Day-to-day life in the Middle Ages was certainly very different from the way we live nowadays! The society of the Middle Ages was based on the “feudalist” system of government.
Feudalism was a political system in which the nobility (or ruling class) held land from the crown in exchange for pledging military service.
The nobility would then employ peasants to work their land, in exchange for money, food, and the promise to fight in their name should a war ever begin. Because of how this system worked, the majority of middle age civilians worked as farmers (or serfs) for noblemen.
Serfs worked hard for the entire year, not just at harvest time, and the vast majority of their days were spent working from the moment they awoke to the moment they fell asleep at night.
They had no entertainment, and were not permitted to take breaks. The main crops grown were barley, wheat, oats, potatoes, onions, apples, and various other vegetables and fruits.
They also cared for their landlord’s animals, which were most commonly cows, chickens, goats, and sheep. Most of the food serfs grew was given to their landlords/nobles as rent for the land they lived on, and they only barely had enough outside of that to feed themselves and their families.
Most serfs wore plain clothing made from sheep’s wool, as it was cheap and would keep them warm during winter.
They weren’t able to color their clothes due to the cost of dye, and wouldn’t have been allowed to color them even if it had been cheaper. “Sumptuary” laws were passed in the Middle Ages that prohibited peasants from wearing clothes of certain colors and materials, as it was seen as an insult to the noble classes.
Living in a medieval city was very different to living as a serf. Medieval cities were very crowded and dirty – city homes were small, and most people lived in tiny apartments.
Disease spread quickly in the cities of the Middle Ages, and to make matters worse, most of the commonfolk were malnourished and underfed.
Common illnesses were life-threatening as a result, and even something as simple as a cold could quickly turn into a serious condition.
Many city-dwellers worked as craftsmen, servants, merchants, bakers, doctors, and lawyers… though only the richest could afford to pursue a career that wasn’t manual labour.
To become trained in a craft, medieval children would become “apprentices” to a local craftsman, and after seven years, be given a license to set up their own business.
Men and women were not treated the same in medieval society. Women were not afforded the same employment opportunities as men.
If a woman needed a job outside the home, she would only be able to find work as a servant – many women worked as cleaners, bakers’ assistants and washerwomen in the city, and helped with the running of the farm in the countryside.
Peasants during the Middle Ages had access to a very limited variety of food. They mostly ate stews, and incorporated bread to nearly every meal. Meat, cheese, and eggs were usually saved for special occasions, due to their rarity and high cost.
Nobles could afford to be pickier – there’s evidence to suggest that sweet puddings, cakes, and tarts were baked for noblemen and women in medieval times, and the dishes they ate were often spiced with expensive seasonings the commonfolk couldn’t afford.
Education was limited during medieval times, and schools were uncommon. Peasant children learned their craft from their parents, and if they were lucky, through an apprenticeship; wealthy children, on the other hand, were given private tutoring and taught how to rule, conduct trade deals, and run businesses.
Wealthy children would therefore learn how to read and write from a very early age, while many peasants would never be given the opportunity.
– The feudalist system.
– They worked from sunrise to sunset.
– Homes were small, and conditions extremely crowded. Ten people lived together in small apartments in some cities.
– Entertainment for both classes was uncommon, so they had nothing else to do with their time.