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This chapter demonstrates that the renowned ‘Golden Age’ of the fifteenth century has been exaggerated. The surge in the prosperity of the lower orders resulting from high wages, low food prices and easier access to cheap land was undoubtedly extraordinary. But not as prodigious as has customarily been assumed. Furthermore, contrary to the common belief that the economic fortunes of the labouring classes can be taken as a proxy for the living standards of the population as a whole, the scale of improvement in their good fortune was not widely shared by the rest of society who did not derive their incomes solely from wages or their subsistence solely from the market. Argument and evidence are also provided that the criticisms made in this chapter of the compilation, interpretation and application of real wage indices have implications that stretch far beyond the fifteenth century.
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