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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Money in England in the Renaissance

Money, value and wages in early 16th Century Britain.

The coins of the realm are as follows.  There was no copper money at this time, all the coins were either silver or gold.
There were no 3d or 6d pieces  until the reign of Edward VI

Silver coins
Farthing – literally from fourthing, a quarter of a penny. 
Ha’penny – half pence.
Penny – 1d
Halfgroat – 2d
Groat – 4d silver
Testoon – shilling, ie 1/- = 12d,
Florin – 2/- = 24d  [and see for disambiguation below]

Gold coins
Crown – 5/-
Angelet – half an angel, 3/4d
Angel – 6/8d  one third of a sovereign.
Ryal – 10/-
Sovereign – 20/- or the pound, £
Double sovereign – 40/- or 2 sovereigns.

Money that has a value but no coin
Half crown – later to be introduced as a gold coin
Mark – the unit of international trade, worth 2 angels or 2/3 of a sovereign or 13/4d

Foreign coinage in regular use
There were a number of coins from other countries which were worth approximately the same as the crown though generally reckoned at about 4/8d rather than 5/-
They were:
The French Crown aka ecú
The Florentine Florin [not to be confused with the English florin of lower value]
The Venetian Ducat.
The Flemish Guilder

Anyone familiar with the folk song ‘Malt’s come down’ can now listen to the chorus
Malt’s come down, Malt’s come down
From an old angel to a French crown
And know that the price of malt had dropped from 6/8d to 4/8d, a significant reduction and the reason why the ale is so cheap in the song. 

Here's one of Henry VIII's first coins, one of the Ship Angels [so called for the ship design on it] 1509-1526

See saw, Margery Daw, Johnny shall have a new master
He shall have but a penny a day, because he can’t work any faster

The bottom end wages for a daily labourer which would barely cover food for himself let alone any family.  However a welcome boost to a family to have an extra penny a day for each of the older children.

Most labourers would be on about 3d a day, £4/11/3d for the year. 

Casual labour acting as falconers or hunters got 2d per day; they might well be yeoman farmers most of the time, and work for a big hunt to supplement their own income.
A servant would get between 2d and 4d per day but would probably also get 2 sets of clothes a year and their board and lodgings.
Many servants – and bear in mind a worker of any kind was referred to as a servant if he was not his own master – were paid by the quarter and received their wages on the quarter days, with any deductions for fines or bonuses for good work.  Their master had to be careful about this however because the law forbidding over-payment was strict.  Servants could however increase their income when given vails, gratuities, for service, an accepted and expected process.  Any servant getting a vail more than a penny had performed some signal service. Sometimes a service was called on requiring unguentum aureum –doggy sort of Latin – or golden oil.

Artisans tended to get from around 4d a day for apprentices to 8d a day for a journeyman of some skill and ability.

Artists were generally paid according to the size of what they were working on; though fresco painters were the worst paid, getting only 1 ducat [4/8d] per foot.
A family portrait would be worth £35 of which 1/5 of the price will be the cost of board, frame and varnish which the artist himself had to supply
An altarpiece might reach up to £70.
Miniatures sold for between £5 and £20 depending on how fancy they were; or for royalty perhaps £40

Quarter days:
Lady Day, 25th March, held as New Year’s day until 1751 and the reason for the superstition of  cleaning the grate completely on New Year’s eve [it makes sense at the end of spring to be without a fire where it does not do so in the middle of winter]
Midsummer Day 24th June St John’s feast day
Michaelmas Day 29th September
Christmas Day 25th December

Pay per quarter
Pay per year
Falconer, peasantry
Falconer, Yeoman
Clerk of the kitchen
5 marks= 66/8d
Chaplain, not graduate
Chaplain, graduate
5 marks = 66/8d

Cost of living

Cost of feeding a merchant’s household for one year from £30 to £100 depending on size and richness of living.

Ale ¾d to 1¼d per gallon dependant on quality. [Note Beer is only just beginning to be seen in England at this time].
1 dozen eggs 1d
Chicken 1d
Goose 6d-8d dependant on season
There are NO turkeys as yet.
1 dozen loaves ordinary bread [chat or cheat bread] 1d [manchet would be dearer]
1 tench 2d
1 dozen herrings 2d
oysters 4d/bushel

Bread and ale were the staples, most people ate pottage flavoured with what they could get and thickened with oatmeal. Pottage was a filler on a lord’s table as well as the sole meal on a peasant’s table.  Bread and ale were often given gratis at certain times of year to workers, such as harvest, the amount being laid down by agreement.

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