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Peasants in the Middle Ages

Peasants in the middle ages had a fairly rough life, with few of the creature comforts available to those in the upper classes. Peasants during this time period often faced unsanitary conditions, disease, hard work and the potential for harsh punishments or even execution if they displeased the king.

Peasants in the Middle Ages

The middle ages took place from approximately 500-1500 AD, following Rome's fall in the 400's. Throughout Europe, those who could raise armies and inspire others to protect them developed kingdoms throughout Europe to fill the power void left by Rome's fall, and small communities were created throughout Western Europe as a result.

The communities that sprang up in the middle ages were centered on this strong warrior figure; they often contained just a castle, village, church and farmland.

Social class during this time period was extremely important within this society and within the villages being formed. Class structure was rigid (people who were of the upper class or nobility had titles, like Lord, Baron, and Marquis, to signify and denote their ranks and importance).

Peasants in the middle ages were universally poor and did not have any particular stature in life, as a result of their being born into a poor family. Peasants were also attached to the land they worked, if the land were traded or inherited, the peasants would be passed along as well.

The Work of the Peasant

Peasants in the middle ages generally lived in the shadow of a manor or other castle. In exchange for the protection the lord of the manor provided, which came in the form of walls around the village and soldiers to protect the people from other enemies, the peasants spent their lives working in the service of the lord of the manor.

These peasants might work as farmers, nursemaids, cattle herders, sheepherders, weavers, blacksmiths, or in other trades. No matter what work they did, the goal of their work was generally to provide the money they made to their lord. This system was much like a very extreme version of the company town system that would be used in the United States in the 1800s with coal mining. Work was their life, and their life was work as a peasant, and they never owned much of anything except clothes and perhaps a modest house.

Generally, as a medieval peasant, you were able to provide the minimum for your family and feed them, and the rest of your labors went towards providing money to the lord of the manor or the local fiefdom where you lived. You generally had church holidays off but other than that, life for a peasant in the middle ages was certainly not a pleasant experience and there was little time for rest, relaxation or leisure when working for the Lord of the Manor.

How Peasants Lived

As the details about their work life indicates, the life of a peasant was most unpleasant during the middle ages. There were also other factors that made life difficult as well. For example, there was a generally high rate of infant and child mortality due to the lack of sanitation and health care.

Peasants were unable to maintain proper sanitary practices and did not understand things like the plague and how it was passed around, so if a peasant were to become ill, little could be done about it. The Bubonic Plague during this time period was, in fact, one of the deadliest epidemics in history, in large part because of poor sanitation practices and because of lack of basic medical knowledge that is taken for granted today.