Blacksmiths played a vital role in medieval society. Everyone, from the lowest peasant, to the King required their services. Every village had at least one blacksmith, with larger towns and cities supporting many more of them.
We often have a certain image in mind when it comes to the medieval blacksmith; we see them crafting swords, daggers, armor, and shields. And certainly there were some blacksmiths—particularly those that worked in castles—who specialized in producing the tools of war. Castle blacksmiths were envied for the position of prestige they held, and their positions were usually hereditary. But whether they were working in a castle, or a rural village, a blacksmith’s work was dirty, loud, hot, and physically demanding with little glamor in the daily routine.
Aside from weapons and armor, just about every chore and trade required some kind of metalwork. Mundane items like nails, doorknobs horseshoes, chains, kitchen tools, utensils for cooking in fireplaces, cauldrons, farming implements, locks, keys, arrow tips, axes, and much more were all made by blacksmiths. Once made, many items also needed constant repair, making a blacksmith’s job a very busy one. Some blacksmiths might even make jewelry, or somewhat more frightening, torture devices. Blacksmiths with special skill could make intricate and impressive wrought iron pieces for structures like cathedrals and castles, and metalwork intended for defense. With the wide variety of items made, and the different skills required for each, it is no surprise that their work was eventually split up into different specialties. Not every blacksmith did the same kind of work, and some branched out into work with precious metals. By the 14th century, clocks were even added to the blacksmith’s repertoire.
There were unusual beliefs and superstitions surrounding blacksmiths. They were thought by some to have healing powers, particularly over injuries like broken bones. However, they were also sometimes associated with the devil. While they were too important to be persecuted due to this belief, blacksmiths were often the object of colorful legends.
Enjoy this video showing a blacksmith at work to learn a little more about the craft and how to make a medieval axe.
Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.