Medieval Monday: Horrible Jobs

It’s Monday morning, and most of us are groaning about having to be back at work.  So here’s a fun Medieval Monday post to make you grateful that you aren’t stuck doing, well…THAT.

Barber:  Cutting hair is one thing, but how about doing primitive surgeries, amputations, extracting teeth, enemas, and blood-letting…all without a basic understanding of hygiene, and no anesthesia.  Sound like a fun day at the office to you?

Cottar:  The lowest odd-jobs went to cottars, who did everything from herding swine, to guarding prisoners.

Ditcher:  Dug moats, foundations, mines, etc. without any of the modern day machinery used today.  Mind numbing, back-breaking labor, and all there was to show for it at the end of the day was a hole in the ground.

Ewerer:  Talk about a thankless job!  An Ewerer brought and heated water for the wealthy and nobility.

Fuller:  When wool had to be cleaned and tightened against shrinking, someone had to full it.  The most common way in the Middle Ages was to put it in a big tub with stale urine and walk across it for hours.  Even when urine wasn’t used, caustic and sometimes dangerous chemicals were used its place, with no protection for the fuller doing the job.

Gong Farmer:  How would you like to spend your nights cleaning cesspits and privies?  Not only did it smell awful, the fumes were often dangerous.  Sometimes Gong Farmers were restricted as to where they could live.

Messenger:  Doesn’t seem like a bad job…until you have to have to deliver bad news to a powerful person with a bad temper.

Scullion:  The lowest of the kitchen workers, responsible for washing and cleaning up the kitchen.  Keep in mind there was no running water, rubber gloves, lovely smelling dish detergent—and certainly no electric dishwashers.  I’d imagine that a noble house or castle could produce an awful lot of dishes in one day.

Leech Collector: Bloodletting was a common form of medical treatment, and leeches were used for the job.  Somebody had to go out and collect all those little blood suckers.  These poorly paid workers (usually women) waded through leech-infested marshes, catching the leeches using their own legs as bait.  They could suffer dangerous blood loss and were at risk for infections in an era without antibiotics.

Whipping Boy: Sounds like fun, right?  Sign up to be the prince’s friend and playmate, enjoying all the luxuries of the finer life.  But when the prince was naughty, and no one had the authority to discipline him, the whipping boy took the physical punishment in his stead.

Soap Maker:  Soap in the Middle Ages wasn’t the skin-softening, perfumed cleanser we’re used to today.  Early soaps contained things like ash, animal fat, and lye, boiled together until they solidified.  Working with such harsh chemicals, without any protections in place, made this a surprisingly hazardous job.

executionerExecutioner / Execution Cleaner:  Medieval executions, tortures, and punishments could be pretty horrific and gruesome, not to mention public.  Someone had to carry them out…and clean up after them.  Enough said?

Plague-related occupations:  There were a number of these, but I can imagine that one of the worst was having to go around with a cart, collecting the dead to be thrown into burial pits.  People were terrified when the plague swept through.  They had no idea what caused it, or how to keep it from spreading. It took the lives of young and old, wealthy and poor, good and bad. The sights were terrifying, and rags tied across the face against the smell were far from adequate. People doing these jobs most likely suffered the same eventual fate as those they were collecting for burial.

Suddenly your regular day job doesn’t seem so bad, right?  So glad to help out. 🙂
Happy Monday!



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