well as women, should be bound to serve, receiving the customary salary and wages in the places where they are bound to serve in the twentieth year of the reign [1347] of the king that now is, or five or six years before, and that the same servants refusing to serve in such a manner should be punished by imprisonment of their bodies, as is more plainly contained in the said statute. Whereupon commissions were made to diverse people in every county to enquire and punish all those who offend against the same. And now for as much as it is given to the king to understand in the present parliament by the petition of the commons that the servants having no regard to the ordinance but to their ease and singular covetousness, do withdraw themselves from serving great men and others, unless they have livery and wages double or treble of what they were wont to take in the twentieth year and earlier, to the great damage of the great men and impoverishment of all the commonality; whereof the commonality prays remedy. Wherefore in the parliament by the assent of the prelates, earls, barons, and those of the commonality assembled there, in order to refrain the malice of the servants, there are ordained and established the underwritten articles.

Item that carters, ploughmen, drivers of ploughsshepherdsswineherds, day men, and all other servants shall take the liveries and wages accustomed in the twentieth year or four years before so that in the countryside where the wheat was wont to be given they shall take for the bushel 10 d, or wheat at the will of the giver until it be otherwise ordained. And that they be hired to serve by a whole year, or by other usual terms, and not by the day; and that none pay at haymaking time more than a penny a day; and a mower of meadows for the acre 5 d, or 5 d by the day; and reapers of corn in the first week of August 2 d, and the second 3 d and so on until the end of August and less in the country where less was wont to be given, without meat or drink, or other courtesy to be demanded, given, or taken; and that all workmen bring their tools openly in their hands to the merchant towns, and they shall be hired there in a common place and not privately.

Item that none take for the threshing of a quarter of wheat or rye over 2½ d and the quarter of barleybeanspeas and oats 1½ d, if so much were wont to be given. And in the country where it is usual to reap by certain sheaves and to thresh by certain bushels they shall take no more nor in other manner than was wont the said twenty year and before, and that the same servants be sworn two times a year before lords, stewards, bailiffs and constables of every town to observe and perform these ordinances; and that none of them go out of the town where he lives in the winter to serve the summer if he may serve in the same town, taking as before is said. Saving that the people of the counties of StaffordLancaster, and Derby, and people of Craven and of the marches of Wales and Scotland, and other places may come in time of August and labour in other counties, and safely return as they were wont to do before this time; and that those who refuse to make such oath, or to not perform as they were sworn to do or have taken upon them shall be put in the stocks by the said lords, stewards, bailiffs and constables of the towns for three days or more or sent to the next gaol, there to remain until they satisfy themselves. And that stocks be made in every town for such occasion, between now and the feast of Pentecost.

Item that carpenters masons and tilers and other workmen of houses shall not take by the day further work except in the manner as they were wont to do, that is to say, a master carpenter 3 d and other carpenters 2 d; a master mason 4 d and other masons 3 d and their servants 1½ d; tilers 3 d and their boys 1½ d; and other coverers of fern and straw 3 d and their boys 1½ d; plasterers and other worker of mud walls and their boys, in the same manner without meat and drink that is from Easter to Michaelmas and from that time less according to the rate and discretion of the justices who shall be assigned thereunto. And those who carry by land or by water shall take no more for such carriage to be made than they were wont to do in the said twentieth year and four years before.

Item that cordwainers and shoemakers shall not sell boots or shoes nor any other thing touching their craft, in any other manner than they were wont to do in the said twentieth year.

Item that goldsmithssaddlers, horsesmiths spurrierstannerscorriers, tawers of leather, tailors and other workmen, artificers and labourers, and all other servants not here specified, shall be sworn before the justices, and do use their crafts and offices in this manner as they were wont to do the said twentieth year, and in the time before, without refusing the same because of this ordinance, and if any of the said servants, labourers, workmen or artificers, after such oath made, come against this ordinance, he shall be punished by fine and ransom and imprisonment after the discretion of the justices.

Item that the stewards, bailiffs and constables of the said towns be sworn before the same justices to enquire diligently by all the good ways they may, of all them that come against this ordinance and to certify the same justices of their names at all times, when they shall come into the country to make their sessions, so that the same justices upon the certificate of the said stewards, bailiffs, and constables, of the names of the rebels shall cause their bodies to be attached before the justices, to answer of such contempts so that they make fine and ransom to the king in case they be attainted, and moreover to be commanded to prison there to remain until they have found surety to serve and take and do their work and to sell things vendible in the manner aforesaid. And in case that any of them come against his oath and be thereof attainted, he shall have imprisonment of forty days, and if he is convicted another time, he shall be imprisoned for a quarter of a year so that every time he offends and is convicted he shall have double pain. And that the same justices at every time they come into the country shall enquire of the said stewards, bailiffs and constables if they have made a good and lawful certificate or any concealment for gift, procurement or affinity, and punish them by fine and ransom if they are found guilty. And that the same justices have power to enquire and make due punishment of the said ministers, labourers, workmen and other servants, and also of hostlersharbergers and all those that sell victuals by retail or other things here not specified, as well as the suit of the party as by presentment, and to hear and determine and put the things in execution by the exigend after the first capias if need be and to depute others under them, as many and such as they shall see best for the keeping of the same ordinances, and that they that will sue against such servants, workmen, labourers and artificers for excess taken of them, and they are attained thereof at their suit, they shall have again such excess. And in case none will sue to have again such excess then it shall be levied of the said servants, labourers, workmen and artificers and delivered to the collectors of the fifteenth in alleviation of the town where such excesses were taken.

