How expensive were castles? And how were the costs distributed?

How expensive were castles? And how were the costs distributed?

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In, Castles, Battles, Bombs: How Economics Explained Military History, I came across this passage :

"The cost lay mostly in direct labor cost, as most labor had to be paid. (In contrast, raw material cost does not seem to have been much of an issue."

It was only mentioned in passing and I wondered if it were true.

I just seemed strange to me that in 1000-1300, labor markets were competitive. Was it simply the sheer labor involved relative to their resource the cause? Were average monarchy's real net worth less unequal than I had imagined; the 1% rich today about 30 mill USD while the bottom less than 1USD income, might the monarch of the past be maybe a few thousand times the peasant instead of millions?

The labor market was limited by the number of workers available. Setting large stones into a high wall took skilled craftsmen assisted by a lot of unskilled labor. Don't forget majority of the population were required to grow food. if you moved people from farming to building you ended up with people starving. Most large projects like castles and even the waging of wars was scheduled around getting the crop planted and harvested.

How Was Wealth Distributed

The complete answer is in the Medieval Price List for 1300, but I'll summarize :

  • Unskilled laborers (peasants, household servants) made 1 pence per day / 30p per month
  • Tradesmen (masons, carpenters) made 4p to 6p per day (avg. 5) / 150p per month
  • Professionals (soldiers, priests) made 1 to 3 shillings (12 pence) per day (avg. 2) = 24p / 720p per month
  • Artisans (top lawyers) made 1 pound (20 shillings = 240p) per day / 7,200p per month
  • Barons, in charge of a county earned ~1 pound per day - 240p per day / 7,200p per month, depending on the wealth of the county
  • Earls, in charge of a major region, could earn as little as Barons, but typically brought in 15 pounds per day - 3,600p per day / 108,000p per month
  • The Crown (king) typically brought in 82 pounds per day - 19,680p per day / 590,400p per month

So, the king made about 20 thousand times as much as the peasant.

The Construction Costs of Castles

Construction costs varied enormously. Frequently, older structures (churches, military towers) were re-purposed for the job.

Again, from the medieval price list, the price of a modest house was around was around 10 pounds (2,400p). A castle gatehouse cost almost as much (10 pounds). An expensive house was around 100 pounds (24,000 pence), which was also just about the construction price of a church. The construction cost of a tower was around 300 pounds (72,000p), and the construction price of a castle (details not included) was around 450 pounds (108,000p).

Maintenance of Castles

Typically, the household staff did minor maintenance. Contractors were hired for larger repairs.

A household staff received free housing and meals, as part of their compensation. Staff typically included :

  • 1 house manager (butler) at 8p per month
  • 1st, 2nd, 3rd, (and sometimes 4th) footman @ 1p per month (4p for all)
  • Cook @ 2p per month
  • Pages, carters, porters, falconers, groomers @ 1p per month (5p for all)

In 1000s, staff also included one or a few knights providing security.

So, total household monthly wages were around 19p per month.

There's More…

The Baron, and Earl, as the owner of the town and surrounding land, was responsible for the upkeep costs of most of the houses and business property in his territory. This was offset by rents, which were part of that Noble's income; and the wages of the crown paid foreign bribes, civic projects, and the standing armies. I'm left with the impression that oftentimes all parties, big and small, were just barely covering costs.

Like contemporary modern businesses, many nobles took on disastrous amounts of debts to pay the bills : the French king to the Templars, the Spanish monarchy to people who would be imprisoned during the Inquisition, Richard the Lionheart to almost anyone.

Castle building is a slow process, and people rarely start a new one.

Most of the suitable and advantageous places were already occupied by castles built earlier. Most castle owners would only embark on small upgrades: A stone wall to replace a wooden palisade, a tower strengthened, the lords living quarters upgraded to fashionable style…

So usually one would amass wealth slowly (distributing the cost in time), and then build something. Unless you were king and could levy taxes from the whole country, or a truly great fortune came your way: Famousuly the Duke of Austria spent a considerable part of the ransom of King Richard I, that amounted to 100000 pounds of silver, on the city walls of Vienna, and on some smaller towns.

Watch the video: De første år efter krigen. Østpreussen. Professor Historier (June 2022).


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