This little “button” of a medieval person was kindly provided by http://retrokat.com/medieval, a medieval clip art site.
The Life of Medieval Peasants
A public domain image from the glowing pages of the Luttrell Psalter, which you can view properly by going to this link: http://www.bl.uk/collections/treasures/luttrell/luttrell_broadband.htm
(Do not even contemplate clicking on this link at school. Even with broadband and adequate equipment it takes minutes to load. Click on it at home, go and make yourself a cup of milo, do a few rows of knitting or a few minutes of homework and it should be ready for you to turn its magical pages.)
A detail from the beautiful 15th century Book of Hours (in the public domain from about.com) called Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. This shows October – tilling and sowing.
Now, some information and websites on medieval peasants:
Did you know…?
Medieval peasants worked long hours, produced most of the food and paid most of the taxes. If you want justice, don’t expect to find it in the medieval world.
Peasants’ cottages had dirt floors and walls made of mud and straw. There was no glass in their windows and their animals often lived with them.
Fleas were common. People expected to have them.
Many peasants died in the winter from hypothermia.
Outer clothes were rarely washed but wood smoke acted as a kind of deodorant.
It has been estimated that 20% of women died in childbirth (this would not have varied much from peasants to the wealthy, presumably). Infant mortality was also high.
CLICK ON THESE SITES TO DISCOVER MORE…
General details of peasant life: http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/history/middleages/pdailylife.html
Serfdom – not quite slavery: http://au.encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761567780/serfdom.html
Peasant life and housing with pictures of cruckhouses: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval_peasants.htm
Two primary documents on Peasants:
Jean Froissart – a writer and the first war correspondent:
It is the custom in England, as with other countries, for the nobility to have great power over the common people, who are serfs. This means that they are bound by law and custom to plough the field of their masters, harvest the corn, gather it into barns, and thresh and winnow the grain; they must also mow and carry home the hay, cut and collect wood, and perform all manner of tasks of this kind. (1395)
A fragment from a poem by William Langland, written about 600 years ago, which describes the grinding toil and sorrow of a peasant’s life:
Image kindly provided by http://retrokat.com/medieval
As I went on my way,
I saw a poor man over the plough bending.
His hood was full of holes,
And his hair was sticking out,
His shoes were patched.
His toes peeped out as he the ground trod.
His wife walked by him
In a skirt cut full and high.
Wrapped in a sheet to keep her from the weather.
Bare foot on the bare ice
So that the blood flowed.
At the field’s end lay a little bowl,
And in there lay a little child wrapped in rags
And two more of two years old upon another side.
And all of them sang a song
That was sorrowful to hear.
They all cried a cry,
A sorrowful note.
And the poor man sighed sore and said,
“Children be still.”
Your task: Scan the sites on medieval peasants and make notes on the vital information you need for your assignment. Then copy the poem above into a Word document, making the page A3 in size. Around this poem (and behind it if you wish), scatter images of medieval peasants from internet sites. Use primary source material if you can. You may if you wish draw your own picture to go with this poem.
The Story of English, continued
Can you solve this Anglo-Saxon riddle?
I appear on the ground like a blanket. and melt in the midday sun. What am I?
Here’s a clever one written by a student called Ian three or four years ago:
What runs but never walks?
Has a mouth but never talks?
Has a bed but never sleeps?
First, continue to discover the story of our language by looking at Act 2 (The Vikings) and Act 3 (The Normans). Try to answer these questions extra fast (Word file: Ages of English continued) and then do some research on the life of medieval peasants for your medieval assignment.
Ages of English timeline link: CLICK HERE
Act 2: The Vikings Attack and the Anglo-Saxons Fight Back
When did the Vikings begin raiding Britain and when did their raids end?
When did the Anglo-Saxons strike back?
Who was the Anglo-Saxon leader?
What was the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle?
A poetic device common to the Anglo-Saxons was called a “kenning”. Write down two examples of theirs and then try to write some of your own for our school, the internet, your family car and your i-pod (or another electronic aid).
List a few words that came into English from Old Norse (the Vikings’ language).
Act 3: The Normans Conquer (but English Survives)
How did the English language develop after the Norman Conquest?
What were the three main languages used in England at this time?
Look at the types of words that came from the Latin language. What are some common themes?