The Problem of Labour in Fourteenth-Century England

The Problem of Labour in Fourteenth-Century England

James Bothwell
P. J. P. Goldberg
W. M. Ormrod
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 164
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt9qdhss
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  • Book Info
    The Problem of Labour in Fourteenth-Century England
    Book Description:

    At the very moment that the image of the honest labourer seemed to reach its apogee in the Luttrell Psalter or, a few decades later, in Piers Plowman, the dominant culture of the landed interests was increasingly suspicious of what it described as the idleness, greed and arrogance of the lower orders. Labour was one of the central issues during the fourteenth century: the natural disasters and profound social changes of the period created not merely a 'problem' of labour, but also new ways of discussing and (supposedly) solving that problem. These studies engage with the contrasting and often competing discourses which emerged, ranging from the critical social awareness of some of the early fourteenth-century protest literature to the repressive authoritarianism of the new national employment laws that were enforced in the wake of the Black Death, and were expressed in counter-cultures of resistance and dissent. JAMES BOTHWELL and P.J.P. GOLDBERG lecture in history, and W.M. ORMROD is Professor of History, at the University of York. Contributors: CORDELIA BEATTIE, CHRISTOPHER DYER, RICHARD K. EMMERSON, P.J.P. GOLDBERG, KATE GILES, CHRIS GIVEN-WILSON, STEPHEN KNIGHT, DEREK PEARSALL, SARAH REES JONES.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-138-5
    Subjects: History, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. LIST OF FIGURES
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. 1 The Problem of Women’s Work Identities in Post Black Death England
    (pp. 1-20)
    CORDELIA BEATTIE

    The estates lists that Patterson refers to have no doubt been crucial in sustaining the scholarly view that medieval society conceptualized medieval men and women differently. In a recent book on medieval women, Henrietta Leyser states that ‘Medieval women were classified according to their sexual status: men might be thought of collectively as knights, merchants, crusaders; women were virgins, wives or widows.’² The model offered is that men were defined by what they did, their occupation or function, whereas for women it was their marital, sexual or social status. Other scholars have pointed to similar categorizations in, for example, European...

  6. 2 Work Ethics in the Fourteenth Century
    (pp. 21-42)
    CHRISTOPHER DYER

    The ‘work ethic’ is commonly used to describe attitudes towards labour found in modern industrial society. The phrase refers to a mentality which regards work in a positive light and which perceives it as beneficial, rewarding and improving. The normal expectation is that work will occupy a high proportion of our time, and that excessive idleness is morally wrong. Following from these assumptions, work is conducted within a framework of rules and norms. Workers are expected to commit themselves to their tasks diligently and effectively, and to accept discipline and supervision. In return, employees can expect to be fairly rewarded...

  7. 3 ‘The Lord Geoffrey had me made’: Lordship and Labour in the Luttrell Psalter
    (pp. 43-64)
    RICHARD K. EMMERSON and P. J. P. GOLDBERG

    The Luttrell Psalter is famed for its striking depictions of peasants labouring contained within a series ofbas-de-pageilluminations within the main body of the manuscript. These have invariably been used uncritically to generate illustrative material for books, particularly history books, written about the fourteenth century or the later Middle Ages more generally. Thus the miller graces the cover of the paperback edition of M. M. Postan’sThe Medieval Economy and Society, the Luttrell family feasting illustrates Kate Mertes’The Medieval Noble Household(Figure 3.1), a colour reproduction of Sir Geoffrey illustrates simply ‘Knight on horseback’ in the Medieval Britain...

  8. 4 Framing Labour: The Archaeology of York’s Medieval Guildhalls
    (pp. 65-84)
    KATE GILES

    Most of the essays in this volume are concerned with historical and literary evidence for the discourses which surrounded the experience of labour and labourers in the late medieval period. This aim of this essay is specifically archaeological in that it seeks to understand the material framing of urban working identities through a particular form of architecture – the medieval guildhalls of York.

    The ‘problem’ of labour in the late fourteenth century has generally been approached by historians through a range of written sources relating to its official regulation and control by national or local government. The Ordinance and Statute of...

  9. 5 The Problem of Labour in the Context of English Government, c. 1350–1450
    (pp. 85-100)
    CHRIS GIVEN-WILSON

    The ‘problem of labour’ loomed large in the minds of the English governing classes during the century or so after the Black Death. The root of the trouble lay, of course, in the demographic and occupational crisis brought on by the terrible pestilence of 1348–9, repeated at regular intervals through the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. With the early fourteenth-century surplus of labour now transformed into a shortage, and the consequently increased potential for the labouring classes to demand higher wages and greater flexibility in working practices, the ability of landlords and employers to impose the sort of conditions...

  10. 6 The Voice of Labour in Fourteenth-Century English Literature
    (pp. 101-122)
    STEPHEN KNIGHT

    This topic is at the same time both slender and broad. Slender because what literary material was written about medieval labour is usually short if complete, or fragmentary if embedded in a larger text. Broad because the material comes from a lengthy and varied period, appears in a wide range of genres, and has many different types of approach, audience and thematic implication. Even if a modern definition of literature is used, focusing only on ‘creative’ writing, that includes mostly poetry in various genres. As a result of this simultaneous slenderness and breadth, the comforting systems of conventional literary treatments...

  11. 7 Piers Plowman and the Problem of Labour
    (pp. 123-132)
    DEREK PEARSALL

    If William Langland had known there was going to be a conference on the subject of ‘The Problem of Labour’, he would have been sure to have been in attendance, in order to give his opinion on the matter. For, though it may sound a strange thing to say about an essentially religious poem, the problem of labour is central to his poem ofPiers Plowman. It is central to his ideas about the reform of society and it is central to his programme of spiritual renewal. The secular and the religious are never far separated in Langland. The religious...

  12. 8 Household, Work and the Problem of Mobile Labour: The Regulation of Labour in Medieval English Towns
    (pp. 133-154)
    SARAH REES JONES

    The regulation of labour in later medieval towns is nearly always discussed by historians within the context of either the craft guilds or the household.¹ But craft guild organization was not a static and ever-present feature of urban life. Many historians have recognized that government policy, both royal and local, had a profound impact on the organization of craft associations in the century after the Black Death.² Some have argued that the imposition of craft associations upon artisan groups was a deliberately oppressive policy imposed by mercantile elites who wished to ensure their political and economic supremacy in urban government.³...

  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 155-156)