Wage Rates in Southern England and their Purchasing Power 1450-1649

One of the things I find fascinating is historical economics. I know that a lot of it is guesswork, but educated guesswork can be incredibly useful sometimes. The following is an infographic I created using data from The Agrarian History of England and Wales  Vol IV. 1500-1600. Gen. Ed. H. P. R. Finberg, Ed. Joan Thirsk.  Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1967. The dates for the plague years are from various sources.

Wage Rates in Southern England Infographic

As you can see, there is a downward trend in terms of the actual purchasing power of a labourer’s wage throughout Henry VIII’s reign. This came despite the fact that the return of the plague again and again would have reduced the labour pool and thereby (theoretically) have driven up prices, wages, and inflation. Clearly something else was going on to cause the downward spiral that we see throughout the early 1500s.

There is a temporary boost to purchasing power following Elizabeth’s coronation in the late 1550s, but that is followed by a slow decline as the Cost of Living increases at a rate that hadn’t been seen since the 1540s, when Henry VIII had made England into a pariah state in Europe.

Finally, things begin to even out under James, but by that point, systemic inflation had become a part of daily life.


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