Question regarding 1351 Statute of laborer


I have a question regarding the 1351 Statute of laborer and how it unraveled. I’m not sure if the gentry/nobility abused the law by illegally offering the peasants more thus competing with other landowners for labor or abused it by offering peasants less than the statute stipulated. According to the statute, all able-bodies peasants (up until the age of 60) were compelled to work for the same wages as had prevailed during the Black Death, and were forbidden to refuse on pain of imprisonment. Were the nobles/gentry offering prices below or above the stipulated wages? The following seems to suggest that landowners were taking advantage of the fixed wages to offer more than the next landowner and thereby attract scarce labor to work their land:

“War and Peace and War"by Peter Turchin : p. 223 " Characteristically, the employers (the gentry) were not prosecuted for offering illegal wages, although many laborers were punished for accepting them. The labor legislation, in general, was the focus of much popular hatred, and its enforcement was one of the most important causes of the peasant revolts of 1381”

I look forward to your feedback

Mostly simple economics . The Black Death had made it a seller’s market for labour, especially skilled labour. People were willing to pay more. Powerful Lords could get out of prosecutions. Very skilled labourers had patrons who could protect them.

Others would fall foul of it.

Thanks AK84. Very helpful.

Despite the reference to imprisonment, the most common punishment for a peasant was a fine. This is because the judge made his living off of the collected fines. I wouldn’t be surprised if especially clever peasants calculated how much work would cover the potential fine and still leave a profit. It must be remembered that a lot of pay was in kind. Harvesters were paid in food and drink, e.g. X amount of bread, cheese, ale, etc… per days work. hard to prove higher wages when the evidence is immediately eaten. Even if pay was in cash, “extra pay” could be provided as payment in kind. Lords could provide other non-pay perks such as supplying equipment instead of requiring the laborer to provide his own gear. A BIG incentive would be to offer new peasants larger or additional landholdings. “Come work for me and I’ll double the land you hold under your current lord.”

For that matter, justice was not quick in the middle ages. You had to wait for the judge to get to your village as he made his circuit. By that time, one might be able to get in a whole lot of work and pad one’s pocket enough to be worth the legal trouble.

Thank you all. Very helpful.