Tractatus de Ponderibus
et Mensuris

Introduction

The Tractatus is more in the nature of a memorandum than a law, but because of its usefulness and antiquity by Elizabethan times it was already regarded as authoritative.

Because so many copies were in existence by 1300, R. D. Connor and others speculate that the Tractatus was actually written around the middle of the thirteenth century.

The English version below is that printed in The Statutes of the Realm, except that:

Text

By Consent of the whole Realm the King’s Measure was made, so that an English Penny, which is called the Sterling, round without clipping, shall weigh Thirty-two Grains of Wheat1 dry in the midst of the Ear; Twenty-pence make an Ounce; and Twelve Ounces make a Pound and Eight Pounds make a Gallon of Wine2; and Eight Gallons of Wine make a Bushel of London; which is the Eighth Part of a Quarter.

A Sack of Wool ought to weigh Twenty-eight Stone, that is Three hundred and fifty Pounds, and in some parts Thirty Stone, that is Three hundred and seventy-five Pounds, and they are the same according to the greater or lesser Pound3.

Six times Twenty Stone, that is fifteen hundred Pound, make a Load of Lead, to wit the great Load of London, but the Load of the Peak is much less.

The Load of Lead doth consist of Thirty Formels4, and every Formel containeth Six Stone, except Two Pound; and every Stone doth consist of Twelve Pound, and every Pound consisteth of the Weight of 25 Shillings,5 whereby the Sum in the Formel is Seventy Pound. But the Sum of the Stones in the Load is Eight Times Twenty and Fifteen, and it is proved by Six Times Thirty which is Nine Times Twenty. But of every Formel there are abated Two Pound in the foresaid Multiplication, which are Sixty, which make Five Stone. And so there are in the Load Eight Times Twenty and Fifteen as is aforesaid.6

According to some other, it consisteth of Twelve [Weights7], and this is after Troy Weight. And the Sum of Stones in the Load is Eight Times Twenty and [Eight]8 Stones, and is proved by Twelve Times Fourteen.

[There is a Weight9,] as well of Lead as of Wool, Tallow, and Cheese, [and weigheth]10 Fourteen Stone. And Two [Weights7] of Wool make a Sack, and Twelve Sacks make a Last.

But a Last of [Red-]12Herrings containeth [ten]13 thousand, and every Thousand containeth Ten hundred, and every Hundred [six]14 score. [Also a Last of White Herrings at London is sold for ten thousand, and each thousand consists of twelve hundred, and each hundred of five score. And this is the contrary of Red-Herrings, as is aforesaid.]15

A Last of Leather doth consist of Twenty Diker, and every Diker consisteth of Ten Skins. And a Diker of Gloves consisteth of Ten Pair of Gloves.

Item a Diker of Horse-shoes doth consist of [Ten]16 Shoes.

Item a Dozen of Gloves, Parchment, and Vellum in their Kinds contain Twelve Skins, and Twelve Pair of Gloves. 

Item a Hundred of Wax, Sugar, Pepper, [Cinnamon, Nutmegs]17, and Allum, containeth Thirteen Stone and a Half, and every Stone Eight Pound. The Sum of Pounds in a Hundred One hundred and eight Pounds, and the Hundred consisteth of Five Times Twenty, and every Pound of Twenty-five Shillings.18 

Item it is to be known, that the Pound of Pence, Spices, Confections, as of Electuaries19, consisteth [in weight]20 of Twenty Shillings. But the Pound of all other Things weigheth Twenty-five Shillings.21

[But in Electuaries the Ounce consisteth of twenty-pence, and the Pound contains twelve Ounces: but in other things the Pound contains 15 Ounces: but the Ounce in either case is in weight twenty-pence.]22

Item a Hundred of Canvass, and Linen Cloth consisteth of One hundred Ells and every hundred containeth Six Score. But the hundred of [Iron and Shillings]23 consisteth but of Five Score.

[The Sheaf of Steel consisteth of thirty pieces.]24

The Seeme of Glass containeth [Twenty-four]25 Stone, and every Stone Five Pound. And so the Seeme containeth [Six]26 score Pound. The Dozen of Iron consisteth of Six Pieces. 

A Bind of Eels consisteth of Ten Stikes, and every Stike Twenty-five Eels. But the Bind of Skins consisteth of [Thirty-three Skins]27.

A Timber of Coney-Skins and Grayes consisteth of [Forty]28 Skins.

A Chef of Fustian consisteth of Fourteen Ells29. [A Chef of Sindon containeth Ten Ells30.]

A Hundred of Garlike consisteth of fifteen Ropes, and every Rope containeth [fifteen]31 Heads.

