Towns, Villages and the Land

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The Black Death first reduced England’s population by nearly one half then prevented demographic recovery. Volatility characterised the 1350s and 1360s, due to extreme weather conditions, poor harvests, contracting output, disrupted markets, labour shortages and a high turnover of people. Towns struggled to assimilate the influx of migrants. The availability of land on favourable terms, and of well-paid employment, greatly benefited the lower orders of society, but caused consternation to the ruling elite. The government responded with a wave of legislation to regulate labour mobility, prices and wages, so as to impose upon workers the discipline of manual labour deemed essential to the common profit. By the 1380s equilibrium had replaced the volatility. The economy had contracted, and shifted from arable production to pastoral and manufactured products. Towns were smaller, but their residents tended to be wealthier. The attitude of the authorities to labour had become more realistic and less idealistic, emphasising its noble qualities rather than denouncing its vices.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGeoffrey Chaucer in Context
EditorsIan Johnson
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Print)9781139565141
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019

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