Medieval Monday: The Peasant

Now that I’ve gone through all the labors of the months, my first-of-the-month posts will shift focus to something new–social status and occupations. We’ll start with peasants, who were at the bottom of the social scale. They had limited to no voices in feudal society, might not be allowed to own property, and led rather difficult lives.

While we tend to lump “peasants” all into the same category, there were really 3 basic types of peasants, with important differences that distinguish them from one another.

Serfs were just a step above slaves, bound to the land on which they provided manual labor for a lord. In addition to working in the fields, they might also do things like work in the mines, forests, or maintain roads. Serfs were not permitted to leave the lord’s land (or purchase their own) and might be sold with it like property. Marriages between serfs had to be approved by the lord.

Villeins were similar to serfs in status, but they were semi-free tenants. They paid for the use of the lord’s land with either dues or services. While villeins were not personally sold with the land, their labors might be, and they would be required to work for whomever held it. Both villeins and serfs were usually poor, and worked extremely hard for what little they had. Unrest among serfs and villeins was common, though it rarely resulted in any substantial societal change.

Freemen were peasants who were free to go where they wanted and do what they pleased (within their limited means, of course). They were not required to work on the lord’s land, though they might choose to. Most of them were simply laborers, but a few were fortunate enough to own their own land or business. Some freemen could be rather well off and comfortable–for peasants, at least.

Despite their poor status, all peasants had to pay taxes, both to the lord to whom they swore their fealty, and to the Church. The Church required a 10% tithe, either in cash, or in crops. Peasants dreaded this tax, as it could leave them with not enough of what they’d grown to survive through the year.

Check out this informative, and humorous, video from the BBC on medieval peasants. It is hosted by Terry Jones from Monty Python. It is quite interesting and entertaining as well.


Read Peasants (part 2). Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.


Medieval Monday: Sleep (part 2)



Medieval Monday: Sleep (part 1) talked about how sleep cycles in the Middle Ages differed from those of the present day. This post goes into other information related to sleep.

What you wore, where you slept, and what you slept on were all related to your social status. The average person in the Middle Ages didn’t have a separate sleeping area. In a one room cottage, everyone slept crammed in together on thin woven mats, or mattresses stuffed with wool, hay or moss. Fleas, lice, and other pests were frequent, unwelcome guests that plagued commoners and kings alike. They were sometimes combated with ticking (tightly woven mattress covers), herbs that were known to be insect-repellents, or by storing bedding in cedar chests. While the wealthy had the advantage of feather beds and pillows, and fur coverlets, pest were attracted to them. Bed filling was usually only changed once each year.

A fireplace was the only source of heat and would have to be tended in the middle of the night to keep it going. In a peasant home, the fireplace was little more than an open hearth in the center of the room (sometimes with a hole in the ceiling above it for ventilation). Once the shutters and doors were all closed for the night, the room would be quite smoky. Heavy rains might drip through the thatch roof overhead, or drive insects and mice indoors, and wind whistled noisily through the walls and windows. A somewhat larger peasant home might have two rooms—one for the people, another for the animals—or a sleeping loft above.

If you had a bit more wealth, your sleeping arrangements would be more comfortable, but surprisingly not any more private. A real bed, with a mattress and drawn curtains was quite expensive and might be passed down through the family. Though the likelihood of having a separate sleeping room was greater, the whole family would sleep together in one bed, with servants sleeping nearby on straw mats. Guests of the household might also be invited to share the bed.

Other types of beds could be quite small, designed for only one person. They might have a sloped back and knee support, more like sleeping in a reclining chair than a bed. It was always advantageous to have space between the floor and the bed so that cold didn’t seep up from the floor. Women tended to braid or tie up their hair at bedtime, and it was common for everyone to sleep with a head covering for added warmth. If it was particularly cold, hot stones or a bed warmer (filled with hot coals from the fire) might be placed beneath the blankets until the bed was warm, or the blankets might simply be turned all the way down to allow in heat from the hearth.

It is generally thought that most medieval people slept without clothes, but period artwork shows a variety of nightly attire. Some slept nude while others wore simple gowns and shirts, or even just their daily underclothes. Monks were known to sleep in their robes for warmth since they always slept alone. By the late Middle Ages nightshirts and nightgowns were common. What was worn depended on one’s means, personal preferences, time of year, and sleeping conditions, and who else was sharing the bed.

One thing both wealthy and poor had in common–neither much enjoyed going outside to the bathroom in the middle of the night, so chamber pots were used. Urine collected in these pots had a variety of uses, from cleaning, to sterilizing wounds and tools, to processes like fulling wool. Over the chamber pot there might be a chair with a hole in the seat and a cover to help contain the smell.

Want to learn more about what daily life was like in the Middle Ages? You can find all of my previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.

Inspiration Sunday

“Simple” Stories, Deep Wisdom

I had to take a long drive by myself yesterday, and to pass the time I listened to my favorite set of CDs–the dramatized Focus on the Family version of the Narnia Chronicles, with introductions by Lewis’ son. I got through The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Prince Caspian before the trip was done, and was amazed (as I often am) by the many nuggets of spiritual wisdom Lewis throws into these “simple” children’s stories. If you haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia, or haven’t read them recently enough to remember them, pick them up sometime. You won’t be disappointed! (And no, the recent Disney movie versions are NOT an adequate substitute. Don’t get me started on those…)

In one particular scene from Prince Caspian, Lucy woke from sleep feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name. She gets up to search for the voice, finally coming upon Aslan, who is shining white in the moonlight. He is huge, and beautiful, and she rushes to him without a thought, as though her heart would burst if she lost a moment.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

I’m quite sure that when I read these books as kid, I didn’t really comprehend what that meant. My understanding of God and faith was pretty simple. I knew a bit from my Christian grandparents, but I was being raised in an atheist household–there was no going to church, no Sunday School, no praying, or reading the Bible, and any talk about God was likely to be negative.

