Peasant is a word used by historians to describe a person who lived on the lowest level of the social hierarchy in the medieval era.
They were not nobles, royals, or educated workers – they were typically manual laborers, and worked for a very small amount of money. During the Middle Ages, peasants were called “serfs.”
During medieval times, most peasants/serfs were agricultural workers. In exchange for working a nobleman’s fields, a peasant would be granted a small plot of land to live on with their family.
They wouldn’t make much money from this piece of land, though; most of what they grew was taken by the land-owning noble as the price of rent, and some of the rest would be given to the king and Church as taxation.
Peasants worked hard for the entire year, and not just at harvest time like in some ancient civilizations.
The main crops peasants grew were barley, wheat, oats, potatoes, onions, apples, and various other vegetables and fruits. They also took care of their landlord’s animals, and, if they were lucky, some of their own.
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.
Peasants were not treated equally to nobles in legal matters. In any dispute between a noble and their serf, the noble would always win; execution and arrest were common punishments for any commoners who attempted to publicly shame their noble landlord, and entire families could be evicted as revenge.
Peasants were only allowed to get married if they got permission from their noble landlord.
Though serfs usually only married each other, they still required this permission to be formally wed and have children.
If serfs had children without this permission, they faced expulsion from the noble’s land.
Peasants weren’t educated. Public education was uncommon during the Middle Ages, even for the wealthy classes, and most peasants simply learned their trade from their parents.
If a peasant was lucky, they’d be taken on as an apprentice by a real craftsman in a town or village. A craftsman’s “apprentice” would work as an assistant to the craftsman for seven years, after which they would be eligible to open their own business.
Though public, Church-run schooling began to be implemented towards the end of the Middle Ages, it was still only available to the upper classes.
Peasants were very religious during the Middle Ages. Christianity was the dominant religion of the time, and most peasants went to Mass every weekend.
In a way, religion was an escape from their cruel reality. Peasants would donate a lot of their extra money to the Church so that they’d be able to get into Heaven, and many worshipped/prayed daily between chores.
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.
Examples of this promise being fulfilled can be seen in both the Crusades and the Hundred Years War of the Middle Ages.
– A person who lives on the lowest level of the social hierarchy, or any “lower-class” citizen in a feudalist system.
– Farmers/agricultural laborers.
– (Any two of) Barley, wheat, oats, potatoes, onions, apples.
– Their landlord’s.