[Also a Hundred of Mulvells and Hard Fish32 consists of six Score Fish, and in some and many places of nine score; and this is of the hard Fish called Aberdene.]33


Statutes of the Realm, volume 1.
London: G. Eyre and A. Strahan, 1810 – 1828.

Page 204.

Notes

1. The description of the penny’s weight recites a traditional formula, but is factually incorrect. Many pennies survive and have been weighed and dated. A few Saxon issues of pennies were this heavy, but English pennies minted in the two centuries after 1080 consistently weighed 22.5 Troy grains, which is equivalent to 30 wheat grains using the traditional 4 wheat grains = 3 barley grains (Troy grains) ratio.

The formula was being repeated as late as 1665 (Sheppard), but at least then the writer had the wit to add “ought to”: “And all our weights and measures have their first composition from the penny Sterling, which ought to weigh Two and thirty wheat corns of the middle sort.”

This association of pennies with wheat grains is peculiar, as the “grain” of English weights was always, conceptually, the mass of a barleycorn. R. D. Connor makes an interesting connection: the first Saxon coinage imitated Frankish coinage (in having 240 to the pound, for example), and in Frankish weights wheat grains played the role barleycorns occupied in England. (back)

2. Connor and Simpson (pp 153-159) argue that the pound is the Parisian pound of 15 ounces and the gallon is the old wine gallon of 224 cubic inches. (back)

3. “greater or lesser Pound”. R. D. Connor has identified the lesser pound with the silver-mark pound of Bruges, 14 ounces each of 480 grains = 6720 grains, and the heavier with the short-lived English wool pound of (16 tower ounces of 450 grains) 7200 grains. 350 x 7200 = 375 x 6720. Wool was England's principal export at the time, and most of the wool was sold through Bruges. (back)

4. That is, a fotmal. (back)

5. The pound that is the weight of 25 shillings (25 × 12 pennyweights to the shilling = 300 pennyweights) is the liber mercatoria of 15 Troy ounces, each of 20 pennyweights. (back)

6. A bit of explication may be helpful in following the fotmal paragraph.

The fotmal = 6 stones of 12 pounds each, minus 2 pounds = (6 × 12) − 2 = (72 − 2) = 70 pounds. So a load of lead = 30 fotmals per load × 70 pounds per fotmal = 2100 pounds per load of lead. The number of 12-lb stones in the load of lead = (8 × 20) + 15 = 175 stones.

The author “proves” or tests this calculation by (6 × 30) or (9 × 20) = 180, with the proviso that we must deduct 2 pounds for each fotmal. Since there are 30 fotmal in the load, 2 pounds per fotmal × 30 fotmal = 60 pounds. 60 pounds divided by 12 pounds per stone = 5 stones. 180 stones − 5 stones = 175 stones. 175 stones × 12 pounds per stone = 2100 pounds per load of lead. (back)

7, 9, 11. That is, a wey. (back)

8. The Latin says 7, which must be a copyist’s error. (back)

10. The phrase “in weight” doesn’t appear in the Latin. (back)

12. The adjective “rubeous” (= red) was added between the lines before the word “herring”. (back)

13. Latin = 12, altered from ten. (back)

14. Latin = 5 score “on an erasure.” (back)

15. The passage about white herrings was inserted at the bottom of the page. (back)

16. Latin = "C & x", that is, 110, which is clearly an error. Printed copies substituted viginti,  twenty, which is also an error. (back)

17. The Latin says cummin, almonds. (back)

18. That is, the hundred in “One hundred and eight Pounds” is five times twenty.

This sentence and the two that follow indicate the existence of two different pounds, one  of 12 ounces and weighing 20 shillings, and the other of 15 ounces, weighing 25 shillings. The former is the Troy pound (though some dispute this). (back)

19. Drugs, pharmaceuticals. (back)

20. A clarification not present in the Latin. (back)

21. This ratio, 20:25, or 4:5, is the difference between the Troy pound of 12 Troy ounces and the liber mercatoria of 15 Troy ounces. (back)

22. Thus the Latin. The English reads: “Item of Electuaries and Confections the Pound containeth Twelve Ounces, and an Ounce hereof is of the weight of Twenty Pence.” (back)

23. The Latin says horseshoes. (back)

24. Omitted in the English. (back)

25. The Latin says 20. (back)

26. The Latin says 5. (back)

27. The Latin says thirty Timbres. (back)

28. Coney-skins are rabbit skins.  “Grays” are badgers. The Latin says 10 skins. (back)

29. Or a yard, as the Latin ulnis was used for both the yard and the ell. (back)

30. The statement regarding sindon appears in the version printed in Chalybis, Printed Copies etc.. (back)

31. The Latin says 25 heads. (back)

32. Dried fish. (back)

33. The English translation says, “A Hundred of Hard Fish is Eight Score.” (back)

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