Buy Their Way to Freedom: When faced with the need
for quick cash, and to avoid losing their land, nobles once again
offered their serfs a chance to buy their freedom, just as their fathers
and uncles and grandfathers had done before them, when money was needed
by the nobles to buy armor and weapons for the crusades.
This time, money was needed to pay loans and to buy
more luxury goods. This time, because the serfs had sold goods at the growing
local marketplaces, many were able to buy their way free of the
This was the beginning of the end of the feudal
system. As the serfs left, the feudal system began to decline.
Not all the serfs left, even those who could afford
their freedom. Where could they go? Some serfs bought their freedom, but
stayed on the land and worked for the nobles for payment.
Others, however, were eager to leave. If a crusade
was being organized, they joined the army. Most new freemen moved to the
rapidly growing towns in search of work.
of Towns: The number of towns in Western Europe
grew rapidly. Many sprang up along the sides of the road on the trading
routes. War between barbarian tribes had declined, but there were many
bandits. Townspeople built walls around the town to protect themselves.
Town Life: Inside the wall, there were narrow winding
streets, and horse drawn carts piled high with goods to trade. Along
each narrow street, there were little shops. Store owners lived above
their shops. Shops were made of wood with thatched roofs. Fire was a
In the beginning, people who lived in town were not
that cramped. Towns were more of a grouping of traders, each with a
permanent shops - traders that had banded together to protect themselves
from outside attack. There were some inns to house travelers, and some
stables to take care of the horses, and maybe a doctor or two. But towns
As more and more people moved to the towns, the
towns grew in size. Things were not as organized. Towns began to stink.
There was no plumbing in the towns. Garbage and sewage was tossed into
the street. The only people who cleaned up and burned the garbage were
the shop owners in the area who needed to keep the streets somewhat
passable so that people could come to their shops. Much of the garbage
stayed in the streets until it rotted. People got sick all the time.
The living conditions were horrible. Unless you had
a shop of your own, with customers that paid their bills, you either
worked for someone in exchange for food and shelter, or you begged. In
spite of the conditions, more and more people arrived in the towns,
eager to escape their life as serfs on the manors.
Clean Were Medieval Towns?
a Medieval Town
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