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Medieval Life

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Research project:

Medieval life


Most people lived on a manor, which consisted of the village with church and the surrounding farmland. The lord who owned the manor lived in a manor house and sometimes in a castle. The farmland consisted of three large fields. Every field was divided into long strips. Each peasant owned some strips of each field so everyone had some good land and some bad land.

The peasants lived in cruck houses, which were usually built by them because they could not afford to pay someone to build them. Most of these houses were cold, damp and dark and sometimes there was warmer and lighter outside. Windows were not very common but if they were present, they were very small. So the people inside could see out, but from outside was almost impossible to see in.

In 13th century the peasant houses were about 4.5 meters wide and 10 meters long. In 14th century they were already 6 meters wide and 25 meters long. In this case they had an attached barn, which was used for storage or for animals and so the family shared the space with them. Near of this place people usually slept, because the animals made warm.

The houses had rarely more than one or two rooms. In the centre of the room there was an open fire with a smoke hole in the roof above. Here meat was dried in the smoke. This was not only where the cooking took place, but also the source of central heating. In simpler homes there were no chimneys.

The homes of the rich were more elaborate. They were made of stone whereas the normal peasant houses were from timber and wattle. The floors were paved as opposed to being strewn with rushes and herbs, and sometimes decorated with tiles. There were tapestries on the walls, providing decoration but also an extra layer of warmth. Windows were with lattice frames for safety and defence. Only the rich people could afford panes of glass. Sometimes only churches and royal residences had glass windows.

The kitchens of manor houses and castles had big fireplaces where meat, even large oxen, could be roasted on spits. These kitchens were usually in separate buildings, to minimize the threat of fire.

There were only a few furnishings such as stools, a table, and maybe a chest to hold clothes in the common room. In the other room, sacks of straw served as beds for the entire family. A wealthy peasant might own a bed stand and a few iron pots.

The houses had usually a small garden, where grew vegetables like carrots and cabbages.

The villages had also a marketplace. The earliest merchants were peddlers who went from village to village selling their goods.

The church was not only the place for praying but it was also the strongest building in the village (if there wasn't castle where the lord lived), so if the village was attacked, people hided into it.

The village was usually made up of about 37 houses. The population could never have been much over 185 people.

Work and leisure time

Peasants worked long hours every day to ensure that their families had enough to eat. Most peasants were farmers but there were also millers, blacksmiths, tavern owners, glassworkers, carpenters, leatherworkers, bakers, fishermen and many others. They had to pay taxes and they were required to relinquish much of what they harvested. They had to take their grain to the mill to have it ground into flour and then they had to give some of it to their lord. They also had to give one tenth of everything they produced to the Church. This was called the tithe.

The village, where the peasants lived was surrounded by three large fields. Each field was divided into long strips. Peasants worked the land granted to them by their lord. In return, they agreed to work the lord's land a certain number of days each week and to give him the crops that were raised. A peasant would farm strips in each of the fields, so everyone had some good land and some bad land. The strips were divided by mounds of earth or by rocks.

Each year, the peasants changed the crops they grew in each field. This was called crop rotation. Every year, one field was left fallow, or empty, so that the soil could become fertile again.


1 Fallow Barley Wheat

2 Barley Wheat Fallow

3 Wheat Fallow Barley

The other land around the village was also important. Peasants collected wood from the woodland, their animals grazed on the common land, fish could be collected from the river, which was also used for washing and cooking. The land around the village supplied the peasants with nuts, berries and mushrooms.

Making sure that all the peasants were always working was the reeve. The reeve watched over the peasants at work and could punish them if they did not work hard enough. The reeve was also in charge of the land the peasants worked on. He decided what was planted and who got the strips of land. He also sold spare crops and could hire extra people at busy times, like the harvest.

This diagram shows the jobs that had to be done during the year.


Peasants had to repair their houses, and other things, which were damaged during the year.


Peasants planted vegetables on theirs gardens, such as peas, beans and onions.


Weaving was one of the main medieval ways of making things. Fences, house walls, baskets, this all was weaved.


The land had to be ploughed before the seeds could be planted. Ploughs were shared by the villagers and were pulled by teams of oxen.


Before the seeds were sown, the soil had to be fertilised, to make sure, that the harvest will be good.


After ploughing and fertilising the fields were sown. There were no machines to do this job so it had to be done by hand.


If the weeds were allowed to grow taller than the crops they would prevent light from getting to the seedlings. Everyone



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