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Labourers, statute of

Labourers, statute of, 1351. The statute was an early attempt at a wage freeze, rarely a popular policy. The scourge of the Black Death led to an acute shortage of labour and in June 1349 the council issued an emergency ordinance (23 Edw. III s. 1) imposing restraint. When Parliament met in 1351 there were complaints that ‘out of singular covetise’ wages had risen, and the statute (25 Edw. III s. 1) was passed. Men were to work at pre-1349 wage levels, which were laid down, and masters were forbidden to offer more. Persons below the age of 60 not in employment were not to refuse offers of work. Prices were merely to be ‘reasonable’. Despite determined efforts to impose the policy and the appointment of special justices of labourers, it proved difficult to enforce. Even the carpenter at Knightsbridge who made the stocks to hold offenders had to be paid over the odds. But resentment played a part in the grievances leading to the Peasants' Revolt in 1381.

J. A. Cannon

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