Medieval Peasants Lived a Life of Hardship

If you think you’ve got it rough, imagine the life of medieval peasants! Working from sun up to sun down, living in shoddy quarters and afforded little opportunity for advancement the lot for medieval peasants was difficult at best.

Whether a freeman or a serf, the life of medieval peasants was anything but easy. Under feudalism, medieval peasants often were of the serf class. This meant that while they were not slaves to their lord, they were dependent upon him for their living. (Truth be told, the feudal lord, too, was dependent on medieval peasants).

Medieval peasants known as serfs were not in the strictest sense of the word free. They had rights, but they were also obligated to work for their lords. Either by working the land or working in another way in the lord’s service, these medieval peasants, eked out a living that was meager at best. Those medieval peasants that lived a farming serf’s life were expected to give the lord a percentage of their harvested crops for payment in exchange for the use of the land. They also had to pay a tithe to the church. Once this was done, medieval peasants of the farming serf class had very little money or crops left for themselves.

For medieval peasants dependent on the land, a single bad crop could be devastating. It was often the case that medieval peasants began working in childhood, as soon as they could possibly help their families out in the fields. Babies oftentimes had to be left untended to ensure the crops were taken care of and other work completed.

While the farmer is what most think of when medieval peasants are discussed, pretty much anyone who wasn’t clergy or nobility was a peasant. This meant the craftsmen, bakers, tailors, fletchers and so on were technically medieval peasants. Those skilled workers in the service of a lord were still serfs if they worked under the medieval feudal system.

Although medieval peasants living as serfs under the feudal system worked very hard and owed their land and home to their lord, they did have some rights. Medieval peasants were free to marry, defend themselves, enjoy holy days and harvest feasts. They worked hard and played hard and generally didn’t enjoy a long life expectancy. Medieval peasants – even the serfs – were free to leave, but generally preferred being bound to their land and lord over dealing with the uncertainty of the world beyond their home and lord’s manor.

As the Middle Ages progressed, the medieval peasants who were skilled became a class to themselves. In fact, in towns and cities across Europe, skilled craftspeople created guilds and began to appreciate great wealth. These medieval peasants did in fact rise above their status, but only as the period grew to a close. Those who excelled within the guilds, amassing wealth became the bourgeois class as time wore on.