I’m not even sure how long it took me to realize that Aslan was supposed to represent Jesus. At first, it didn’t matter. What I understood, and responded to, was the wonder in scenes like these–the way in which the trees came to life and danced in Aslan’s presence (they couldn’t help themselves), and most importantly, the protective, restorative love Aslan poured out on Lucy without pause or condition.

It was a unique kind of love that I didn’t find between the other characters, or in other books. Even when Aslan was instructing, or scolding, it was with a firm gentleness that prompted a willing respect and obedience. Somehow I recognized that Aslan’s love was different than any other. I longed for it, and I was seeking it, just as Lucy had been. When I felt God’s love for the first time, in the real world, I knew I’d felt it before…through Lucy.

Aslan doesn’t just shower Lucy with his love in this short scene then send her away, however. Lucy and Aslan have a real relationship. He growls at her when she begins to blame the others for getting them lost, and he allows her to see that she is just as much at fault. When fear causes her to express her anger and frustration, Aslan doesn’t rebuke her, but gives her strength to deal with it instead. There is something important he needs her to do–something that will be hard–because she’s the youngest, and because her faith allows her to see what the others can’t yet. Ultimately, it is Aslan’s love for her, and the strength of their relationship, that gives Lucy the courage to tell the others, “I’ll have to go with him (Aslan) whether anyone else does or not.”

Reading these passages now, with adult eyes, adult knowledge, and a fair share of life’s scars to boot, I have a much deeper understanding of what Lewis was really saying. (And believe me, this is only one spiritual nugget of MANY from this part of the book). I do indeed find “Aslan” bigger, and more amazing, every year I grow as a Christian. Our relationship is a constant work-in-progress. Sometimes I have Lucy’s child-like faith. Sometimes I’m Edmund who cannot see, but moves forward anyway out of trust. At other times I’m Susan, who doesn’t see because she is trapped listening to her own fears instead of Aslan’s voice.

Maybe part of why Prince Caspian spoke to me so clearly yesterday is because in the section of book 3 that I’m working on now, my characters are facing some of the same issues. They are also “lost” in the spiritual woods so to speak, and I am working through their struggles alongside of my own.

For Morganne and Elowyn things are changing again, too quickly for them to stop and catch their breaths. They’re desperately seeking Aviad’s guidance, but are unsure if that golden shadow moving between the trees ahead is really Him, wanting them to follow, or just a trick of the moonlight. The answers don’t come easy. Aviad is asking them to do something important–something hard–because they can see what others can’t yet.

Will they wrap themselves in Aviad’s strength and accept His will as Lucy did? Or will they close their eyes and resist like Susan, only finally seeing Him in hindsight? I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for book 3 to find out.

This post was taken from my most recent author newsletter. Want to subscribe? Click here to join my mailing list.

Fantasy Art Friday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Friday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.

Light streams gently down, illuminating this quiet city carved from spacious caverns. Still, deep, and cold, underground lakes and rivers have become the most convenient thoroughfares to get from place to place. The tumultuous world above seems distant, as though nothing more than a memory, or a myth. How large is this hidden world? Is it one small city, or an entire, vast network of them, all connected by waterways? Who lives here, and how did they come to live here in the first place? Let your imagination find the answers.

Artist and Title Unknown

Want to see more Fantasy Art posts? Find them here.



Short Story Writing Contest! $250 Cash and Prizes Worth Over $3,200

(Posted on Into the Writer Lea by Andrea Lundgren)

Hi all! I’m excited to announce A Writer’s Path’s first writing contest. We have an excellent panel of 5 judges and 6 sponsors, and we’re looking to make this a large event.

Writing contests are a great way to gain experience and have the possibility of winning cash and prizes. For the winners, it’s also a great thing to add to your writing resume.


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via Short Story Writing Contest! $250 Cash and Prizes Worth Over $3,200

Medieval Monday: Sleep (part 1)

There is no doubt that the seasons ruled medieval life, dictating what work needed to be done and what food was available to eat, but did you know they affected sleep habits as well? With our ability to brighten up stores, homes, and streets with electric lights, our modern-day sleep patterns don’t change a whole lot with the seasons. Most of us aim for a solid 8 hours and adjust our bed times and alarm clocks accordingly.

But imagine during the long winter nights, going to bed shortly after dark, and not getting up until sunrise? That’s roughly 14 hours a night—a bit too much sleep!


According to historian Roger Ekirch, medieval adults broke up their sleep into two parts, with a time of wakefulness in between. They might use this time for intimacy, prayer, study, light household chores, or even visiting neighbors. After an hour or two, they would go back to bed until the sun rose. This was common practice for everyone, including monks, who were required to get up in the middle of the night as part of their prayer rituals. This was thought to protect the monastic community and its surroundings from demonic attacks. Children were the exception to the “first and second sleep” norm, and it was recommended that they sleep straight through the night.

During the winter months the shortness of the days, and lighter workloads, allowed abundant opportunity for sleeping, but summer was quite different. Field labors in the heat of the sun were more intensive, and exhausting. Under the feudal system, people were required to first labor for their lord or king before they took care of their own fields and gardens. This made for very long, back-breaking days that didn’t always leave enough time to sleep, especially in the northernmost areas of Europe. The remedy? Afternoon naps.

Naps were also common year-round for those who were expected to work at night while everyone else slept, or for those whose jobs entailed a lot of waiting. These would primarily be guards and servants. If they couldn’t go home to nap in bed, they would settle in someplace where they could sleep sitting up.

More information about sleep will be in my next post, where I’ll talk about beds, sleeping arrangements, and sleeping attire.

Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.