Medieval Monday: 10 Medieval Jobs that No Longer Exist

Today many people are concerned that their job or profession will become obsolete due to changing technology. In you go back to the Middle Ages you can find several occupations – some that involved a great deal of learning, and others that were a choice only for the desperate – that have disappeared. Many of these were also made redundant by technology. Here are ten of these jobs.

Alchemist

One of the main ‘scientific’ beliefs throughout the medieval world was that it was possible to change chemicals and metals. Scholars experimented with various processes and techniques to purify metals and convert them into new forms. One particular goal of medieval alchemists was to turn lead into gold or silver, but for others the objective was to create medicines to heal or sustain the human body.

Some of the leading scholars of the Middle Ages dabbled in alchemy, including Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon, but by the 17th century the ideas behind alchemy were gradually dismissed, and the science of chemistry replaced it.

Alewife

In medieval England, the profession of brewing was often dominated by women. In towns and villages women could be found running side-businesses in brewing and selling ale. As Judith M. Bennett explains, brewing was “a small-scale, low-investment, low-profit, low-skilled industry – suited especially well the economic needs of married women. Because ale soured quickly and transported poorly, it was unsuitable for large-scale, centralized businesses. As a result, wives who sought to sell ale on a modest and ad hoc basis could compete effectively in the trade.”

By the 15th century this practice began to fade, as brewing became more commercialized and society sought to restrict the independence of women.

Cup Bearer

An important position in many royal courts was to be the person that served the monarch their drinks. It was widely feared that one could easily be poisoned, so this person was responsible for making sure the drinks were safe, even if that meant tasting the beverages themselves. A king needed to be very trusting of his Cup Bearer, so the person with this job could be very influential in court politics.

Click to read more of this post, shared from medievalists.net


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

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Medieval Monday: The King

Sadly, this is the last episode of Medieval Lives with Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, but you can find all of my posts with these videos in the Medieval Monday index.

In this episode he talks about English kings, focusing specifically on the three Richards as examples. It is interesting to see how political spin hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years–just the motives and the methods of delivery. Can you really believe everything written in the history books? Perhaps not…

One interesting update, though. Since this was filmed, Richard III’s body has been found beneath a parking lot in the English city of Leicester. It was finally proved that he did suffer from scoliosis and had a slightly curved spine, but he did not have a hunchback as portrayed by Shakespeare  and others.


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

Medieval Monday: Hallowmas–Saints and Sinners

All Hallows Eve is nearly here! As mentioned in last week’s post, if we were living in the medieval era today, it would be the start of Hallowmas—an important three-day event on the medieval calendar. We might be attempting to mock or scare evil spirits with costumes, lighting bonfires, or souling for the sake of those already departed. We would sincerely believe that by giving bread to the poor, we could redeem a lost soul from the fires of hell. On All Hallows Eve there is a sense that the veil between life and death is at its thinnest, and yet there is nothing to fear from the darkness, because Christ has already claimed victory over death. All Saints Day which follows is where the celebration of Hallowmas really gets serious. It is a time to honor the martyrs and saints of the Church, both known and unknown, many of whom died gruesome deaths for the sake of their faith.

St. Michael battling a demon

St. Michael battling a demon

All Saints Day was an occasion for feasting and sometimes great tournaments. It was both a holiday and a holy day, where special ceremonies and masses were held. Prayers to the saints were encouraged in order to help one’s journey through this life and into the next. On the night of All Saints Day, bells were rung. Their melodious tones were thought to bring joy to the poor souls suffering in purgatory—a concept first accepted as a doctrine of the Church in the 1200s that did much to shape medieval beliefs about the afterlife. In purgatory, the souls of “moderately bad sinners” would remain for a time of purification before they would continue heavenward. Purgatory would not permanently close until the very end of time, when “angels would rouse the dead from their graves to be judged by God,” and the souls within it would finally gain admittance to heaven, or be sent to hell, for all eternity.

death-and-burialFrom All Saints Day, the transition was made to All Souls Day on November 2nd. Again, there was feasting, but the focus shifted from the martyrs and saints to ALL of the faithful departed. Death was a very central theme of medieval life, which was always full of uncertainty. The child mortality rate is estimated to have been somewhere between 30-50%. Conditions were highly unsanitary as there was no understanding of germs, nor of their direct connection to disease. As such, medicines were largely ineffective, and most injuries and diseases could not be properly treated. Any minor ailment (by our standards) could end in death. The additional risks of famine and war were all too real, and public punishments were often physically brutal. It is no wonder that the medieval mind was so fixated on what would happen beyond death, and beliefs on the subject shaped the attitudes and culture of everyday life.

On All Souls Day, prayers were specifically directed toward helping those deceased who had not yet moved from purgatory to heaven. Medieval Christians were taught that the fate of a person’s soul was not only related to the manner in which they lived, but also the manner in which they died. Most hoped to die in bed, with a priest at hand to administer the Last Rites—the final forgiveness of their sins. A sudden, or “bad” death, was something to fear, since dying with unconfessed sin would likely lead to a long stay in purgatory, or worse.

Angels delivering souls from purgatory

Angels delivering souls from purgatory

All Souls Day provided reassurance for those too poor to pay indulgences, either for themselves, or on behalf of their deceased loved ones. It was common for people to visit the graves of their relatives and friends, and later on in the Middle Ages, candles or even bonfires might also be lit there. In Eastern Europe, it was not unusual for people to eat meals at the grave sites as well, though this was frowned upon by the Church. Men dressed in black would walk through the village or city streets, ringing hand bells, and reminding people to help those in purgatory with their prayers.

