In the final years of the 13th century, Ireland settled into a few years of relative calm after what had been a period of chaos, war and famine known as “the time of disturbance” in 1295. Famine had been more frequent through the late 13th century. They were usually caused by bad weather which resulted in poor harvests. Such poor harvests in turn resulted in less work at the harvest, something many peasants depended on. However in 1299 the weather was unusually good, improving the harvest and it appears labourers took advantage of the increased demand for work. On May 3rd 1299 a parliament discussed a few items including the worrying issue facing the nobility
” having heard a complaint of the communities of divers counties, for that servants, ploughmen, carters, threshers, and other their servants refuse to serve about the services for which they were accustomed to serve, on account of the fertility of the present year”
Peasants in the medieval period worked for fixed wages or alternatively many had to work a specific amount of days which for the lands they rented. It appears across Irleand in 1299 in several counties they now tried to renegotitae these conditions. The reference to “refuse to serve about the services for which they were accustomed to serve” can be interpreted that they were demanding higher wages or better terms in relation to the amount of days they had to work. To break this demand the parliament of 1299 brought in punishment for such labourers while it also banned anyone thinking of taking advantage and offering higher wages in order to find workers.
“nor is it permitted to any lord to give
or deliver to his servants greater liveries or larger wages
than was accustomed to be given in the country where they
dwell. Nor is it permitted to anyone to draw away or keep
a servant or maid of his neighbour or of another, without
the will of him with whom he stayed before.”
In what was a rarity for 14th century it appears the nobility abided by their own laws. We here no further mentions of this unrest and as the medieval parliament frequently restated laws that were not being obeyed, we can assume the nobility were successful. They would however face a far greater problem in the aftermath of the Black Death in 1349 when similar laws were enacted but they struggled to control this far greater outbreak.
The 14th century is the subject of an upcoming book I am writing on the societal crisis Ireland faced in the 14th century when famine war and plague brought Ireland to the brink. You can read more about this here. The book will be released in 2013.