- 12 pennies make a shilling
- 20 shillings (or 240 pennies) make a pound
English money remained that way till 1971, when it was decimalized. Shillings then disappeared and now 100 pence make a pound.
The pound came from the old Roman libra, the shilling from the solidus and the penny from the denarius. That is why “s” is short for shilling, “d” is short for penny and the sign for pound looks like a fancy L.
There was no paper money back then, just silver and gold coins. No copper coins either. The penny was a silver coin down to the time of Napoleon. It was about 12 mm across and had half a gram of silver.
I will express all prices in pennies to make them easier to compare. Divide by 60 to get crowns. And, based on the price of silver, divide by 5 to get current American dollars and by 10 to get current British pounds. As you will see, the cost of living was much lower.
The English coins that Shakespeare mentions (the value of each is given in pennies):
- angel (120)
- crown (60)
- shilling (12)
- sixpence (6)
- groat (4)
- twopence (2)
- penny (1)
- halfpenny (0.5)
- farthing (0.25)
He mentions pounds but only as an amount of money, not as a coin. The one-pound coin was called a sovereign, but I do not see where he mentions them.
Crowns, the most commonly used coins, were made of either silver or gold. Any coin more than a crown was made of gold, while the lesser coins were all made of silver.
Foreign coins that Shakespeare mentions (with the value in pennies):
- ducat (120)
- guilder (120)
- dollar (50)
- crusado (27-48)
He calls the French ecu a crown.
What people got paid (in pennies a day):
80,000 the top merchants 80,000 Duke of Bedford 54,000 queen (what she spent a day) 3200 minister 2000 nobleman 1200 knights 600 esquire 80 merchant 80 country gentleman 53 army captain 29 lieutenant 17 ensign 15 army corporal 16 common parson 14 army drummer 13 pikeman 12 craftsman 12 actors 11 landowner (12 hectares) 10 journeyman 10 soldier 9 labourer 7 watchman 7 ploughman 7 maid 6 shepherd
For those who get food as part of their pay, like maids and soldiers, I added 5 pennies.
For some of these I assumed a 6-day work week or a 300-day work year.
What things cost, given in pennies (“L” means the price is for a litre, “kg” for a kilo):
1152 tobacco, kg 1080 portrait 480 sugar, kg 480 Bible 360 horse 331 officer's cassock 300 silk hose 264 cloves 240 spices, kg 240 a book of Shakespeare's plays 171 officer's canvas doublet 120 hire a coach for a day 96 pepper, kg 80 boots 48 bed 24 tooth pulled 15 small book 12 hire a horse for a day 12 wine, L 12 shoes 6 cherries 6 butter, kg 6 beef, kg 6 scissors 6 eyeglasses 6 blue cloth jerkin (vest) 5 meal at an inn 4 food for a day 4 a dozen eggs 4 a knife 3 cheese 3 a dozen buttons 2 see a play from the gallery 1.3 bread, kg 1 see a play from the ground 1 bed in a tavern 0.8 candle 0.5 ale or beer, L
Note that many of these are a middle price of a broader range.
- Money in Shakespeare – where I got most of my prices
- A Compendium of Common Knowledge 1558-1603 – an excellent guide to Elizabethan times
- Channel 4’s Time Traveller’s Guide to Tudor England – another place to get your bearings
- American dollar
- Money in Leonardo’s time
- Money in the time of the 1897 Sears Catalogue
- Money in New York in 2007