Item that no sheriffs constables, bailiffs, and gaolers, the clerks of the justices or of the sheriffs nor other ministers whatsoever they be take any thing for the cause of their office of the same servants for fees, suit of prison or other manner and if they have any thing taken in such manner they shall deliver the same to the collectors of tenths and fifteenths in aid of the commons for the time that the tenth and fifteenth runs, as well for the time past as the time to come, and that the said justices enquire in their sessions if the said ministers have any thing received of the same servants, and that they shall find by such inquests that the said ministers have received, the same justices shall levy of every of the said ministers and deliver to the said collectors, together with the excess and fines and ransom made, and also the amercements of all them that shall be amerced before the said justices, in alleviation of the said towns as before is said. And in case the excess found in one town exceeds the quantity of the fifteenth of the same town the remnant of such excess shall be levied and paid by the said collectors to the next poor town, in aid of their fifteenth, by advice of the said justices, and that the fines and ransoms, excesses and amercements of the said servants, labourers and artificers for the time to come, running of the said fifteenth be delivered to the said collectors in the form aforesaid by indentures to be made between them and the said justices so that the same collectors may be charged upon the account by the same indentures in case that the said fines ransoms, amercements and excesses be not paid in aid of the said fifteenth. And when the fifteenth ceases, it shall be levied to the king's use and answered to him by the sheriffs of the counties.

Item that the justices make their sessions in all English counties at least four times each year, that is to say at the feasts of the Annunciation of Our Lady, St Margaret, St Michael and St Nicholas, and also at all times that shall be necessary, according to the discretion of the justices, and those who speak in the presence of the justices or do other things in their absence or presence in encouragement or maintenance of the servants, labourers or craftsmen against this ordinance, shall be grievously punished by the discretion of the justices. And if any of the servants, labourers or artificers flee from one county to another, because of this ordinance, then the sheriffs of the counties where such fugitives shall be found shall cause them to be taken at the commandment of the said justices of the counties from where they flee, and bring them to the chief gaol of the shire there to abide until the next sessions of the justices. And that the sheriffs return the same commandments before the same justices at their next sessions. And that this ordinance be held and kept as well in the city of London as in other cities and boroughs, and other places throughout the land, within franchises as well as without

It's fairly wordy, but  I've bolded some of the more egregious points. Along with Edward VI and Elizabeth's Poor Law, Elizabeth's Statute of Artificers and Vagabonds Act, and George III's Act Against Combinations (1800), the Statute of Labourers forms the foundation of traditional English social policy. a policy of coerced labour at regulated wages set by justices of the peace for the benefit of the "commonality," which apparently does not include people who work for a living. 

The Statute plays a curious role in British legal and economic history, in that it is held up as evidence of its own futility by virtue of its existence. This legislation, it is argued, was compelled by the population decline occasioned by the Black Death of 1346--51, which led to higher wages, and proved unenforceable. Some disagree about wages, and there are other attempts to save the Statute. The Wikipedia article suggests that since it distinguishes between those able and unable to work, it is effectively progressive legislation. This strikes me as faintly implausible.

If the concept of "slave" has not been fetishised since it was first written down, then cuneiformists are dirty old men.   So it is strange that the word we use in western European languages is derived from "Slavonian" and refers to a high medieval slave trade that sold bond labour from the Black Sea ports of Ukraine through mainly Genoan intermediaries into the Mediterranean. Or perhaps it is not so strange, and we first  needed a word that clearly distinguished "servant" from "slave" in the Thirteenth Century, which is what a literal reading of the Statute of Labourers would suggest. Although it might be added that we've heard a great deal about wage caps and "direction of labour" in the postwar literature, with The Economist particularly enthusiastic about the prospects of bringing back (wage) slavery. 

The two eras are not just connected by mass human movements from the black soil lands of Ukraine. The Statute of Labourers is classically justified as a response to demand-driven inflation. That was what was going on in the postwar, at least if we accept that demand-driven inflation is a thing, which I do, and it is what is going on now. The immediate, enthusiastic response that it is necessary to do something about wage growth probably reflects the outsized voice of those who pay wages. Let's give the Middle Ages one thing, which is that they don't beat around the bush about that.