Medieval Monday: Hallowmas (Halloween)

“Soul soul for a souling cake
I pray you, missis, for a souling cake
Apple or pear, plum or cherry
Anything to make us merry…”

halloween1Halloween is coming! Now a fun night for costumes and treats, many say its origins go back to the pagan festival of Samhain, meaning “summer’s end.” It marked the end of the harvest, and the beginning of winter. According to the Celts, this was the time when “the veils between this world and the Otherworld were believed to be at their thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most readily mingle with the living once again.” They believed that Saman, the Lord of the Dead, would come that night to take up into the afterlife the souls of those who had died that year. Like many pagan traditions, the holiday was eventually Christianized, and remained a time to honor the dead, especially the saints. All-Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day together were referred to as Hallowmas–a three day event beginning the night of October 31st.

medieval-images-of-deathSome of our current Halloween traditions have their roots in the Middle Ages. People would dress in costumes intended to scare away any dark spirits that happened to be wandering about. Bells were rung, and there were processions and bonfires to scare away witches, ghosts, and evil spirits. Children and the poor went door to door, offering prayers for the household’s deceased relatives in exchange for small “soul” cakes.

soul-cakesThe video I included today is by Claire Ridgway, founder of TheAnneBoleynFiles and the Tudor Society. She demonstrates how to make “Soul Cakes” using a traditional Tudor recipe (which she reads from so you can hear the original version). If you’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen this week, or want to bring something interesting to that Halloween party you’ve been invited to, give it a shot!


Go to the Medieval Monday Index for more posts on daily life in the Middle Ages.

Medieval Monday: The World’s Oldest Secular Norse Song

Listen To The World’s Oldest Known Secular Norse Song From Codex Runicus – A Medieval Manuscript Written In Runes

Codex Runicus, the medieval manuscript dating from circa 1300 AD, comprises around 202 pages composed in runic characters. Known for its content of the Scanian Law (Skånske lov) – the oldest preserved Nordic provincial law, the codex is also touted to be one of the very rare specimens that have its runic texts found on vellum (parchment made from calfskin). And interestingly enough, as opposed to Viking Age usage of runes, each of these ‘revivalist’ runes corresponds to the letters of the Latin Alphabet.

Now while a significant section of the Codex Runicus covers the Scanian Ecclesiastical Law (pertaining to Danish Skåneland), the manuscript also chronicles the reigns of early Danish monarchs and the oldest region along the Danish-Swedish border. But most interestingly, the last page of the codex also contains what can be defined as the oldest known musical notations written in Scandinavia, with their non-rhythmic style on a four-line staff.

One such Norse song verse, more famously known in modern Denmark as the first two lines of the folk song Drømde mig en drøm i nat (‘I dreamt a dream last night’), is presented in the video below, performed under the tutelage of renowned Old Norse expert – the ‘Cowboy Professor’ Dr. Jackson Crawford.

Read the full article on realmofhistory.com



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

Medieval Monday: Lighting

With electricity still far in the future, Medieval lighting came in the form of fire. Rush lights were the simplest and cheapest form of lighting, though they weren’t particularly bright. Wild rushes were gathered, dried, then stripped of their skins. They were then soaked in animal fat, which left the rush itself to serve as a wick that could be lit. As many as needed were placed around the home to give off light.

Candles were the next step up from rush lighting—they were brighter and lasted longer than rushes.  Tallow candles were the most common type. These were made from tallow (animal fat) that was boiled and strained, turning creamy white once it had cooled and hardened again. The best type to use was from sheep, the next best from cows. Fiber strands were twisted into wicks that were dipped into the melted tallow over and over again until the candle shape was gradually formed. These types of wicks were not like modern ones that completely burn up as the wax melts away. They had to be trimmed at regular intervals. Tallow candles were easy to produce, but there were some drawbacks. The process of making, and burning, tallow candles was very smelly. These candles were also drippy and produced a lot of smoke that left soot stains on everything around them.

Though tallow candles could be made at home when animals were slaughtered, they were only made in large quantities by chandlers. The making of tallow candles and tallow soaps was often a side business of butchers. Though their products were in high demand, these shops were widely avoided due to the unpleasant odors they produced.

The nobility and the church had access to a different type of candle that was more expensive and of far better quality than tallow—beeswax. They burned the brightest of all the candle types, and lasted longer. They were produced in a similar way than tallow, but did not smell and burned clean. Just as making tallow candles were a natural side business for butchers, beeswax candles were often made by bee keepers. Since these types of candles were favored by the nobility, and burned exclusively by the church, making beeswax candles was a highly profitable business.

Oil lamps were also used for lighting, but only in southern regions of Europe where oil was easy to come by, and the weather was warm enough that it would not solidify.

Some candles could also be used as clocks. They would be made to a specific thickness, and the person watching them would have to know how far down they would burn in a certain amount of time.

Larger than candles or lamps were torches, which could be fixed to walls, carried, or staked into the ground. They were typically made from branches or bound sticks made of green or wet wood that would not quickly burn down. Rags would be bound on one end, then soaked in something flammable like pitch, oil, animal fat, or tree sap. Like tallow, torches did not burn clean and had an odor that varied depending on which flammable substance was used. Torches gave off a lot of light by comparison to candles, but had to be replaced often as they burned out.

I’ve included a short video that talks about medieval chandlers and the process of making candles. Some of the information is repetitive, but it adds some nice visuals. Enjoy!


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

Medieval Monday: The Outlaw

Here’s another episode of Medieval Lives with Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. He talks about the medieval outlaw–a topic that has a lot more surprises than I expected. Not all “outlaws” were bandits and murderers, and there was a fair amount of bureaucracy involved (not to mention strange and horrendous punishments). You won’t want to miss this one!


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