The Middle Ages for Kids - Manorial System, Commoners, Peasants Illustration

Middle Ages for Kids
Manorial System
& Common People

The common people were divided into peasants and serfs. There was a huge difference between being a peasant and being a a serf.

Serfs were bound to the land. They were almost like slaves. The people could not be bought and sold, but they could not leave their land without permission. Their land could be bought and sold. The land and all the food they grew belonged to the manor (noble). A serf's job was whatever the noble told them it was, carpenter, blacksmith, baker, farmer, and tax collector, serfs did it all. A serf could buy their own freedom if they could get the money, but where could they get the money? They were uneducated and mostly unskilled.

Peasants were free sort of. Sometimes they owned their own business or small plot of land, again most were uneducated and unskilled. They were in the same boat as the serfs.

Taxes: Everyone had to pay taxes. The peasants paid taxes to the lord or noble; they paid taxes up to the local duke or count who paid taxes to the king. Sometimes the taxes were paid in crops, sometimes in money, plus they had to set aside a number of days every year to work for the noble.

Festivals: Festivals were a big deal. This was the only time a peasant or serf could relax and socialize. All Festivals were church festivals usually to honor a saint or holy day. At a festival, a peasant could watch a play or take part in contests like archery or wrestling, and maybe even see a juggler or magician. The noble paid the local church to put on the festival.

Power of the Church: During medieval times, the church was all powerful. The only way to get to heaven was to follow the Bible. However, since most people couldn't read. the local priest had to read it to them. The local priest could tell people that the Bible told them how to behave, who to obey, even who to marry.

New Ideas: Since most people never left their village area, ideas spread thoughout Europe through the priests and wandering musicians and traders. This was a slow process.

Commoner Homes: Peasants homes were usually one room huts, made of logs held together with mud, with thatched roofs. There was a hole in the roof for the smoke to get out so people could cook inside. Homes had little furniture, perhaps a three-legged stool and beds made of straw covered with a leather toss. There were pegs on the walls to hold clothes. They usually had iron cooking pots and pans.

Food: Peasants grew their own food. Three days a week, they worked to provide food for the lord of the manor. Three days a week they worked to provide food for themselves. Sunday was a day for prayer. They kept bees to make honey. They drew water from the village well, or if they were lucky, from a nearby stream. They kept fruit trees. They grew vegetables. They kept chickens. A peasant might own a cow for milk.

Animals: Because winters were cold, animals were brought inside at night, to keep them warm.

Clothes: Their clothes were made of wool. They were held together with a rope tied around their waist. They usually went barefooted, even in the winter. Shoes took leather to make. Leather was made, but it was used to make shoes and clothing for the lord of the manor and his family. If there was any leather left over, they could make shoes for themselves.

Baths: Both peasants and nobles took infrequent baths. There was no running water or hot water heater. They bathed in a creek or river. Most had a barrel outside to catch rainwater. The soap was made of lye and was very rough on your skin. The peasants slept and worked in the same clothing for days and even weeks at a time, especially in the winter. There was no toothpaste or toothbrushes. People used watered spices on their lips and teeth, but all that did was to briefly hide the smell of rotting teeth.

Garbage: In the towns and villages, people threw their garbage in the streets. They handled cattle and then directly handled food.

Death: Peasants died young from malnutrition and the simplest of diseases. Women died in childbirth from ignorance. There was almost no medical help, although they did have doctors. But they believed in blood letting, cutting you to let your blood run out. The idea was that the disease would run out with your blood. Naturally, many people died because they lost too much blood.

On a typical day: Peasants and serfs got up, while it was still dark usually. The first thing they did was say their morning prayers. Then the men left to get their assignement for the day from the reeve, the manor lords' who directed their work. Usually the peasant's wife stayed home, fed the livestock, collected eggs, milked the cow, pulled water from the well or river, and cooked and washed. Women were responsible for weeding the garden near their home, picking vegetables, and spinning cloth. Kids did not go to school. Children worked with their mother. When the boys got old enough, they worked with their father. At night, they ate a simple meal of stew and black bead and sometimes cheese. Right after sunset, they went to bed.

Peasants were content. They knew nothing else. The Middle Ages was time of violence. Peasants and serfs were glad to have the protection of the manor lord.

The Manorial System



Interactive Quiz about the Middle Ages (with answers)