In the Middle Ages, the demesnes were important revenue sources of feudal landlords, who paid much attention to estates management. Wage-earners had been used in the demesne agricultural production for a long time, and the main contents of their payment were in kind and coins together. Around the time of Black Death, due to the cost of production increased which was resulted from the rise of wages, lords’ policy for demesnes altered from direct management to rent them out. This dissertation intends to describe and explain this process. As a large unit of agricultural production, the demesnes offered us a window to learn the condition of the medieval economy. Without the fundamental preparation of Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain in 1750s would not come to true. Why and how did the Agricultural Revolution happen? Undoubtedly, the transition and change of agricultural structure and production organization, in which the lords gave up producing themselves, and they were to rent the demesnes to rich peasants and squires who basically formed the farmer class in late Middle Ages, were the key points. Tracing back and studying this process has a high theoretical value.
The author intends to prove that wage changes greatly influenced demesnes’ destinies. What was the position of the wage-earners in the medieval seignorial production? What changes had taken place on the wages and why did those occur? How did the changes of labor costs made the production profit decline, and how did the lords alter their policies on demesnes?
The answers to these questions will be deeply presented in three main chapters. The chapter 2 deals with wage-earners in the seignorial economy. Medieval
seignorial production in England relied more on wage labor than on forced labor. In addition to the size of demesnes and their demand modes for labor, the rural labor market development, wages level and labor efficiency should be considered as well.
The chapter 3 mainly describes the changes and their reasons of agricultural wages between the 13th and 15th centuries. Due to the different payment pattern between famuli and seasonal workers, and since the former kept stable constantly, the author will deal with them separately. Wages of famuli kept stable, however, increase of their money wages took place later than the seasonal workers, of which was during
the early 14th and 15th century, contrast to the former’s aftermath of Black Death, almost to the end of 14th century, though their factual rise was simultaneously fulfilled at the end of 14th century. The primary reason for wages’ changes in this period was the floating supply of labor, moreover, the balance of power between employers and
employees, the promulgation and implementation of the labor law, the changes of living standards, the laborers’ mobility and negotiation ability should also be set in consideration. Unfortunately, western scholars paid much more attention on certain economic factor than non-economic ones, so that they could not provide satisfactory explanations to the question.
Basing on the analysis of expenditure in the account rolls, the chapter 4 points out the proportion of wages spending change in the total cost, its impact on profits and on seignorial economy. During 13th century and early 14th century, number of labor increased, while their wages kept low, thus agricultural production on demesnes went to prosperity. After the Black Death, although the wages rose sharply, the grain price remained high, agricultural production was still profitable, seigniorial economy came into a period of so-called "Indian Summer" lasted about thirty years. From the late
14th century on, grain prices fell and wages maintained rising which further
compressed the profit space of agriculture production, lords had to retreat from the production areas and rented out the demesnes, which led to the emergence of the farmer class and laid a foundation for the Agricultural Revolution developed in the early modern times.
Two main points can be concluded. First, the wage labor was the product of monetary economic development and the deepening commercialization of rural society. As for the famuli and seasonal laborers, the author adds the discussion on their attachment to land, the restriction of national law, etc., in order to emphasize that wage-earners were not free, and they had many different aspects from the capitalistic hire workers. This view could also be used to the study of the life-cycle servants. The second point relates to the relation between wage-earners and the economic transformation. Applying more numerous resources, the author systematically clarifies influences of labor cost on seignorial economy, in addition to deal with such issues as time of rent-out-demesnes, land-rent level, the lessees, etc., in order to advance the
study of property relations and industrial structure adjustments on the eve of
Keywords: England; Wages; Seignorial Economy