It’s easy to forget that as a nation stumbles into Civil War, life goes on as normal in most respects. Here’s one such example. Whilst the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions are busily arming themselves, the king’s household is continuing to procure items for daily and ceremonial use. Here we see the purchase of something as innocuous as candles from a Tallow Chandler.
Payment of 40 Shillings for the services of a Tallow Chandler.
“Elyas Wymond, tallow chandler of Shordich co. Middlesex, to William Kebyll of the King’s household. 40 shillings to be paid on the feast of St. John Baptist. Dated Westminster, 6th September.” Close Roll of Henry VI.
Tallow Chandler, Candle Makers
A tallow chandler is a candle maker. Elyas Wymond was the provider of candles for the royal household in 1459. Typically, debts of this nature were billed and paid quarterly in medieval times, so this most likely relates to the 3 months up to Michaelmas.
High Value Produce
40 shillings for candles is a substantial amount. Relatively speaking a candle would have more value in 1459 than it does today. The National Archives currency converter suggests the value of 40s in 1460 would be in the region of £1300 in 2017. It was the equivalent of 64 days’ pay for an average labourer. This would be enough to buy 4 cows or 12 stone of wool.
Candles as Luxury Items
Many homes relied on rushlights, candles were a luxury item that was typically found in wealthier churches and the homes of the nobility. They were made from a mixture of oils and fats. The limited use was because of restrictions on earnings for labourers; also the Tallow Chandlers had apprentices and masters, ensuring a high standard of craftsmanship that pushes prices up.
Tallow Chandler’s recognised as a Liveried Company
Tallow Chandler’s were recognised by Henry VI in 1456. He awarded them the right to have a coat of arms for their association. In 1462 they were permitted to become one of the livery companies of London, The Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers remains active today.