The Middle Ages is a time period or an era that lasted from 1066 to 1485. It was the time of the Viking crusades, the Bubonic Plague or the Black Death and the Wars of the Roses. During this time period, which is also referred to as the Medieval Era or the Dark Ages, England and France were at war, fighting against one another for 100 years. The Middle Ages took place in the midst of the Roman Empire and the decline of the Renaissance in Europe. At this time, a new system of ruling the people and lands was established and the governments were run by kings with their trustworthy barons, lords and knights. During this time the the upper class, or the privileged, ruled the masses of lower class citizens, often referred to as peasants.
The Middle Ages consisted of three classes of people living in Europe; the nobility, the church and the peasants or commoners. The peasants worked the land, the lord defended the people and the church looked after the spiritual aspect of this society. The church had a big influence over a majority of the peasants. In this feudal society, the head was the king, whereas the next rung down were the lords, counts and officials. Next on this ladder of organization comes the knights, or the fighting men, and at the bottom are the peasants. Peasants were on the lowest rung of the ladder and as a result often starved to death from a combination of being poorly-treated and overworked.
During the Middle Ages, the king ruled his land with an upper hand; kings believed that God gave them the divine right to rule and that divine right was passed on to others through hereditary factors. Rulers had to have an assistant, in the case of the king, it was his trusted baron who helped him keep control and management of the lands and armies that the king owned, along with its citizens. When a king turned over a part of his land or manor to the baron to watch over, the baron, in return, had to give his support to the king at all times, which was paying homage to the ruler or the crowned head. In order for the baron to manage the land given to him from the king, he often had to hire an assistant himself to oversee things when he wasn�۪t around. This job usually fell to his knights and his lords who lived in medieval castles built on the land that they were protecting and managing.
Lords of the manor or land were considered to be upper class. Their attitude of superiority showed in their treatment of the peasants who worked under them. The lords treated the common people like slaves with little respect, care or concern. Other people with authority and elite titles were the church leaders, bishops and archbishops, they too looked down upon the common folk, even though the peasants believed that the harder they worked and the more money they give to the church would benefit them more in the afterlife. While the bishops, archbishops and the lords were getting richer off the peasants work habits, faith and beliefs, the peasants were being abused with labor and used for profit by their elite power heads and the common people did not see that reality.
In Europe during the Middle Ages, the primary religion was Catholic. Bishops were wealthy and came from families with noble backgrounds. But the parish priests of the church, their backgrounds were meeker, humbler and they were not as upscale as their counterparts. The parish priests were more in tune with the peasants and more helping and understanding towards them.
As a peasant during the Middle Ages, two aspects of life occupied their time: work and family. If you were to step inside a medieval peasant home, you will find it being dark, gloomy, cold and damp. Their tiny homes had no more than two rooms with very small windows, which they could see out of, but outsiders could not see in.
There were two types of peasants: free servants and slaves. Free servants were those with a trade such as a blacksmith. However, they had to pay the lord for using the land for their business. The slave peasant, who was not free, worked without pay. His labor paid for his keep or his room and board. Most peasants were farmers who did not have the right to hunt. Though they could not hunt wild animals for food, they did have political rights which allowed them the right to create their own village bylaws. However, obtaining these rights came with a price. They had to work for their lord, working the land for a certain amount of days. For these peasants, with property under their lord�۪s supervision, if the land was sold to a new lord, that free peasant also became the possession of the new lord taking over the property.
Click on these great resources to learn more:
- Feudal Life: The Middle Ages
- The Church and the Middle Ages
- Medieval Life
- Village Life
- Medieval Castles
- Everyday Life in the Middle Ages
- Heroes of the Middle Ages
- Introduction to the Middle Ages
- The Feudal System