The odd thing about the Statute of Labourers in particular is that, if it were driven by significant population decline, we would expect demand for goods to decline as well. If there is no-one to eat the wheat and wear the wool, why pay excessive wages to mow the hay and reap the wheat in the first place? In his century old Six Centuries of Work and Wages: The History of English Labour, Thorold Rogers finds evidence that English wages advanced in spite of the Statute, that the process was well under way in Edward II's reign. He sees the famines of Edward II's time as precursors to the Black Death, but adds that wage labour just makes more sense than exploiting the coerced labour available under feudalism. More wage labour opportunities available would have increased competition for wage labour, and driven up wages.  He goes on to conclude that the Statute is part of a class struggle between employer and employee in the English countryside, even arguing for the earliest signs of English trade unionism in the "combinations" formed by workers to resist demands that they work for unacceptably low wages. More than a century later, Samuel Cohn, better known as a historian of the Black Death, finds himself in broad agreement, extending the analysis more broadly through Western Europe by looking at parallel legislation in many cities and states. 

(Relatively) modern work on the "Age of Exploration" feels bound to remedy the crimes of the past by focussing on the role of the slave trade in the Guinea and Canaries trade. Peter Russell's Prince Henry (2000) has an annoying habit of hauling the narrative to a screeching halt to point out, "The cargo they are shipping is SLAVES" every once and awhile, but also dips into the economic history of the slave trade in Iberia to establish that the African trade was meeting the Slavic and that the Iberian states can be said to have a slave economy. As it happens, when I was dilating on the early history of the diocese of the Canaries, I didn't check to discover that the "Bishop of Telde" had his seat on Gran Canaria. I had already noted a pattern in which the ostensibly purely opportunistic European slaving raids in the Canaries tended to trade on Gran Canaria before raiding Tenerife, but knowing that there was a Catholic bishop on Gran Canaria as early as 1351 clarifies the situation. The Canaries might not have been as much being raided for slaves as exporting them. (From islands with the annoying habit of ignoring the Bishop of Telde, specifically.)

Which is fair enough as far as it goes, but the Statute of Labourers raises an important point  here. Edward III's parliament is going all in to coerce and compel labour in the context of waged labour. None of this would be necessary if parliament and society were ready to impose a "second serfdom." Parliament is aware that workers might well flee a county where the Statute was being imposed too punitively by the local JPs, but its version of the fugitive slave act, buried down at the bottom of the Statute, is singularly impractical, requiring the authorities of the receiving county to apprehend the fugitives on information from the originating county, and return the fugitives to the originating county's seat without stipulating that the expense falls on the originating county. I am not sure how Parliament expected this to work, but the flaws are pretty obvious. The implicit assumption is likewise clear; this is now a waged economy. If labour is to be coerced, it is to be through wage control.

How, exactly, does the rise of a waged economy square with the rise of a slave trade? On the basis of recent history, it would seem, quite well. A slave trade might well look like the best way of providing labour for a rising industry. In the case of the Atlantic slave trade, we have sugar plantations all over Macaronesia, and a prehistory of slave-and-sugar islands in the eastern Mediterranean (your "Candy") is invoked to explain the origins of the Slavic slave trade. (Some old, old work.)

Except that the Atlantic slave trade did not start with sugar. Prince Henry was bringing slaves directly to Lagos along with his first deliveries of seals and in connection with his soap monopoly. I have previously suggested that the slaves he was taking on the coast of west Africa were hide workers, seal-butchers and fish-curers by lifeways. And there is a growing demand for these workers, as there is for shepherds, in medieval Iberia, in the form of the growth of the Mesta, the migratory sheep-raising industry which terminates in the export of wool from the Atlantic ports of Iberia. 

Likewise, the growth of the English woolclip and not of its domestic grain or hay production, is at the heart of English economic history in this period:

Look at the collapse in the woolsack export beginning in 1381--85. Paging William Stanley Jevons to the white courtesy phone! This isn't exactly a new insight. It's definitely older than Jevons or Thorold Rogers. It's probably older than the Statute of Artificers. (Although I'm surprised that Trevor Lloyd wrote a book about it. It really doesn't seem like his kind of topic.) If the parallel growth in British woven-woollens exports suggests a pretty clear agenda had occurred in the late Forties, Geoffrey Crowther would be all over the idea of "directing labour" back into the agro-pastoral sectors. Grain is fed to sheep as well as people, and hay is definitely for animal fodder. The challenge here, which is going to occupy English policy obsessively through the 1950s, is to find export markets that will take the broadcloth that the English economy prefers to produce. Paying for slaves with clothes is one approach to solving that problem. 

The Iberian case is different, although not as much as all that, because long-standing dynastic links with Burgundy culminated in the Habsburg monarchy and a mutually beneficial trade of Spanish wool (and soapwort) into Low Country industrial towns. I find in Tracy, Founding of the Dutch Republic that fully 11% of Amsterdam's exports via the Maze (specifically, Arnemuiden on Walcheren) went to the Canaries in the 1550s. This is not a global total, since it excludes exports via the Zuider Zee northwards, but it does compare with 61% to Iberia (63). The Canaries were probably an entrepot destination, but the statistic underlines the importance of the Canaries trade in the last decades before the planting of North America began to take. Of course, the Iberian-Netherlands nexus was about to collapse spectacularly, and well we might wonder how that came to happen. 


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