We all love a good storybook tale of righteous Kings and Queens or fantasizing that we could be a brave knight on a heroic quest! But what if you were actually living during medieval times and found yourself, not as a noble, but all the way at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole as a lowly peasant instead? What would you be expected to do? What kind of life would you live? How long would you survive the grueling lifestyle of a medieval peasant?
Society during the middle ages :
Just like in today’s society, there are certain societal structures in place during the Middle Ages.
That structure is known as the Feudal System – with the king or queen reigning at the top of this structure and owning all the land.
They then gave land to lords and knights in exchange for money, loyalty, and military support.
Nobles then provided land and protection to the peasants who were expected to work in exchange for living on the land as well as paying taxes, in the form of money or a portion of what they grew.
Feudal system explained :
Imagine the king having a whole pie, He keeps a big chunk of that pie for himself, then slices up the remaining pie for the lords, who in turn give some to their knights.
From there, some of the nobles give pieces of their pie to peasants BUT at the end of each year, the nobles take a piece of that teeny little slice back! Talk about unfair!
So, you get a piece of land and in exchange work a little bit.
That’s not so bad, right?
Average life for a peasant
Well, the average peasant’s life primarily circled around the agrarian calendar, meaning most of your time was spent working the land and trying to harvest enough crops to survive another year – and don’t forget that tax you owe!
Peasant men and women alike tended to the fields, and even their children were expected to learn the necessary skills to help out.
Peasant villager homes
Peasants’ homes were constructed of a small wooden frame with walls of plaster made from a mixture of mud, straw, and – plug your noses for this one – manure!
Glass was extremely expensive, so “windows” were just a small circular hole in the wall.
There was no flooring, just dirt, and no real insulation – so it was often extremely cold during the winter and unbearably hot during the summer.
And not only does the family have to fit in the home but the livestock as well! If left unattended outside, horses and oxen could roam off on their own or even be stolen,
so you’d be sleeping side by side with your prized pig.
To make matters worse, the animals would bring in bedbugs, lice, and other biting insects that would set up camp in the peasants’ straw-stuffed beds.
Peasant homes had none of the things we consider normal in ours today, No running water, toilets, baths, or basins of any kind. Even the king would barely bathe.
There’s a saying that a peasant only bathed twice in their life – once when they are born and once when they die as their bodies are being prepared for burial!
Survival rates for peasants living in serfdom:
Working hard, barely having enough food, and having less-than-stellar living situations makes it pretty difficult to survive medieval times as a peasant.
If you are born into serfdom, there is only a 50/50 chance of surviving your first year of life and the average life expectancy is only 35 years old!
The lack of clean water and modern medicine makes it difficult to live to old age. However, if you survive your childhood and teenage years, it’s possible to live well into your 50s or 60s.
Plagues and disease
One of the worst plagues to well- plague – the Earth first appeared during medieval times.
The Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, is a gruesome disease that knocked out one-third of Europe’s population!
Due to the lack of sanitary awareness, freshwater, and modern medicine, the disease spread like wildfire.
While those higher up in the power chain did fall ill with the Bubonic Plague, the nastybacteria did it’s worst on the peasants.
Surprising benefits of the Black Death
Although the horrifying Black Death ran rapid and killed thousands of people, it actually might have been the cause of a shift in the peasants’ economic status.
Once the plague disappeared, there weren’t as many people to complete much-needed tasks, like harvesting the fields.
These jobs fell on the peasants left standing, and because they were needed so badly, they were able to ask for higher wages to complete the exact same jobs they were previously working for little to no pay! Instead of paying taxes with their crops and hard work, they were able to pay with actual money! From there, everyday life changed along with the overall economic structures.
The tough life as a peasant was never-ending; spending your life working to pay back the lord of your land – or you know, landlord… get it?! – and essentially giving that piece of the pie back to the king himself, But hey, all you gotta do is survive the deadliest of plagues and you too can earn a living wage!